September 24, 2003


In Chicago, among Hispanic politicians, it's politicas corrientes (politics as usual), or perhaps negocios rutinarios (business as usual). And that means doing their usual mortal battle with other Hispanics to remain, or become, "Rey de La Loma" ("King of The Hill") and to exert their hegemony over that small slice of territory which the Daley Administration has ceded to them.

And, of course, Mayor Rich Daley remains "Rey de La Montana" ("King of The Mountain"), with his Hispanic Democratic Organization doing his bidding and doing its utmost to elect pro-Daley candidates in Chicago's Hispanic-majority wards and legislative districts.

Hispanics nationally, and Hispanic politicians in particular, are paying close attention to the California recall election campaign and to the possibility that Democrat Cruz Bustamante could be the next governor. If Bustamante wins, topping Arnold Schwarzenegger, he would become a "Rey de La Loma" in California.

Hispanics nationally, and Democrats in particular, are pushing New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador and energy secretary under Bill Clinton, who is part Hispanic, for vice president.

Hispanics nationally, and Republicans in particular, are paying close attention to the repercussions which may ensue as a result of the filibuster by U.S. Senate Democrats which blocked Miguel Estrada's nomination for the federal court of appeals. Estrada, born in Honduras, was rated "well qualified" by various bar associations, but he had a serious "shortcoming": he was a conservative Republican -- which Democrats claim made him an "extremist." Democrats want ethnic diversity on the federal bench, but not Hispanic diversity. A minority viewpoint within a minority is unacceptable.

Hispanics nationally, and Republicans in particular, also are paying close attention to possible retirements on the U.S. Supreme Court. If any occur while George Bush is president, he may appoint his White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to one of the vacancies. Another possible Bush appointee is federal court of appeals judge Emilio Garza. Both are conservative Hispanics, and there has never been a Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court.

But such broad and grandiose thoughts do not concern most Chicago Hispanic politicians, or the leaders of the HDO, the Hispanic arm of Daley's political organization, or its rivals. The HDO is concerned about power. The HDO is concerned about squashing its opponents. And the HDO is already in the field with candidates and nominating petitions in preparation for the March 16, 2004, primary.

Here's an early rundown of key contests:

U.S. Senate: Gery Chico, who was Daley's mayoral chief of staff from 1992 to 1995 and the president of the Chicago Board of Education from 1995 to 2001, is one of 10 Democrats seeking the Senate nomination. Chico's heritage is Mexican, Lithuanian and Greek, but he's positioning himself as the "Hispanic" candidate. In a statewide Democratic primary, Hispanics account for roughly 6 to 10 percent of the vote, with blacks at 23 to 25 percent and whites at 63 to 67 percent. Daley has not, and will not, endorse Chico. In polls to date, Chico is at 3 percent. No prominent Hispanic politician has endorsed him, and the HDO has endorsed Dan Hynes.

On the Estrada matter, Chico, an attorney, said that because "the vast majority of Hispanics are not conservative," and because Estrada "was out of the mainstream," he should not be appointed. Does that mean a gay nominee for judge, who is out of the "sexual orientation" mainstream, since gays are a minority of the national population, should not be appointed? Alderman Manny Flores (1st), an attorney, had a contrary view: "(Estrada) was well qualified. We need more Latino (federal) judges."

Chico's campaign is going nowhere fast.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner: The election of Mexican-American engineer M. Frank Avila, of Edison Park, as commissioner in 2002 made him Cook County's highest ranking Hispanic official. A federal lawsuit filed by Avila's son, attorney Frank Avila, prompted appointed MWRD Commissioner Marty Sandoval, who also is Mexican-American and who was running simultaneously in 2002 for both commissioner and state senator, to drop his candidacy for the former office. Without the slated Sandoval on the ballot, Avila managed to finish third in a nine-candidate field and win one of three Democratic nominations. He then was elected easily.

