December 10, 2003


With the 2003 Christmas holiday season off to a rip-roaring economic start, so, too, is the 2004 political season. Hundreds of local, county and state politicians filed their nominating petitions on Dec. 8, and many more will file by Dec. 15, the closing date.

Future columns will analyze key contests in graphic and grisly detail. But here's a preliminary look at some of the more interesting local and county races:

42nd Ward (North Lakefront): It's a generational shift . . . and possibly a political shift. George Dunne, the ward's 90-year-old Democratic committeeman, is trying to hand off his post to Alderman Burt Natarus -- who is a veritable youngster at age 70. Dunne has been a committeeman since 1961, and he was Cook County Board president from 1968 to 1990. Natarus has been an alderman since 1971.

But there is a complication: Former Circuit Court judge Kenneth Gillis, age 65, is intending to file for committeeman. Gillis served on the bench for more than a decade, having been elected as a Democrat, and he has close ties to the Daley family. When Republican Jack O'Malley won the county state's attorney's spot in 1990, Gillis resigned to be his first assistant, and he served for just over a year. So the mystery deepens: Is Gillis the Daley candidate?

And Natarus, of course, can attack Gillis as a sometime Democrat who worked for a Republican and who cannot be trusted to be the ward's committeeman.

Becoming committeeman may or may not shore up Natarus's shaky political position in the ward. In winning his ninth term in 2003, Natarus defeated Rich Gordon, the ward's Republican committeeman, by 5,540-4,378, a 56 percent majority. In 1999 Natarus topped a four-candidate field, getting 8,021 votes (56 percent) to runner-up Dennis O'Neill's 5,318, with 1,065 votes scattered. The base Democratic vote is dwindling, as the 42nd Ward became more affluent and, as a result, more Republican. Gordon is set to challenge Natarus again in 2007.

In 2000, Dunne defeated Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner Patty Young by 3,226-2,209 -- hardly an impressive margin. Dunne's political organization is ancient and arthritic, and precinct captains just aren't relevant in a ward full of upscale condominiums in multi-story high rises.

The outlook: Natarus is much better known than Gillis, but he has a lot of baggage. Natarus is unabashedly pro-development, and many ward residents complain of overdevelopment in the ward -- particularly Natarus's support for condominiums on the Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine property and a plan to tear down Ogden School and reopen it within a multi-story condo development. Gillis is the underdog, but a nasty 2004 campaign will not enhance Natarus's 2007 re-election prospects -- and a defeat will undermine them.

41st Ward (Far Northwest Side): Both incumbent committeemen will face a concerted challenge.

On the Republican side, state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), a committeeman since 1996, will be opposed by former state senator Wally Dudycz, who retired in 2002. Dudycz did not file on the first day, however. Dudycz is eager to re-enter the political wars, and he aspires to be the Chicago Republican chairman  -- which he views as an ideal platform to criticize Governor Rod Blagojevich and the Democrats. "There's no Republican speaking out against him," Dudycz said.

But Dudycz needs to be a committeeman to win that job. Efforts to convince McAuliffe to retire and to convince Dudycz to move and run for Republican committeeman in the 45th Ward were fruitless. So McAuliffe and Dudycz will engage in a nasty primary fight. McAuliffe is the early favorite.

On the Democratic side, state Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-15) ousted Roman Pucinski as committeeman in 1992, and he has had no opposition since. But Capparelli, age 79, has found his hold on the ward growing ever more tenuous. Capparelli will be opposed in the committeeman's race by Frank Coconate and Mike Marzullo.

Capparelli chose to run for re-election in 2002 to the Illinois House from the newly created Northwest Side 15th District, even though he lived in the 20th District. McAuliffe won the new 20th District seat, but Capparelli refused to move into the 15th District, so he is running for an 18th term against McAuliffe. Both Coconate and Marzullo also have filed to run for state representative against Capparelli. The early outlook: With two foes splitting the anti-Capparelli vote, Capparelli should win re-nomination.

