December 17, 2003


It's a non-paying job with plenty of aggravation and occasional satisfaction, but with the illusion of power.

Nevertheless, a plethora of ambitious Northwest Side politicians are seeking the position of Democratic and Republican ward committeeman in 2004, some of them -- particularly in the 41st and 45th wards -- viewing the post as a steppingstone to greater political glory and power. With the filing period having closed as of Dec. 15, here's a summary of local party races:

45th Ward: Will Alderman Pat Levar succumb to the fate of former 41st Ward alderman Roman Pucinski? The 2007 aldermanic race is already under way, and the 2004 targets of Levar's potential foes are Levar's mentor, 45th Ward Democratic Committeeman Tom Lyons, and his cousin, state Representative Joe Lyons (D-19).

It will be remembered that in 1991 Pucinski was defeated for alderman in the 41st Ward, after 18 years in the post. Pucinski lost because he had alienated many voters over his long career, as any politician does, being unable to fulfill every promise made, and because seven anti-Pucinski candidates won a total of 58.4 percent of the vote in the 1991 aldermanic primary. In the ensuing runoff, Brian Doherty (who got only 30.6 percent of the vote but who led the anti-Pucinski field in the primary) topped the incumbent with 54.1 percent.

Pucinski won a 1973 special aldermanic election, and he was re-elected easily in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1987. In 1987 Pucinski won 54.3 percent of the vote, defeating four opponents, and in 1983 he was unopposed. Pucinski had been ward Democratic committeeman since 1964, and he was never opposed for re-election, but by 1991 it was clear that his base of support was eroding. He lost his City Council seat that year, and he was defeated by state Representative Ralph Capparelli for committeeman in 1992.

Levar, first elected in 1987, defeating Alderman Gerry McLaughlin, was easily re-elected in 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003. In February he won his fifth term with 65 percent of the vote, beating runner-up Pete Conway (with 33 percent) and Bruce Best. But, just as the demise of McLaughlin in 1987 was foreshadowed by his loss for Democratic committeeman in 1984, Levar's potential 2007 foes hope that a 2004 loss -- or at least a narrow win -- by Lyons, who has been a committeeman since 1968 and who is the Democratic county chairman, will presage Levar's eclipse.

Lyons, age 72, is a longtime ally of Mayor Rich Daley, and that is why he is county chairman. In 1983, despite enormous pressure, Lyons backed Daley for mayor and did the near-impossible: He delivered the 45th Ward for Daley over incumbent Jane Byrne by a 52-47 percent margin, with Harold Washington getting 1 percent. McLaughlin was elected alderman in 1983, defeating Dick Clewis, Lyons' alderman.

Had Byrne won, Lyons would have been toast. Byrne would have backed John Donovan, a top Department of Streets and Sanitation official, for committeeman in 1984, when he and McLaughlin ran against Lyons. Lyons got 10,609 votes (48 percent), to McLaughlin's 7,152 (33 percent) and Donovan's 3,331, with the balance to Randy Ernst.

Safely ensconced as committeeman, Lyons anointed Levar, a top precinct captain who was then an employee of the Circuit Court clerk's office, as the anti-McLaughlin candidate in 1987 -- and Levar clobbered the incumbent 15,615-10,950, a 54 percent victory (with two other candidates in the race). But the 45th Ward is changing demographically, with upscale voters moving into Portage Park and other areas and with new issues, such as commercial development, education quality and population density, coming to the fore. As a result, the ability of Lyons' precinct captains to deliver voters is diminishing.

Lyons was unopposed for re-election in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000. In 1996 he engineered the nomination and election of Joe Lyons as state representative. Joe Lyons is the likely successor as committeeman, probably in 2008, but he must first prevail in 2004. He will be opposed in the 19th District Democratic primary by Jeff Holewinski, the son of former state representative Mike Holewinski (1975-78), who lost the 1979 aldermanic race to Clewis and who became Washington's mayoral chief of staff. The younger Holewinski also circulated petitions to run for committeeman against Tom Lyons, but didn't file.

