January 4, 2006


The filing period for 2006 candidates closed on Dec. 19, and the field of aspirants features a motley mixture of oddities, absurdities, dynasties, mendacities and travesties.

In several instances, who has not filed is a bigger story than who has.

Here's an early overview of interesting contests:

One is Enough. In the Democratic primary for Cook County Board president, incumbent John Stroger has a real problem. Against two white opponents, both hoisting the "reform" banner, Stroger, who is black, was an easy victor. But now that County Commissioner Mike Quigley has withdrawn from the primary and endorsed Commissioner Forrest Claypool for board president, Stroger's renomination is in serious jeopardy.

Stroger, the 8th Ward Democratic committeeman, is Mayor Rich Daley's most important black supporter. Back in the1994 primary, Stroger got 47.1 percent of the vote, with Maria Pappas pulling the bulk of the Lakefront/liberal/independent vote (24 percent) and Aurie Pucinski pulling the bulk of the white ethnic/suburban vote (28.9 percent). In that election, Daley exerted a herculean effort on Stroger's behalf, and most Northwest Side and Southwest Side white committeemen delivered 25 to 30 percent of the vote in their wards for Stroger.

Stroger, of course, got a huge vote in the predominantly black wards. But now, 12 years later, Stroger will be attacked by Claypool as a tax hiker and an inept manager. Claypool also will highlight instances of patronage abuse, graft and fiscal mismanagement. To win, Claypool must synthesize the dual messages of institutional reform and fiscal responsibility. He must create an anti-Stroger coalition, melding the 1994 Pappas and Pucinski voters, and hold Stroger to his 1994 vote of 47 percent. The early outlook: Claypool's chances grow brighter by the minute.

Judge and Judge Again: Aurie Pucinski, the daughter of long-time 41st Ward Alderman Roman Pucinski, was elected clerk of the Circuit Court in 1988, switched to the Republicans to run against Stroger in 1998, lost, and then retired as clerk in 2000. In 2004 she switched back to the Democrats and ran for Circuit Court judge in the Northwest Side 10th Subcircuit, beating Jim McGing by 1,281 votes and winning a 6-year term.

Now Judge Pucinski has filed to run in 2006 for a countywide judicial vacancy. How (and why) can a sitting judge run for another judgeship? Pucinski, who lives in Norwood Park, recently said that she wants to move to the Loop because the security for judges is better there. She also acknowledged that her children are on their own, so she doesn't need to keep her house. However, laws require judges elected from subcircuits to remain residents for their first term, so Pucinski, who has supped from a silver spoon her entire political life, cannot move.

Many lawyers would happily move into a cockroach-infested cold-water flat in order to be a judge, but Pucinski doesn't want to spend 4 more years on the Northwest Side. And she probably won't.

Her opponents for the "Burr vacancy" are Ann Collins Dole, Paul McMahon and Joanne Guillemette, none of whom are exactly household names. Pucinski likely will win, but one cannot be a "double judge." She will have to resign her subcircuit judgeship some time in November before she is sworn into her countywide judgeship in December. Northwest Siders won't mourn her departure.

Like Father/Like Son. Ted Lechowicz, the erstwhile Northwest Side state senator and county commissioner (until he lost to Claypool in 2003 by 850 votes) is a poster boy for pension abuse. He accrued 23 years as a state legislator, all the while holding a county patronage job. He was elected commissioner in 1990 and served 12 years. He has over 35 years in his county pension. When Lechowicz left the legislature, while still a county commissioner, he got a high-paying job in George Ryan's secretary of state office, which he kept for 2 months, thereby enhancing his state pension substantially. Big Ted's pensions amount to about $140,000 annually.

Now his son, Ed Lechowicz, is carrying on the family business. Although an attorney for just 8 years, Lechowicz is running for judge in the Near Northwest Side 6th Subcircuit. Facing the unknown Andrea Schleifer, Roxanne Rochester, Mike Grochowiak and Ramon Ocasio, he is a cinch to win - which means another Lechowicz that taxpayers can support for life.

Where's the beef? Frank Coconate is a vociferous Daley critic, and he is spearheading an "Opposition 2007" effort to find anti-Daley aldermanic candidates in all the Northwest Side wards.

