April 21, 2004


Judicial candidate Jim McGing decided, prior to the March 16 Democratic primary, that "judicial restraint" is the type of temperament best exercised by a judge both before and after an election.

However, McGing, the director of operations at Cook County Jail and the slated candidate for the Fleming vacancy in the Northwest Side 10th Circuit Court Subcircuit, won't be a judge. He had the support of every Democratic ward committeeman, but his principal opponent was the well known Aurie Pucinski, and he lost to Pucinski by 1,277 votes.

Never in the brief history of subcircuits, which were created for the 1992 election and which were supposed to ensure racial diversity, has a candidate of Pucinski's stature sought a subcircuit judgeship. Normally, subcircuit winners are lawyers who are prominent in their community or prominent contributors to the political party which is dominant in that area.

Pucinski was the clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court for 12 years. She ran for Cook County Board president in 1994 and 1998, and she is the daughter of the late Roman Pucinski, the much revered former Northwest Side congressman (1959 to 1972) and 41st Ward alderman (1973 to 1991).

The Pucinski surname is universally known, but that barely counterbalanced Pucinski's mountain of political baggage, and she nearly lost. In a turnout of 41,908, Pucinski got 16,064 votes (38.3 percent), to McGing's 14,787 (35.3 percent), with the balance of 11,057 (26.4 percent) going to Carolyn Quinn, who was appointed to the bench to fill Judge Susan Fleming's 10th Subcircuit vacancy.

Now, with the luxury of hindsight, a number of anti-Pucinski politicians are wondering why McGing was so "restrained" in his campaign, and why he didn't launch a blisteringly negative assault on Pucinski. McGing spent more than $70,000. He had three districtwide mailings, including a biographical piece, an endorsement by the police and firefighter unions, and a comparative/attack piece highlighting the fact that 10 Democratic committeemen endorsed him (and none Pucinski), that the Illinois State Bar Association found Pucinski "unqualified" (and McGing "qualified"), and asserting that "many . . . are upset with Pucinski for switching to the Republican party."

Omitted from McGing's campaign arsenal was any allegation that the acerbic and combative Pucinski might lack judicial temperament. Or that Pucinski's switch from Democrat to Republican and then back to Democrat to run in 2004 might smack of, at worst, opportunism or, at best, poor judgment. Or that Pucinski, despite her years in public office, lacked the rudimentary courtroom experience necessary to be a competent judge.

"She shouldn't be a judge," complained one Northwest Side Democratic politician. "And she shouldn't have won the primary. I just don't understand why he didn't attack her."

Before the primary, there was much consternation among area political strategists and observers as to the dynamics of the Pucinski-McGing-Quinn race. Would having two women run help McGing? Would having two Irish surnames help Pucinski? In the end, it came down to who did best in their political base:

McGing's base was both geographic and organizational. He relied on the ward committeemen in the western portion of the district, and he carried his home 41st Ward with 3,706 votes (47.6 percent), to Pucinski's 2,874 (36.9 percent) and Quinn's 1,209 (15.5 percent). In the 45th Ward, McGing got 3,568 votes (41.8 percent), to Pucinski's 3,300 (38.7 percent) and Quinn's 1,666 (19.5 percent). McGing lost the 39th Ward 2,275-1,804 to Pucinski, with Quinn getting 1,771.

Outside his base, even with party support, McGing did poorly. In the Maine Township precincts (Park Ridge and part of Des Plaines), Pucinski topped McGing 3,213-1,686, with Quinn at 1,947. McGing's 1,527-vote suburban loss to Pucinski, even though he was endorsed by Niles Mayor Nick Blase and the current and former township committeemen, was fatal. There was simply no suburban precinct activity on his behalf. McGing made a serious mistake in relying on the local Democratic organization.

In the 47th Ward to the east, where McGing was endorsed by Alderman Gene Schulter and where Schulter's organization worked relatively hard for him, Quinn finished first.

Pucinski's base was with older ethnic voters, especially women, and particularly with Polish voters. She ran a shoestring campaign, and she had only one districtwide mailing, but she ran sufficiently well in the western wards to negate McGing's organizational edge. Ultimately, Pucinski's name identification gave her a third of the vote, and she won just enough more to eke out a victory.

