May 5, 2004


Chicago's Far Southwest Side, the so-called "white ethnic" areas on the city's rim which encompass the 13th, 19th and 23rd wards, is much like Chicago's Far Northwest Side, the "white ethnic" areas on the city's rim which encompass the 38th, 39th, 41st and 45th wards.

Both have neighborhoods where housing prices are substantial and rising rapidly, with some homes in the $500,000-plus range.

Both are crammed with city workers, especially police officers and firefighters. And both have a large population of upscale professionals.

Both are dominated by well connected Democratic politicians who have close ties to Mayor Rich Daley and who have vast armies of city and county job holders who work precincts.

Both have large numbers of first- and second-generation ethnic voters.

And both, surprisingly, produced a sizable vote in the March 16 U.S. Senate primary for black Democrat Barack Obama.

But there are two huge differences:

First, the Far Southwest Side is being racially integrated, with growing numbers of black families buying homes in heretofore white areas, particularly in the 19th Ward's Beverly neighborhood. The Far Northwest Side has growing numbers of Hispanic residents, but virtually no blacks.

And second, the Southwest Side's once-solid political hierarchy is wobbly, and major generational -- but not racial -- change is imminent. On the Northwest Side, there is no change in the air.

Of the three wards, the 19th is most likely on the cusp of political upheaval. The ward's longtime Democratic committeeman, 65-year-old former county assessor Tom Hynes, was mightily embarrassed by the poor showing in the March Senate primary of his son, Dan Hynes, in the 19th Ward and statewide. Hynes carefully scripted his son's career, with the ultimate goal of the White House. Winning a U.S. Senate seat would have been a gigantic step toward that objective.

But, despite a legion of precinct workers and plenty of money, Dan Hynes garnered only 9,490 votes (51.2 percent) in his father's 19th Ward, to Obama's 7,689 (41.5 percent). The number of black voters in the ward is estimated to be around 4,000, so the much of the Obama vote must be construed as an anti-Tom Hynes vote. In fact, it much resembles the 2003 aldermanic race, where incumbent Ginger Rugai, a Hynes ally, beat John Somerville, a disgruntled former Hynes precinct captain, by 10,701-7,905. Also, in the 2002 primary for attorney general, Hynes-endorsed Lisa Madigan carried the 19th Ward by just 9,399-9,177 over John Schmidt.

By comparison, Dan Hynes got 7,322 votes (63.3 percent), to Obama's 1,791 votes (15.5 percent), in the 13th Ward, where Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan is the committeeman. Lisa Madigan won the ward 11,718-3,457.

And Dan Hynes got 5,867 votes (51.6 percent), to Obama'a 2,317 (20.4 percent), in the 23rd Ward, where U.S. Representative Bill Lipinski (D-3) is the committeeman. Lisa Madigan won the ward 8,693-5,392.

Rugai is expected to resign some time after April, 2005, thereby allowing Mayor Daley to name her replacement through 2007 and avoid a special 19th Ward election. Somerville definitely will be a candidate in 2007.

In the 23rd Ward (Garfield Ridge, Clearing and most of Archer Heights and West Elsdon), which centers on Midway Airport, rumors abound that Lipinski will resign in 2005, especially if the Democrats don't win control of the U.S. House in 2004. If Democrats win a majority, Lipinski would be in line to chair a major subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Otherwise, Lipinski, a former Chicago alderman, could opt to accept appointment to a newly created CEO job at the RTA. The ward's black population is around 5 percent.

In the 13th Ward (West Lawn, Ashburn), Mike Madigan's dominance is pervasive. He has plenty of state, county and city jobs to fuel his precinct operation, and Lisa Madigan is the state attorney general and a possible future governor. The ward's black population is around 5 percent.

But it is in Hynes' 19th Ward (Beverly, Mount Greenwood, Morgan Park) that political instability looms. For over 30 years, more than a generation, the so-called "Three Wise Men" -- Tom Hynes, Sheriff Mike Sheahan and former alderman and now mega-lobbyist Jeremiah Joyce -- have ruled. All are staunch Daley allies, having supported Daley when he ran for mayor in 1983. Hynes was elected state senator in 1970, committeeman in 1976 and assessor in 1978, resigning in 1997. Joyce was elected alderman in 1975 and state senator in 1978. His son Kevin was elected state representative from the area in 2002. Sheahan was elected alderman in 1979 and sheriff in 1990, and he is a potential candidate for Cook County Board president in 2006 if incumbent John Stroger retires.

As yet, according to 19th Ward insiders, there is no consensus among the "Three Wise Men" as to who should succeed Rugai, who was Sheahan's top aide when he was an alderman. Joyce, who is even closer to the mayor than Hynes, apparently wants his son to be the next ward committeeman. But Hynes wants to keep his seat at the table, so that he has input on Rugai's replacement. That means he won't quit for a while. As for Dan Hynes' future, it's a waiting game -- waiting for an open race for attorney general or governor and keeping his comptroller's job. In that situation, there is no need for Tom Hynes to keep his ward post.

The 19th Ward stretches from 87th Street on the north to 117th Street on the south; the eastern boundary is an easterly curve comprising the Rock Island Metra tracks and Vincennes Avenue. Twenty years ago, many observers thought "white flight" was inevitable. To the east are the 34th and 21st wards, which both are overwhelmingly black, and to the north is the 18th Ward, which is more than 75 percent black. Just to the south are Alsip and Blue Island, both majority-black suburbs, and to the west is Oak Lawn, which is largely white.

But white residents of the 19th Ward didn't flee, and the integration of Beverly is one of Chicago's most overlooked stories. The ward is about 20 percent black, and it contains four distinct neighborhoods.

Mount Greenwood, which contains 23 of the ward's 76 precincts, comprises the area west of California Avenue, is almost exclusively white, and has a heavy concentration of city workers and of police officers and firefighters. The housing is medium-priced and consists of pre-war wooden frame homes and post-war brick bungalows. It resembles north Edison Park and Oriole Park on the Northwest Side. Hynes' organization is strongest in Mount Greenwood. Homes are in the $200,000 range.

The strip between Western and California, from 99th to 115th, called West Beverly, resembles Jefferson Park: Bigger, older, costlier homes, with some racial integration. Homes go for $200,000 to 300,000.

East of Western and north of 107th is Beverly, with some bungalows but with predominantly older frame homes, Tudors, Georgians and a number of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes. The area resembles Sauganash and old Norwood Park, with most houses in the $300,000 to 500,000 range. Increasing numbers of affluent professionals are buying homes in Beverly, and they are not the kind of people who let their precinct captain dictate their vote. Obama, Somerville and Schmidt all ran well in Beverly. In addition, Beverly is about 25 percent black, and those black home owners are economically upscale.

And then there's Morgan Park, south of 107th Street, which is racially diverse and about half black. Some precincts along Vincennes are almost totally black, while those near Western are almost totally white. Housing prices range from $150,000 to 200,000. Morgan Park also extends east of Vincennes into the 34th Ward. But it is here, in the 19th Ward's Morgan Park, where "white flight" ceased.

The outlook: Lipinski will not resign unless he's convinced that he can hand off his congressional seat to either his alderman, Mike Zalewski, his son, Dan Lipinski, or his chief of staff, Jerry Hurckes. Cook County Commissioner John Daley, the 11th Ward Democratic committeeman, wants the House seat for his alderman, Jim Balcer. So it's a checkmate situation at the moment.

In the 19th Ward, don't expect Tom Hynes to resign his committeeman's post any time soon. But the "Three Wise Men" will need all the wisdom they can muster if they want to keep their hold on their ward.