February 18, 2004


When soon-to-be-irrelevant Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean proclaims that he is the champion of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party,” he’s talking about the ideological liberals, fervent feminists, Bush-haters and minority quota fanatics that comprise the very vocal left wing of the Democratic party.

A sizeable number of those “Democratic wing” Democrats reside in the 16th House District, and their vote will be critical in the territorial battle currently raging between two ancient political dinosaurs: Chicago Alderman Berny Stone (50th) and former Cook County Commissioner Cal Sutker, of Skokie.

Sutker’s longtime protégé, State Representative Lou Lang (D-16), of Skokie, is seeking his ninth term in the district, which comprises Chicago’s 50th Ward (West Rogers Park), where Stone is Democratic committeeman, plus all of Lincolnwood, and Skokie generally south of Main Street (but extending northwestward to Austin and Frontage Road), in Niles Township, where Sutker is Democratic committeeman.

Stone is backing attorney Mike Moses, from the 50th Ward, against Lang in the March 16 Democratic primary. Both Lang and Moses are liberals, but not Dean-type liberals.

The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, having given Al Gore 68.6 percent of the presidential vote in 2000, then-U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun 66.6 percent in 1998, and senate candidate Dick Durbin 74.4 percent in 1996. Lang got 76.5 percent of the vote in the 2002 election, was unopposed by a Republican in 2000, and got 81.9 percent in 1998.

But murky waters swirl, and while it is apparent who is backing whom, it is difficult to figure out why. Moses ran against Stone for alderman in 1987, but Stone is supporting Moses in 2004. Ira Silverstein, the 8th District state senator, is a close ally of Stone, and lives in the 50th Ward, but he has endorsed Lang over Moses, even though Silverstein ran against Lang in the 1998 primary for state representative. U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9), from Evanston, is supporting Lang, even though Sutker’s organization – which is basically managed and run by Lang --opposed her in the 1998 primary. Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13), an Evanston attorney who beat Sutker in the 2002 primary, and is a close ally of Schakowsky, has endorsed Moses. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District president Terry O’Brien, a Stone ally, has endorsed Moses.

Lang, age 54, an experienced trial lawyer, is widely acknowledged to be one of the House’s most intelligent and acerbic legislators. During debates, he routinely excoriates Republicans, earning a reputation as Speaker Mike Madigan’s “pit bull.” On cultural and social issues, like abortion, gay rights, minority quotas and gun control, he is predictably liberal. Lang has long advocated “full funding” for education, meaning that the state pays for half of all local educational expenses. He is chairman of the House Gaming Committee, and has been in the forefront of efforts to expand casino and gaming revenues.

And Lang is one of six “assistant House majority leaders,” a post which puts him on a highly-competitive track to the speakership some day. In 2001, he announced his candidacy for governor, and spent a year crisscrossing Illinois before he folded his campaign.

But, despite Lang’s Springfield and statewide prominence, Moses is unimpressed. “He (Lang) has his personal agenda and his gaming agenda, which ignore the needs of the 16th District,” said Moses. “He’s not done anything for the district, and he’s not gotten the dollars for state projects that he should have.”

Moses is especially critical of Lang’s advocacy of video poker, which Lang wants to legalize and regulate. “That (video poker) is the crack cocaine of gambling,” said Moses. “It should be banned, but he’s (Lang) obsessed about it.”

The challenger also ripped Lang for not delivering state projects, and for “ignoring Chicago. He (Lang) promised to deliver 13 projects” in his 2003 newsletter, noted Moses. “All we got in Chicago was one (state-funded) stoplight.”

Lang categorically rejects Moses’ charges, claiming that they are “an insult to both the senator (Silverstein) and me.”  Lang stated that “it is not my number one job to bring pork” – meaning state-funded projects – to the district, but that he has nevertheless steered state dollars to in-district road, parks, schools and CTA projects. “He (Moses) is wrong,” said Silverstein. “There is no better team in Springfield than Lou and I, and we deliver funding.”