 Quinn's base was both geographic and ideological, and she arguably ran the best campaign. A former resident of Lakeview, she moved into Ravenswood in the 47th Ward just days before state Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann McMorrow, for whom Quinn was once a law clerk, appointed her to the Fleming vacancy in December 2003. Quinn is closely tied to the Lakefront liberal community, and especially to U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9). Her campaign office was in the basement of Alderman Tom Tunney's (44th) storefront office. Quinn's public backers were the cream of the Lakefront liberal establishment, and her six districtwide mailings all prominently featured Schakowsky.

Quinn also targeted her mailings well, directing them to receptive -- meaning "liberal" -- households, with a heavy emphasis on single women and residents with Jewish surnames. Quinn spent more than $75,000, and she almost pulled off a major upset. She carried her adopted 47th Ward 2,907-2,560 over McGing, with Pucinski third with 2,242. She got more votes than McGing in the few precincts in the Lakefront-area 50th, 48th, 46th and 32nd wards, and she got more votes than McGing in Maine Township. It would be accurate to say that much of the Barack Obama vote in the 10th Subcircuit found its way to Quinn.

Could McGing have won if he had gone negative on Pucinski? Probably not. Most of the Pucinski-hating committeemen, like Tom Lyons (45th), were for McGing anyway. His party-switching attack piece was a dud, and he failed to disseminate any anti-Pucinski testimonial piece, with lawyers or retired judges criticizing Pucinski for her alleged lack of a judicial temperament.

A switch of just 650 Pucinski voters to McGing would have given him the victory, but an anti-Pucinski attack could have switched some eastern McGing voters to Quinn.

Some local politicians are convinced that McGing's 2004 loss is but a prelude to a 2006 win. McGing, a longtime political associate of Sheriff Mike Sheahan, narrowly lost a 1992 bid (by 3,111 votes) for state senator to Republican incumbent Wally Dudycz, and he came even closer this year. The presumption is that the party "owes him" for taking on, and nearly winning, two very tough races.

But there is a contrary view -- that Quinn's very formidable 2004 campaign will prompt her to run again in 2006. At this early date, it is impossible to project how Pucinski's 38.3 percent of the vote would disperse in a McGing-Quinn race.

Of course, there will be no 2006 judicial opening unless the Illinois Supreme Court decides to create a 10th Subcircuit vacancy.

From 1992 to 2002, nine judges (all Democrats) have been elected in the 10th Subcircuit; of that number, six were party-endorsed candidates. Fleming was elected in 1992 (beating the endorsed contender), and she won retention in 1998. Fleming is the first of those nine not to seek another 6-year term. So, in 2004, the 10th Subcircuit had two judgeships available, Fleming's and a new "A" vacancy.

In the "A" race, where turnout was 37,885 (about 4,000 less than in the Fleming race), party-endorsed Clare McWilliams won with 35.8 percent of the vote, almost the same percentage (35.3) with which McGing lost. McWilliams also ran poorly in the suburbs, getting just 1,450 votes. Running second was Peggy Chiampis with 11,253 votes (29.7 percent), to Bonnie Kennedy's 7,778 (20.5 percent) and Jim Snyder's 5,280 (14 percent).

The "A" race was a typical subcircuit race: None of the candidates was well known, and the Democratic organization's support put McWilliams over the top. But Chiampis, Kennedy and Snyder will certainly try again in the future.

In fact, expect two 10th Subcircuit openings in 2006: The Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board Judge is investigating an allegation that Francis Golniewicz, first elected in 1994 and retained in 2000, falsified his residency when he ran in 1994, using his parents' address in the 10th Subcircuit but actually living in Riverside. It is doubtful that Golniewicz will seek retention in 2006; if he resigns, McGing could be appointed to his vacancy.

The early outlook: If it's just one seat, a tumultuous McGing-Quinn will battle will occur. But if it's two seats, expect McGing and Quinn to file in separate races, and expect both to win.