Tom Lyons' principal foe in the committeeman's race is Bob Bank, president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association. Bank is running as the "community candidate," trying to expand on the base built by Conway in the 2003 aldermanic race. Also in the race is Ron Pacelt, a longtime Lyons precinct captain whose petitions were circulated by Lyons' workers and whose role is to further divide the anti-Lyons vote. With Holewinski out of the race, expect Pacelt to withdraw.

The early outlook: Both Holewinski and Bank see their 2004 race as an opportunity to build name recognition for their anticipated 2007 aldermanic bids. Conway, who is looking to run again in 2007, is backing Bank. Against Bank, Tom Lyons will triumph, but watch his margin: If it's under 60 percent, then the Lyons-Levar machine is malfunctioning in a major way.

On the Republican side, incumbent Committeeman Roman Tapkowski is retiring. Filing for the job were Chicago police officer Donald Haynes and businessman Roman Wiewiora.

41st Ward: Capparelli topped Pucinski in 1992 by 7,651-5,823, and he was re-elected without opposition in 1996 and 2000. In 2004 Capparelli faces opposition from Mike Marzullo, who got 13 percent of the vote in the 2003 aldermanic race, and Frank Coconate, chairman of the Northwest Side Democratic Organization, who lost a 2002 primary for state representative. Both Coconate and Marzullo also filed to oppose Capparelli in the 20th Illinois House District contest. The early outlook: Both Coconate and Marzullo view the committeemanship as a steppingstone to higher office, either as alderman in 2007 or in Springfield. However, with two candidates dividing the anti-Capparelli vote, the incumbent should win both primary contests.

But the real 41st Ward battle is among the Republicans: Former state senator Walter Dudycz filed against Committeeman Mike McAuliffe, who also is the state representative of the 20th District. "I want to rebuild the party," said Dudycz, who aspires to be either city or county Republican chairman. To do so, however, he must be a committeeman.

"The (county) party is a shambles," said Dudycz, who served as a senator from 1985 to 2002. "We have no spokesman to critique the Democrats. That would be my role."

Dudycz said that he met with McAuliffe and promised to "concentrate on county politics" if McAuliffe stepped aside as committeeman. Dudycz also promised to make the McAuliffe-Capparelli House race his top priority. "It would look bad if we lost the only Republican (state representative) in Chicago," Dudycz said.

 McAuliffe refused to retire, and he filed 1,390 signatures on Dec. 8. Dudycz filed 1,360 signatures on Dec. 10. There are roughly 2,000 Republican households in the 41st Ward, and both Dudycz and McAuliffe plan to visit most of them.

The outlook: Dudycz will cast the race in the context of leadership. He wants the job to have a forum from which to assail Governor Rod Blagojevich and the Democrats. McAuliffe will cast the race in the context of gratitude. It was McAuliffe's late father, Roger, who was then a state representative and the 38th Ward Republican committeeman, who plucked Dudycz -- then a Democrat, a Chicago police detective and a 1983 loser for alderman in the 38th Ward -- from obscurity and got him slated for state senator in 1984. That year's Reagan landslide carried Dudycz to victory, and he was re-elected in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 1998.

Now Dudycz is running against the son of his political benefactor. A defeat in the committeeman's race would not be psychologically helpful to McAuliffe in his tough contest against Capparelli. My early prediction: Dudycz has more money than McAuliffe, but McAuliffe has more precinct workers. McAuliffe is a slight favorite, but he won't beat Dudycz by more than 100 votes.

In other noteworthy races, state Representative John Fritchey (D-11), resisting enormous pressure, filed on Dec. 15 for 32nd Ward Democratic committeeman; so did incumbent Terry Gabinski. Alderman Ted Matlak (32nd) filed on Dec. 8. Don't be surprised if both Matlak and Fritchey withdraw, allowing Gabinski another term and setting the stage for a titanic battle in 2008. In the 30th Ward, former alderman Mike Wojcik is unopposed for Democratic committeeman; 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras didn't file, as had been expected. And in the 15th Illinois House District, the anointed Democrat, John D'Amico, will face two primary foes: Dennis Fleming and Mike Burnett.