For 2004, the terms of three incumbent MWRD commissioners, Gloria Majewski, Patty Young and Barbara McGowan, expire. McGowan is black. Avila is circulating petitions to run, as is Barrett Pedersen, the Leyden Township Democratic committeeman; Dean Maragos, an attorney who lost a run for 44th Ward alderman in 2003; Xochi Flores, who resides in the 1st Ward; black attorney Lewis Powell, who is supported by U.S. Representative Danny Davis; and Brendan O'Connor, an attorney in the 40th Ward who is backed by Alderman Pat O'Connor. As always, the gender, ethnicity and ballot positions of the candidates are critical in this low-visibility race.

Recorder of Deeds: Incumbent Gene Moore, who is black, was appointed to replace Jesse White in 1999, and he won his first full term in 2000. Moore was unopposed in the 2000 Democratic primary. Frank Avila also is passing petitions for this race. He cannot run for two countywide offices concurrently, but it's sound strategy: Moore would have to spend plenty or time and money to beat him so, if Moore wants to get Avila out of the recorder's race, he (and his fellow black committeemen) will have to push Avila for one of the water district spots. Alderman Ed Smith (28th) also is circulating petitions. It is unclear why Smith, who is black, wants to oppose Moore, but if two prominent black candidates ran, Avila would have a great chance to win.

1st Ward (Democratic Committeeman): A federal lawsuit filed by Avila to invalidate the city’s two-year residency requirement for aldermen was instrumental in getting Manny Flores on the ballot, and Flores beat HDO-backed incumbent Jesse Granato in an April runoff. Now Flores is running for committeeman, but Granato abruptly resigned in early September, and was replaced by U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4), who was once committeeman and alderman in the 26th Ward. The HDO was supposedly backing State Representative Cynthia Soto (D-4) for committeeman, but Gutierrez is making noises that he wants to run in 2004 to keep the post. If Gutierrez runs, the HDO will back him, as he is a close mayoral ally.  Ironically, Soto ran against Granato for alderman in 1999, and lost by just 360 votes; she was elected to the legislature in 2000. This much is clear: HDO does not want Flores to be committeeman, and Gutierrez has a better chance of beating him than does Soto.

25th Ward Democratic Committeeman: Alderman Danny Solis was re-elected over Ambrosio Medrano last February by an unimpressive 54-37 percent margin, with the balance to a third candidate. Medrano had been convicted of taking bribes, and he served a stint in a federal prison. Solis reportedly is Daley's favorite Hispanic alderman, but his position is not solid. Medrano is running against Solis for committeeman in 2004. To win, Solis will need a lot of help from Daley and the HDO.

35th Ward Democratic Committeeman: The HDO suffered a huge humiliation when challenger Rey Colon upset incumbent Alderman Vilma Colom by more than 1,200 votes. Colon intends to run for committeeman in 2004, and Colom insists that she wants to keep the job. Expect the HDO to ease Colom aside and run somebody more credible against Colon.

State Representative (39th District): It's not just about politics; it's about family. Joe Berrios, a Board of Review commissioner and 31st Ward Democratic committeeman, slated his daughter, Toni Berrios, for a newly created Hispanic-majority (primarily Puerto Rican) House district in 2002. Joe Berrios is closely allied with Alderman Dick Mell (33rd) and the HDO, and his mortal enemy is anti-HDO state Senator Miguel del Valle; both are fighting for control of the North Side's Puerto Rican turf. Toni Berrios will be opposed in the 2004 primary by Pedro DeJesus, an attorney associated with a Hispanic group known as Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century who is backed by del Valle. DeJesus is close to attorney Marty Castro, who waged a dismal primary challenge to U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) in 2002, getting just 21.3 percent of the vote. DeJesus likely will be supported by Colon and Flores, both of whom are opposed by the HDO, but Berrios will be backed by the HDO, Daley, and probably Gutierrez.

State Representative (4th District): The del Valle-Berrios squabble spills over into the adjacent House district, which also is centered on Logan Square, and points north and west. In the 2002 primary, del Valle-backed Willie Delgado won his third term by a microscopic 24-vote margin over Berrios-backed Jose Alvarez. Alvarez is running again, with the support of the HDO and Mell. His major handicap is that he is Cuban in an overwhelmingly Puerto Rican area. Delgado is in great peril.

State Representative (3rd District): Soto will be seeking her third term, but by running against Flores in the 1st Ward, she guarantees that the Flores-Avila group will run somebody in the Near North Side district against her.