March 3, 2004


In an effort to distill clarity from confusion, the outcome of the March 16 Democratic primaries for two Cook County Circuit Court judgeships in the Northwest Side 10th subcircuit can be predicted as follows:

Jim McGing is in the wrong race at the right time -- but could win. Aurie Pucinski is in the right party in the wrong race -- but could win. Carolyn Quinn is in the wrong district at the right time -- but won't win. And Clare McWilliams is in the right race at the right time -- and will win.

The 10th subcircuit, which encompasses all or part of seven Chicago wards and most of Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Glenview in Maine Township, is one of 17 districts in Cook County created by the General Assembly in 1991. The intent was to ensure the election of more minority judges. Since 1992 a total of nine judges, all Democrats, have been elected from the 10th subcircuit. Of those nine, six were the endorsed candidates, meaning that they had the backing of the area's ward and township Democratic committeemen.

The 2004 contest has its antecedents in two prior primaries: In 1992 Susan Fleming upset party-backed Bob Donovan. Fleming resigned from the bench in November 2003, necessitating an election for her vacancy in 2004. In 2002, as was the custom among the subcircuit's committeemen, it was Maine Township Committeeman Andy Przybylo's turn to anoint a judicial nominee. Every 2 years, when a vacancy arose, a specific committeeman got to choose the endorsed contender.

But at the slating meeting in late 2001, word came down from City Hall that William O'Brien, a 41st Ward resident who is the brother of Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terry O'Brien, who is part of the 50th Ward Democratic organization, would be the choice. Przybylo was furious, stormed from the session, and promised to run and fund his own choice in 2004 if he was bypassed again. He wasn't.

When the committeemen met in October 2003, Przybylo proclaimed that the "Judgeship A" spot was the "Polish seat" and that his candidate was Joe Potasiak, a city attorney active in Polish-American cultural groups. Przybylo's adamant support of Potasiak discouraged many others from running, including Pucinski. So Potasiak was slated, along with McGing, of the 41st Ward, who ran a close but losing campaign for state senator in 1992 and who currently is the acting director of operations of Cook County Jail. McGing was endorsed for the Fleming vacancy, and Pucinski filed to run against McGing. The state Supreme Court appointed Quinn to Fleming's judicial vacancy, and she moved into the subcircuit to run for the full term.

Then fate intervened. After filing closed in mid-December, Potasiak died. It was too late for McGing or Pucinski to shift races or for anybody else to file. Left in the race were McWilliams, Peggy Chiampis, David Barry, Bonnie Kennedy and Jim Snyder. None of the contenders had much political heft, although Kennedy is the daughter of a judge and Snyder is the general counsel of the Illinois Department of Human Rights. But McWilliams most impressed the committeemen when she appeared at slating, and she is the endorsed candidate. Party backing, coupled with being first on the ballot, will ensure her victory.

Each contender for the Fleming vacancy has significant strengths, as well as some negative baggage.

The Pucinski name is exceptionally well known, but Aurie Pucinski is much detested among Northwest Side party insiders. Her father, Roman Pucinski, first ran for Congress in 1956. His name was on the ballot on 24 occasions: eight times for Congress, six times for alderman, eight times for 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, once for U.S. Senator and once for mayor. She has been on the ballot eight times, including three successful bids for clerk of the Circuit Court (1988, 1992 and 1996) and two losing bids for Cook County Board president (1994 and 1998). She also lost races for secretary of state (1986) and Appellate Court justice (2002). "I have a reputation as a hard-working, ethical attorney," said Pucinski, adding that she has been an attorney for 27 years and a court administrator for 12.

Pucinski's baggage stems from the fact that she ran as a Republican in her last two losing races (1998 and 2002). "She's a total opportunist," said one Democratic committeeman. "She only came back (to the Democratic Party) in order to win the seat." This personal and political animosity toward Pucinski has energized the committeemen to work hard for McGing.