But if Coconate's 2006 performance presages his 2007 efforts, the Daley forces need not sweat. Coconate is running for Democratic state central committeeman against incumbent Bill Marovitz in the 9th U.S. House District. He'll lose big. He promised to field a candidate against state Senator Jim DeLeo (D-10), to field an opponent to DeLeo as 5th District state central committeeman, and to field a candidate for county commissioner in the 9th District, where the incumbent is Republican Pete Silvestri. His promises were unfulfilled.

The bottom line: Coconate's credibility is diminished. The 2006 primary was supposed to be a test of anti-Daley sentiment. Other than himself, he got nobody else on the ballot. Those loud giggles can be traced to City Hall.

Barack the Boss? Did U.S. Senator Barack Obama clear the field in the Democratic state treasurer's race? Until incumbent Republican Judy Baar Topinka announced for governor, the only Democrat willing to run for the post was obscure Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri, of Galesburg. He was slated by the Democrats, and he is on record as opposing abortion rights.

When Topinka decided to move up, a flock of ambitious Democrats eyed the job, including state Representative John Fritchey (D-11), Alderman Manny Flores (1st), East Saint Louis state Senator Jim Clayborne (D-57) and Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin, who lost to Topinka in 1998 by 62,279 votes, getting 48.1 percent of the vote. But none announced, and all deferred to Alexi Giannoulias, a 29-year-old Chicago investment banker who was an early supporter of Obama in his 2004 Senate race, whose father owns Broadway Bank, and whose family helped bankroll the Obama campaign. Giannoulias has said that he will campaign as a "progressive," and he has promised to put more than $1 million in family funds into the race.

Democrats like to posture as the party of "diversity," but the Mangieri-Giannoulias primary may belie that assertion. The state treasurer's office has no connection with abortion rights, but expect Giannoulias to hammer Mangieri on that issue. All five Democrats occupying state constitutional offices are from Cook County, and four are from Chicago. The Democrats slated Mangieri to have some geographical balance.

The bottom line: Obama is the potential king maker. Expect Obama to publicly endorse Giannoulias, cut television ads for him, and go heavy for him on black radio stations. Of course, there's a downside. If Obama endorses Giannoulias and he loses, that would indicate that Obama's clout is not transferable.

My prediction: The stars are aligning for Giannoulias, another silver spooner. Every politician in the Chicago area, Daleyites and anti-Daleyites, eager to collect campaign funds from Greek Americans in the future, will back Giannoulias. Obama's early endorsement will be critical. Giannoulias will blanket the Chicago airwaves with ads proclaiming himself to be a reformer and a nonpolitician, and mail pieces will target liberal and feminist voters, ripping Mangieri's anti-abortion stance. Mangieri won't get more than 40 percent of the vote in the primary.

On His Own. Any incumbent's first re-election is the most difficult. In the 3rd U.S. House District, Dan Lipinski was anointed in 2004, not elected. His father, Bill Lipinski, the 23rd Ward Democratic committeeman, served from 1983 to 2005 and resigned his 2004 nomination, and the committeemen - at Lipinski's insistence - picked his son as his replacement.

Much grumbling ensued, and plenty of Southwest Side and southwest suburban politicians began mulling a 2006 congressional bid. But no heavyweight, such as 11th Ward Alderman James Balcer, chose to oppose Lipinski in 2006. His primary foes are John Sullivan of Chicago, an assistant Cook County state's attorney, and John Kelly of Oak Lawn, a financial advisor. Neither is formidable.

The early outlook: Dan Lipinski is an obscure, irrelevant figure in Washington, but you can't beat a semi-nobody with a nobody. Sullivan and Kelly will likely garner half the vote between them, but Lipinski will get the other half and win the primary.

The Credibility Man: Harwood Heights has a burgeoning population of Polish immigrants, many of whom are not citizens. Mark Dobrzycki was elected a village trustee in 2003, he supported Peggy Fuller for village president in 2005, and his efforts among Polish-American voters contributed to Fuller's 38-vote win. Now Dobrzycki is running for the Illinois House as the unopposed Democratic candidate against Republican incumbent Mike McAuliffe (R-20).

Twice during 2005, this columnist asked Dobrzycki if he was going to run against McAuliffe, and twice he denied it. Nevertheless, Dobrzycki is a viable candidate, and McAuliffe will have to work - and spend money - to beat him.