December 29, 2004


For those who care, the captivating spectacle of Democrats viciously fighting Democrats and Republicans viciously fighting Republicans will provide enthralling, if not riveting, entertainment throughout the next 2 years.

In Maine Township, encompassing suburban Park Ridge and Des Plaines and parts of Niles, Glenview and Mount Prospect, a historical anomaly is set to occur: According to township officials, for the first time in the township's recent history, at least dating back to the 1920s, a Republican primary -- as opposed to a party caucus -- will be held to nominate candidates for township office in 2005, with the featured contestants being township Supervisor Bob Dudycz, the brother of former Northwest Side state senator Walter Dudycz, and township Republican Committeeman Mark Thompson, whom Dudycz ousted in the 2001 Republican caucus.

Democrats hope the Republican fratricide will open the door to another historical anomaly: A Democratic take-over of township government, which has not occurred since the state legislature created the standard township government structure in the early 20th Century.

On the Northwest Side, and especially in the 41st Ward, Frank Coconate and his Northwest Side Democratic Organization are preparing to, as Coconate terms it, "step into the void" caused by the 2004 defeat of state Representative Ralph Capparelli, the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, and to run candidates for state senator, state representative, Cook County commissioner and Cook County Circuit Court judge in the 10th Judicial Sub-Circuit in 2006, and for alderman against incumbent Republican Brian Doherty in 2007.

For those offices before the voters in 2006, the organization is planning to hold slatemaking sessions this August to interview and endorse candidates. Coconate is planning to run in the Democratic primary for county commissioner; the incumbent is Republican Peter Silvestri, the mayor of Elmwood Park. Coconate is looking for three other candidates to run on his 2006 primary ticket, and he's also planning to find a candidate to oppose Doherty in 2007. "He supported the mayor's budget," Coconate said. "He must be held accountable."

Coconate, a safety specialist in the city Department of Water Management, has generated considerable publicity recently with his criticisms of Mayor Rich Daley and his alleged "anti-union, anti-worker" policies. "There's 20,000 unhappy city workers," Coconate said. "They're suffering. And, if given an opportunity, they will rise up and vote against the mayor." Coconate held a Halloween rally at which many city workers showed up masked.

"This guy is playing with half a deck," sneered one local Democratic leader. But Coconate, who lost Democratic primaries for state representative in 2002 and 1998 but was nominated in 2000 (and lost to Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe), expects that Northwest Side city workers will vote for him in 2006, and that they also will vote against Daley in 2007, when the mayor's term expires.

Here's an early look at upcoming political contests:

Maine Township: It may not be getting more Democratic by the minute, but voter allegiance is definitely getting less Republican by the year.

From a Republican perspective, macro political trends have been ominous. In 1984 Republican President Ronald Reagan won the township 43,470-17,753, with 71 percent of the vote and with a margin of 25,717 votes; in 1988 Republican nominee George Bush won 36,733-21,576, getting 62.9 percent of the total and with a margin of 15,157 votes.

In 1992 Democrat Bill Clinton lost the township by just 2,563 votes, meaning that the Republican majority declined tenfold in just three elections. In 1996 Clinton won the township by 2,473 votes -- the first time since at least the 1940s that a Democratic presidential candidate triumphed. In 2000 Democrat Al Gore won 24,729-23,196 (51.5 percent), with a margin of 1,533 votes, and in 2004 Democrat John Kerry won 28,213-24,518 (53.5 percent), with a margin of 3,695 votes, more than double Gore's margin.

So while Democrats may crow that they're now the majority, having won the last three presidential elections, but turnout in the township is erratic. It was 61,223 in 1984, 58,309 in 1988 and 47,925 in 2000 -- and back up to 52,731 in 2004.

However, on a micro level -- township elections -- the Republicans are still dominant. In 2001 Dudycz, then a township trustee, clobbered Democrat Mike Yesner for supervisor, winning 9,545-7,075, with 57.4 percent of the vote. Dudycz, in alliance with Republican Committeeman Bill Darr, dumped Thompson, then the supervisor, at the 2001 Republican township caucus. In 1997 Thompson won his second term 12,582-7,466 (62.7 percent); he won his first term in 1993 9,931-9,304 (51.6 percent). In 1989 Republican Joan Hall won the supervisor's job 12,746-11,651 (52.2 percent). The good news for Republicans is that their majority in supervisor's contests is stable, suffering only a slight decrease in 2001; the bad news is that turnout in township races is shriveling, from 24,397 in 1989, to 19,235 in 1993, to 20,048 in 1997 and to 16,620 in 2001. Are Republicans doing better because Democrats aren't voting? Remember: Turnout in township elections is but half of that in U.S. presidential elections.