20th Illinois House District (Northwest Side): The McAuliffe-versus-Capparelli race should be one of the most combative and expensive in the state. McAuliffe is the better campaigner, but Capparelli has more money -- $974,000 according to the last disclosure report. Capparelli will have to spend some of that to win his two primaries. Expect Capparelli to win in the 20th District primary, because of divided opposition, but watch the numbers: In the 2002 primary Capparelli-backed Bob Bugielski got 10,754 votes (53.9 percent) against Coconate's 5,444 votes (27.3 percent) and Lou Giovanetti's 3,743 votes (18.8 percent).

If the combined anti-Capparelli vote exceeds 50 percent, the incumbent is in real trouble against McAuliffe; if, however, Capparelli amasses close to two-thirds of the vote, then he looks formidable against the Republican.

32nd Ward (Wicker Park, Lakeview, Ukrainian Village): Where's Fritchey? Former alderman Terry Gabinski, the ward's Democratic committeeman since 1988 (and an alderman from 1969 to 1999), was supposed to retire in 2004 and hand off the job to Alderman Ted Matlak. But state Representative John Fritchey (D-11) complicated the situation by announcing his candidacy for committeeman.

Fritchey, elected to the Illinois House in 1996, is the son-in-law of Sam Banks, who is the brother of powerful 36th Ward Alderman and Committeeman Bill Banks, the City Council Zoning Committee chairman. In a prospective Matlak-Fritchey contest, the alderman looked like a possible loser -- especially if Aldermen Banks and Dick Mell (33rd) were behind Fritchey.

Both Gabinski and Matlak circulated petitions, but only Matlak field -- and Fritchey didn't. According to Fritchey's office, he has the necessary petitions, but "he hasn't file yet." The pressure on Fritchey not to file is intense. Don't be surprised if he doesn't.

15th Illinois House District (Northwest Side): This seat, being vacated by Capparelli, will be easily palmed off to John D'Amico, a city worker who is the grandson of the late alderman Tony Laurino and the nephew of Alderman Marge Laurino (39th). Nobody has filed to oppose D'Amico in the Democratic primary.

10th Judicial Sub-Circuit (Northwest Side): Two vacancies will be filled, and former Cook County Circuit Court clerk Aurie Pucinski filed for one of them -- as a Democrat. In 1997 Pucinski switched to the Republicans and ran for Cook County Board president. The local Democrats have slated Jim McGing, an attorney who lost a close 1992 state Senate race to Dudycz, against Pucinski, and Joe Potasiak, a city attorney whose wife, Marilyn Majewski, works for the Copernicus Foundation, for the second slot.

Potasiak, who is supposed to get the "Polish judgeship," will face David Barry, Clare McWilliams Peggy Chiampas and Bonnie Kennedy in the primary. Those four also filed for the second vacancy, but they must withdraw from one race. Pucinski has no money and no precinct organization, but she has phenomenal name recognition, while McGing has the support of the local ward committeemen, and he will raise and spend $300,000. The early outlook: Pucinski is beatable. In a low-turnout primary, with the ward organizations churning out their controlled vote, a joint McGing-Potasiak win is likely.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: Incumbent Dorothy Brown won this job in 2000, succeeding Pucinski, who had been clerk since 1988. Brown finished first in the 2000 Democratic primary, getting 216,631 votes (48.4 percent), topping party-endorsed Alderman Pat Levar (45th), who got just 123,309 votes (27.5 percent).

Former Circuit Court judge Jerome Orbach, a one-term 46th Ward Chicago alderman, will oppose Brown, and he will be well funded, but he didn't file on the first day. Orbach intends to castigate Brown as incompetent and the clerk's office as inept. Brown has a solid base in the black community, but she has not made herself well known countywide during her first term. If Orbach's television and radio ads succeed in defining her negatively, he could win.

The early outlook: Daley will be neutral, but a lot of his committeemen will be backing Orbach. This is a racial race: If black voters turn out heavily, Brown will win, but if black turnout is light, Orbach could pull a monumental upset.

(Next week: A look at final filings.)