May 19, 2004


Being the protege, offspring or relative by marriage of a well connected politician is usually the path to quick and early success in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois politics.

Rod Blagojevich, for example, would not be Illinois' governor had he not married the daughter of Alderman Dick Mell (33rd). Likewise, Lisa Madigan and Dan Hynes would not hold the posts of Illinois attorney general and comptroller were they not the offspring of powerful fathers. And, lest we not forget, Richard M. Daley would not be Chicago's mayor were he not the namesake son of the popular and revered Mayor Richard J. Daley.

In the closely-knit world of Chicago and Cook County politics, where early and fervent loyalty to the "Daley Clan" is a litmus test, outsiders and rebels are not welcome. Insurgents rarely win major office. But if they do (like Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and County Clerk David Orr), the Daley Administration ignores them and waits for a chance to beat them.

In Chicago's 50-member City Council, virtually every alderman is a "more or less" Daley supporter, backing his budget and most initiatives. Even the fanatically liberal Helen Shiller (46th), a foe of any capitalistic advancement, the outspoken Iraq war foe Joe Moore (49th) and the racially obsessed Dorothy Tillman (3rd), champion of slave reparations, have muted their criticism of Daley.

In the 2003 aldermanic elections, the pro-Daley candidate won in 47 of 50 wards. The only Daley losses were in the 1st Ward, where 31-year-old attorney Manny Flores beat Alderman Jesse Granato, in the 21st Ward, where Howard Brookins Jr. beat Alderman Leonard DeVille, and in the 35th Ward, where community activist Rey Colon beat Alderman Vilma Colom.

Normally, when an alderman who is a ward Democratic committeeman gets beat for the city post, he or she is toast in the following year's party race. At present, 28 of 50 city aldermen also are Democratic committeemen. In 2004 Colon and Brookins were unopposed in their bid for committeeman, because Colom and DeVille failed to run for re-election. In other words, both outsiders had become Daley insiders.

But Flores is still an outsider. In fact, in late 2003, when it looked like Flores was a cinch to demolish Granato in 2004, Granato abruptly resigned as committeeman and was replaced by U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4), a former 26th Ward alderman and longtime Daley ally. Flores opted not to challenge Gutierrez, an icon in the Hispanic community, in the March 2004 primary, and Gutierrez was elected without opposition.

When a newly elected alderman runs for Democratic committeeman, it is to consolidate his power and to effectively squash any base of future opposition. Gutierrez has aspirations to be Chicago's mayor, and he is the most prominent Hispanic contender. Flores is of Mexican descent, and he would be a credible mayoral candidate at some future date. So Gutierrez has a palpable interest in blocking Flores' political advancement -- and particularly Flores' re-election in 2007.

Likewise for the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a pro-Daley operation run by former Daley aide Victor Reyes. The HDO's avowed purpose is to deliver Hispanic votes for the mayor, and it does that quite effectively through a roving precinct organization. Several hundred Hispanic city workers, who want to "get ahead," volunteer to work precincts, and the HDO channels those workers into key wards to aid pro-Daley candidates. The organization did so on Granato's behalf in 2003, and it was embarrassed by his defeat.

The HDO's long-term purpose is to groom a Hispanic candidate to succeed Daley. That might be Gutierrez, who is a sometime ally of the organization, but Gutierrez is Puerto Rican, and the HDO's leadership is predominantly Mexican-American. But this must is certain: The HDO is not about to groom Flores to succeed Daley.

A subtext to Flores' political odyssey has been his association with attorney and political operative Frank Avila, who was instrumental in getting Flores on the 2003 ballot. Flores lived in DuPage County while he was going to law school. After graduating, he went to work as a staffer for Gutierrez, and then got a job in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. He established his residency in the 1st Ward in late 2001. Under Chicago's election code, an alderman must live in his ward for at least 2 years prior to the date of he is sworn in. That means that anybody elected alderman in 2003 would be sworn in April, and therefore would have had to reside in his ward prior to April 2001.