After being ignominiously deposed in 2001, Thompson waged an unanticipated comeback in 2002, challenging Darr, who had been appointed to replace Marty Butler as committeeman after Butler's death in 1998. Darr failed to take Thompson seriously, and Thompson upset Darr 4,505-4,352, getting 50.8 percent of the vote in a turnout of 8,857, which can be taken as the base Republican vote. Note that this is only slightly less than Bob Dudycz's 2001 vote of 9,545; Dudycz was closely allied with Darr.

After Darr's loss, Dudycz removed himself from involvement in the township party, and he has since accused Thompson of "running (the party) into the ground." Thompson then purged some Dudycz backers, including township highway commissioner Bob Provenzano, as precinct captains.

Under state law, an existing or new party can elect to have either a caucus or primary to select township or municipal candidates. In the past, both the township Republicans and Democrats have had a caucus, by law on the same date at the same time in different locales, in which anybody who shows up can vote to chose township candidates, which include the supervisor, assessor, clerk, collector, highway commissioner and four trustees. Having been blindsided in 2001, when Thompson showed up at the caucus with 50 people and Dudycz arrived with 251, Thompson has chosen to have a Republican primary on Feb. 22, 2005.

Dudycz is seeking a second term, on a slate including all incumbents but the retiring collector, and including Trustee Laura Morask, elected as a Democrat in 2001 but running for re-election as a Republican. Thompson's slate has already lost two candidates, as its candidate for assessor failed to file the required state credentials and its candidate for collector failed to live in the township for 1 year.

The early outlook: In Park Ridge and Des Plaines, the local parties will hold their caucus and select their municipal candidates on Jan. 11, as will the township Democrats. That means that the Feb. 22 Republican primary, open to anybody who wises to vote, including registered Democrats, will be both a rarity and an opportunity. Fewer than 6,000 voters likely will participate, and Democrats, if they so choose, can take a Republican ballot.

But will Democrats choose the weaker Republican? Thompson is more liberal than Dudycz, and the loser likely will boycott the winner in the April 5 election. That gives the Democrats hope. My prediction: It's all about turnout. Whoever can find and motivate 4,000 people to vote on Feb. 22 will win. If either Dudycz or Thompson win big, they'll be tough for any Democrat to beat. However, if either wins narrowly, with attendant bitterness, it will be tough for the winner to beat the Democratic candidate.

Northwest Side: Capparelli lost his 20th Illinois House District race to Republican Mike McAuliffe by a solid 7,944 votes, getting just 40.2 percent of the vote, and he was walloped in his 41st Ward base by 5,181 votes, getting just 36.7 percent. "There is no party in the ward, and the NWDO is now the Democratic Party," Coconate said.

McAuliffe faces re-election in 2006, as do state Senator Jim DeLeo (D-10), Silvestri and at least one judge in the Northwest Side10th Sub-Circuit. "We will have a full slate," Coconate said, including a primary foe for DeLeo.

10th Sub-Circuit: Judges usually admonish litigants to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The Illinois Courts Commission ruled that Judge Francis Golniewicz lied about his residency in 1994, when he claimed he lived on the Northwest Side but actually was residing in Berwyn with his wife and family. He was elected in 1994 (defeating the writer of this column) and retained in 2000. On Nov. 15 commission ruled that Golniewicz "violated judicial canons . . . and brought judicial office into disrepute" and ordered him removed from office.

That means that an election will be held in 2006 for the "Golniewicz vacancy." Cook County Jail director Jim McGing, who lost his primary bid for judge in 2004 to Aurie Pucinski by just 1,277 votes, is set to run again. He may get appointed to the Golniewicz vacancy, and if that occurs, he will be the immediate favorite. A flock of other ambitious lawyers will run, but McGing, who lost a state Senate race in 1992 and who has since patiently waited his turn for preferment, will finally get his due: He will win a judgeship in 2006.