December 22, 2004


In politics, as in many personal and commercial endeavors and pursuits, size matters. Burger joints urge customers to Supersize, and convenience stores promote a Big Gulp.

For a politician, however, the margin of victory in one election invariably affects the degree of difficulty to be encountered in the next election. In short, the bigger the margin, the less the difficulty.

For those weary of the 2004 election, read no further. But for those who are insatiable political junkies, or who have idle time on their hands, here's my final, final 2004 election analysis.

15th Illinois House District: "Supersize Me." That was the projected goal of 39th Ward Democratic Committeeman Randy Barnette, the campaign manager and chief strategist in Democrat John D'Amico's successful campaign for state representative in the Northwest Side district.

Barnette sought to orchestrate a victory of such gargantuan proportions that D'Amico, the grandson of the late Alderman Tony Laurino and the nephew of Alderman Marge Laurino, who is Barnette's wife, would face no credible opposition in the future. Barnette achieved his goal. D'Amico won a tough primary and coasted to a solid election victory, and he now has a lifetime seat.

The district, which was designed in 2001 to be a Democratic bastion by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, is centered on the 39th Ward, which contains roughly 40 percent of the district's vote. D'Amico beat attorney Dennis Fleming in the primary with 59.7 percent of the vote, augmented heavily by his showing in the 39th Ward, where he got 69.3 percent of the vote. D'Amico's campaign spent nearly $100,000.

In the general election against Republican Bill Miceli, D'Amico, a city worker who lives in Edgebrook, got an remarkable 74.1 percent of the vote in the 39th Ward, almost 10 percent higher than Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's showing. In 2002 Democratic state Representative Ralph Capparelli, who chose to run in the new district, defeated Miceli by a 10,469-vote margin, with 68.1 percent of the total. This year, as a non-incumbent, D'Amico beat Miceli by 12,924 votes and got 66.9 percent of the votes cast.

Both Miceli and D'Amico live in the 39th Ward, but D'Amico obliterated his foe. D'Amico beat Miceli in Miceli's home precinct by 244-159 (60.5 percent), while in the precinct in which D'Amico was raised and in which he is a longtime precinct captain, he crushed Miceli 417-61 (87.2 percent).

For D'Amico, age 42, the worst is over. Future contests will focus on his voting record and constituent service, not his heredity or family baggage. It should be remembered that in 1995 Marge Laurino, who had been Tony Laurino's aldermanic aide, was forced to carry the baggage of her father, who had been indicted by the U.S. attorney on ghost-payrolling charges. But she won comfortably, and she was easily re-elected in 1999 and 2003.

This year D'Amico was slammed by Fleming because both his mother and his father had been convicted in the ghost-payroll probe and because, as a district foremen for the city Department of Water Management, seven members of his crew were suspended after it was revealed during the Chicago Sun-Times' "Hired Truck" investigation that they took long lunches and falsified time sheets. D'Amico apologized for his lack of oversight.

D'Amico spent close to $50,000 against Miceli, and he sent out eight districtwide direct-mail pieces, with an emphasis on his youth, energy and family. In the 39th Ward, with 47 precincts in the 15th District, D'Amico recruited about 150 volunteers, who supplemented the 150 captains already assigned to those precincts. In contrast, Miceli sent out two mailers, both bemoaning the "culture of corruption" in the 39th Ward, but he had no ground game on election day. D'Amico won the portion of the district in Chicago with 71.1 percent of the vote, and he won the suburban portion (primarily Niles) with 59.5 percent.

Capparelli, who ran in the adjacent 20th House District this year and lost, resigned from his 15th District seat in early November, and D'Amico was appointed to his seat. In 2006 he will have a legislative record and will have had 2 years to perform constituent services, campaign and raise a $150,000 campaign warchest. That, plus the size of his 2004 victory, make the 15th District seat solidly Democratic and secure for D'Amico.

5th District Supreme Court contest: Democrats in general, and trial lawyers in particular, took a Big Gulp when Republican Lloyd Karmeier beat Democrat Gordon Maag for a vacant state Supreme Court seat in the Southern Illinois 5th District. The state's high court had a 5-2 Democratic majority, and any tort-reform legislation or lower-court decisions not pleasing to trial attorneys were generally deemed dead on arrival when appealed to the court. Karmeier won with a stunning 55 percent of the vote, and the Supreme Court's Democratic majority and is now 4-3 -- and that matters.

Taking in 37 far Downstate counties and centered in the media market around East Saint Louis, the 5th District has long been a Democratic bastion, and it has not elected a Republican justice since the 1940s. The Democratic incumbent, Moses Harrison, retired in 2002. The Democrats nominated Maag, an appellate court judge to face Karmeier, a trial judge.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, through its Institute for Legal Reform, supplemented by Illinois business, medical and manufacturing groups, poured money and manpower into Karmeier's campaign, while Madigan and trial attorney groups poured money into Maag's. Karmeier tagged Maag as a "tool of the trial lawyers" and highlighted the fact that exorbitant personal injury and medical malpractice judgments in the Madison County-Saint Clair County region increased the cost of medical malpractice insurance and caused many doctors to leave the area or shutter their practice. This issue motivated many voters to back Karmeier.

Nationally, the chamber was involved in 13 supreme court races in various states this year, and "tort reform" candidates won 12 of them. In fact, Republicans won 13 of 14 state supreme court races where the contest was partisan.

In 2000, in the historically Republican 3rd District (which spans the state from Kankakee to Rock Island), well funded Democrat Tom Kilbride scored a huge upset. Madigan sent his workers into the area for Kilbride, and more than $800,000 was spent on his behalf. In 2002, in the adjacent, largely rural 4th District, centered on Springfield, the Republican candidate barely won.

Since Illinois Supreme Court justices serve 10-year terms, a Republican (or tort reform) takeover will not occur until 2010at the earliest, when Kilbride's seat is up. If he runs for retention, he surely will win. Cook County elects three justices, and all are anti-tort reform Democrats.

But the Karmeier victory sends a clear message: Tort reform has teeth. If just one Supreme Court Democrat defects on any key case, the trial lawyers will be a very unhappy bunch.

However, the chamber could adopt another tactic. Of the seven justices, three are elected at-large in Cook County (with a 2000 population of 5,376,741), and the other four run in single-member Downstate districts. That means Cook County elects 42.9 percent of the Supreme Court, and contains 43.3 percent of the state's population, which in 2000 was 12,419,293. One-person/one-vote requirements mandate equal population in all election districts. Therefore, it could be argued that there should be seven single-member Supreme Court districts, each containing 14.3 percent of the state's population. A federal lawsuit could challenge the constitutionality of Illinois' system. If single-members districts were to be drawn in Cook County, it is possible that a tort-reform Republican could win in a suburban district.