But Avila, a friend of Flores, encouraged Flores to run for alderman and told him that the city law was unconstitutional, inasmuch as a candidate for mayor or any other citywide office need only reside in the city for 1 year prior to being sworn in. Avila also told Flores that Granato was a political accident waiting to be obliterated and that Flores could beat him. So Flores filed, Granato's lawyers challenged his petitions on residency grounds, and Avila countered on lack-of-uniformity grounds. Just a few weeks before the February 2003 aldermanic election, a county judge ordered Flores back on the ballot, stating that a residency requirement for a citywide office should be applied to a ward office.

Granato's hold on the 1st Ward has always been tenuous. In 1995, when he was 32nd Ward Alderman Terry Gabinski's chief of staff after previously serving as aide to U.S. Representative Dan Rostenkowski, he ran in the newly configured Hispanic-majority 1st Ward, which took in the poorer areas south and west of Wicker Park. Granato was strongly backed by Daley, the HDO and the still-powerful Rostenkowski-Gabinski organization. His opponent, attorney Victoria Almeida, ran as a "reformer," and he beat her 3,870-3,636, a margin of 234 votes. In 1999, despite 4 years of incumbency, he barely kept his job, beating Cynthia Soto 4,664-4,304, a margin of 360 votes. In both those contests, the ward was flooded with precinct workers from the HDO and the 32nd Ward.

Soto won an Illinois House seat in 2000, defeating the HDO-backed incumbent, Edgar Lopez, 6,498-4,900. Soto, who is Mexican-American, was unopposed in the 2002 and 2004 primaries, which means that she has made her peace with Daley and the HDO. According to sources, Soto is mulling a bid for alderman in the 1st Ward in 2007, viewing that as a better steppingstone than her current job to a citywide post such as treasurer or clerk.

The City Council's 2001 remap reconfigured the 1st Ward, drawing it in a U-shape, from Ashland on the east, south to Grand, and then west to California. It was designed to take in the poorer, Hispanic-majority sections of south Wicker Park, plus the upscale predominantly white areas of Ukrainian Village, East Village and west Bucktown. Even though the new 1st Ward comprised just 45 percent of the old ward, it still had a 57 percent Hispanic population according to the 2000 census. That was thought to be enough to ensure Granato's re-election.

However, whites numbered 65 percent of the registered voters, which meant that a white candidate, or a Hispanic who appealed to whites, would have a solid base.

After winning his primary victory, Flores was boosted by enormous momentum, and his workers were motivated and enthusiastic. The HDO was otherwise occupied in the 12th, 30th, 25th and 35th wards. In the February 2003 election, Flores got 3,386 votes, to Granato's 3,330, with 214 votes going to a third candidate. Had Flores gotten 80 more votes, he would have won outright.

But the HDO was confident going into the April runoff, dispatching an army of workers into the 1st Ward to rescue Granato and expecting a higher turnout. However, the organization was rudely disappointed. Despite endorsements by the mayor, the governor, Gutierrez and state Senator Iris Martinez, Granato's campaign collapsed. The turnout was much higher, but many of those who didn't vote in February voted against Granato in April. Flores got 5,290 votes (59 percent), to Granato's 3,717, an uptick of 1,904 votes for Flores and just 387 for Granato. For the HDO, given its stupendous precinct effort, Granato's loss was an embarrassment of monstrous proportions.

But then, after his election, Flores made two mistakes of monstrous proportions: First, he meekly deferred to Gutierrez in the committeeman's race. Flores might not have won, but he looked like a quitter. And second, when his friend and lawyer Avila filed for one of three Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner spots, Flores allowed his aldermanic chief of staff, Xochiti Flores, to file for the same job. In the 11-candidate primary, with Flores listed first on the ballot and Avila last, Flores amassed a total of 140,759 votes, to Avila's 159,202; the three Democratic incumbents prevailed, with Avila finishing fourth, 38,745 votes behind Gloria Majewski.

But in the 1st Ward, Alderman Flores' organization pushed hard for aide Flores, and she got 3,426 votes, to Avila's 1,461. Even had Manny Flores backed Avila, he still would have lost countywide. But Flores now looks like an ingrate -- as somebody who betrayed the man who helped make him alderman and who cannot be trusted.

For 2007, the aldermanic field is forming: Joe Glorioso, Granato's former chief of staff, recently appointed 1st Ward Republican Committeeman Jon Blessing and Soto, who likely would have HDO and Gutierrez's support. Instead of being perceived as a political "comer," Flores looks more and more like a one-termer.