Lang asserts that it is his job to “provide excellent constituent service” to the district, and to address “cultural, social and transportation needs.” Lang is especially animated on gaming issues, noting that there is “a $3 billion hole in the state budget” and that “it must be filled without raising taxes.” According to Lang, there are at least 65,000 video poker machines in operation in Illinois, and they are not licensed or regulated. “If they were legalized, hooked into a state-supervised terminal, and monitored,” said Lang, “they would likely decline to about 40,000, but those (machines) would generate tax revenues of $400 to $750 million per year.”

Moses also hits Lang on his SBC vote in 2003, which he claimed “raised phone rates.” Lang dismisses the charge as “ridiculous. It (the bill) had nothing to do with consumer prices. It simply regulated SBC’s wholesale pricing to other competitors, and mandated that SBC’s savings be passed to consumers.”

According to 2003 year-end financial reports, Lang had over $200,000 in his campaign account, and Moses less than $12,000. But Moses claims that he is well-funded, and that he has already sent out two districtwide mailings, with two more to come. Lang, however, is both well-known and well-funded, and Moses cannot win unless he successfully sells his pitch that Lang is out-of-touch.

The respective precinct organizations of Stone and Sutker are vapid, not vibrant. The huge influx of immigrant Russians, Asian Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, Vietnamese and Chinese over the past two decades has diminished the voter pool in both the 50th Ward and Niles Township. There are still large numbers of Jewish voters, but they are far eclipsed by non-citizen non-voters. Neither Stone nor Sutker have the raw number of precinct workers they boasted back in the 1980s, and those that remain are only marginally effective.

In the 2002 primary, Lang, unopposed, got 10,702 votes. According to Moses, 62 percent of the district’s precincts are in the 50th Ward. Moses expects to win 60 percent of the 50th Ward vote, which would give him 4,500 votes, and garner at least 30 percent of the suburban vote. “That just won’t happen,” said Silverstein. “Lou Lang will be renominated easily.”

Moses also claims that he will be the beneficiary of the district’s large Orthodox Jewish vote, which is especially heavy in the 50th Ward, and is now moving into Lincolnwood. Orthodox Jews are very conservative on cultural issues, and Moses is trying to estrange them from Lang on the video poker issue. Again, said Silverstein, “that won’t happen. They (Orthodox Jews) are my political base. I’m working hard among them for Lou (Lang). They will not support Moses.”

My prediction: With the political lines clearly drawn, the political reputations of a lot of politicians will be enhanced – or diminished – by the outcome. Stone needs to prove that he’s the master of the 50th Ward. If Lang comes close, or carries the ward, Stone looks inept.

Likewise, Sutker, after being drubbed in 2002, needs to prove that he can still deliver votes in his township. If Lang can’t clobber Moses by more than 60-40 in Skokie and Lincolnwood, then the Sutker-Lang Machine is truly a relic.

Suffredin, who has been a thorn to Cook County Board president John Stroger on a multitude of county issues, particularly the forest preserves and County Hospital, is breaking away from Schakowsky. So the east end of Skokie will be a battleground. Schakowsky’s people will be pushing Lang, and Suffredin’s Moses.

And, in the 50th Ward, Silverstein’s workers will be pushing Lang. If Lang runs well in the ward, and gets significant backing in the Orthodox Jewish precincts, it will be an embarrassment for Stone, and a credit to Silverstein.

My prediction: Lang’s problem lies in Niles Township. Quite bluntly, there just ain’t any workers. Sutker’s self-preoccupation with himself and his own campaigns has run the organization into the ground. But Lang is a much-loved icon among true-believing Skokie and Lincolnwood Democrats, and Moses’ anti-Lang campaign has gained no suburban traction. Lang will get a huge suburban vote.

My prediction: Lang cannot be neither demonized nor defeated. The “Democratic wing” will opt heavily for Lang. Moses will win less than half the vote in the 50th Ward, and less than a third in the suburbs. In a turnout of just under 12,000, Lang will over 60 percent of the vote.