Quinn lived on the Lakefront until last December. At one time she was a clerk for Justice Mary Ann McMorrow. Since the Supreme Court has to right to fill judicial vacancies, McMorrow, as one of three justices from Cook County, named Quinn to the Fleming vacancy. She moved to Ravenswood just days prior to her appointment. Her campaign operates out of the basement of 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney's office in Lakeview, and all of her political backers are Lakefront or North Shore politicians.

Quinn's publicist calls her a "fresh new face," stating that Pucinski is running on hers and her father's names and that McGing is part of Sheriff Mike Sheahan's political operation. But McGing said that Quinn has donated more than $38,000 to various Lakefront politicians since 1999. "She's a political insider," he said. "If she's 'fresh,' it's only because she moved into our district to run."

McGing, an Edison Park resident who has been an attorney for 18 years, narrowly lost to Republican Wally Dudycz in the 1992 state Senate race. In that contest he relied on state Representative Ralph Capparelli, who also was the 41st Ward committeeman, to carry the ward for him. Capparelli failed to do so, and he and McGing have been openly antagonistic since.

But Capparelli is backing McGing in 2004, as is every other committeeman. McGing's only baggage is his close connection to Sheahan, and that is not much of a liability.

My prediction: McGing and Quinn will spend more than $100,000, and each will make two districtwide mailings. Pucinski will spend more than $30,000. Turnout has fluctuated in past presidential-year primaries. It was just over 32,000 in 1996 and almost 50,000 in 1992. Turnout also was high in off-year races: over 44,000 in 2002, 31,000 in 1998 and 40,000 in 1994. However, none of the prior contests featured either a household name (Pucinski) or a sitting judge (Quinn).

Both gender and ethnicity also affected past races. Candidates with Polish surnames won three times; a woman has won only once. Does having two women as foes help McGing? Or does having two Irish-surnamed opponents help Pucinski?

In the last nine primaries, the endorsed Democrat averaged 31.9 percent of the vote. In seven of those contests, with one or more women running, the female candidates' vote averaged about 25 percent. On balance, Quinn will hurt McGing more than he will help him. In the eastern portion of the district (the 47th and 40th wards), where Pucinski is not popular, Quinn fractures the anti-Pucinski vote with McGing. In the western portion (the 41st, 45th and 39th wards), where Pucinski arguably is popular, Quinn shaves anti-Pucinski votes from McGing.

Quinn will draw about 20 percent of the vote. In a turnout of just over 30,000, that leaves 24,000 votes for Pucinski and McGing to split. The committeemen will be embarrassed if they can't deliver 12,000-plus votes for McGing. Give an edge to McGing, but expect a photo finish, with the race decided by fewer than 500 votes.

And in the hoped-for "Polish seat," expect McWilliams to pull 40 percent of the vote, with Chiampis a close second.

45th Ward Democratic Committeeman: One ray of light for McGing is the fact that longtime Committeeman Tom Lyons faces a challenge from Bob Bank, former president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association. Lyons is the county Democratic chairman and a close ally of Mayor Rich Daley, and in 1983, when Daley was running for mayor against Jane Byrne and Harold Washington, Lyons carried his ward for Daley. A big ward vote for Lyons also means a big vote for McGing, whom he supports.

Bank says that he is running to ensure "more open government" and against the "culture of the ward office." Lyons boasts that he has the "strongest organization on the Northwest Side" and that he "delivers" for all party candidates. Lyons grew up in the ward, but he has long had a home in Glencoe. However, he maintains a voting address in the ward. There is no doubt that Lyons will prevail.

In 2003, Alderman Pat Levar beat Pete Conway, Bank's ally, by 8,667-4,475. Conway wants to run for alderman again in 2007, and a Bank vote in excess of 35 percent would be a great encouragement. But committeeman races attract less interest than aldermanic contests. In 1984, when Lyons was last opposed, he beat Alderman Gerry McLaughlin 10,609-7,152. My prediction: In a turnout of just under 9,000, Bank will get 2,800 votes, or 31 percent.