January 11, 2006


In Washington, D.C., "underperforming" is the hot buzz word.

Democrats speak of an "expanded playing field," meaning more vulnerable Republican congressional incumbents. This ostensibly is caused by President Bush's diminished popularity due to the Iraq War, congressional scandals, alleged economic doldrums and gas prices. Democrats hope that this "hostile environment" will cause many Republican congressional incumbents to "underperform" - meaning that they will get fewer votes than in the past, perhaps a diminution of up to 10 percent. That could precipitate a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House and, possibly, the Senate.

In recent history, the party of a president whose popularity is below 50 percent in approval rating suffers significant losses in mid-term elections. The standing of Bill Clinton was 46 percent in 1994, and the Democrats suffered a 52-seat House loss. Richard Nixon was at 47 percent in 1974, and the Republicans lost 48 seats. Ronald Reagan was at 43 percent in 1982, and the Republicans lost 26 seats. Lyndon Johnson was at 49 percent in 1966, and the Democrats lost 47 seats.

But does this theory apply to Chicago? Mayor Rich Daley is beleaguered by scandal, with, at latest count, 37 federal indictments and 24 guilty findings or pleas in the Hired Truck probe. A November poll by the campaign of Jesse Jackson Jr. put Daley's job approval rating at 61 percent.

Chicago is a one-party town, and the Daley party rules it. All but a handful of the city's 50 aldermen - with the exception of Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Dorothy Tillman (3rd), Helen Shiller (46th), Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Howard Brookins (21st), Ted Thomas (15th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Joe Moore (49th) - are consistent Daley supporters. In the 10 white-majority Northwest Side wards, as detailed in the adjoining vote chart, Daley's level of support in the three past mayoral elections has been stratospheric, approaching 90 percent. But that is not unexpected: Daley has been a competent mayor, although many police officer and firefighters would disagree. Against a black competitor, white voters back Daley.

All of the Northwest Side's aldermen are Daley loyalists, both in their respective wards and in the City Council. The most consistent exception is Brian Doherty (41st), a Republican, who opposed Daley's $5.1 billion 2005 budget, all tax hikes and slavery reparations. Of late, Tom Allen (38th) has taken the lead in opposing the further privatization of city services, which allegedly saved the city $175.4 million over the past decade, and Berny Stone (50th) has been vocally critical of the city building department and of the elimination of Asian-American contractors from the city's minority contractor program.

The remaining area aldermen - Bill Banks (36th), Marge Laurino (39th), Pat O'Connor (40th), Pat Levar (45th), Gene Schulter (47th), Dick Mell (33rd) and Ted Matlak (32nd) - have not wavered, verbally, politically or legislatively, in their support of the mayor. Banks, Stone, O'Connor, Schulter and Mell also are their ward's Democratic committeeman, as is Laurino's husband, Randy Barnette. If Daley runs for re-election in 2007, they will support him, as will the committeemen from the 32nd Ward (Terry Gabinski), 45th Ward (Tom Lyons) and 38th Ward (Patty Jo Cullerton). Doherty has always run his own independent campaign, and the mayor has never backed a Doherty foe.

With City Hall mired in scandal, will Daley's Northwest Side vote diminish? If so, will the area's pro-Daley aldermen underperform? Will their vote decline by 10 percent or more, making them vulnerable and expanding the "playing field" for anti-Daley candidates?

As shown in the vote chart, seven of the nine Northwest Side Democratic aldermen ran behind the mayor in 2003, with O'Connor and Banks running slightly ahead. Allen, Laurino and Mell ran virtually even with Daley, but Levar ran 2,685 votes behind him, Schulter 2,589 votes behind, Stone 1,306 votes behind and Matlak 1,191 votes behind.

U.S. Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) and Luis Gutierrez (D-4) are exploring 2007 mayoral bids. To have a chance, they would need a huge outpouring of voters seeking change. Voter registration for the 2004 election was 1,416,101, and turnout was 1,063,860. The city's 2000 census population was 3,086,000. Turnout in 2003 was 442,782, which was barely a third of the 1.2 million in 1983, when Harold Washington beat Jane Byrne and Daley in the primary. To beat Daley in 2007, his opponent would need a turnout of more than 800,000.

Each Chicago ward has an approximate population of 62,000. Voter registration in most wards ranges from 20,000 to 30,000, and presidential election turnout averages from 15,000 to 22,000. The political bases of Northwest Side aldermen range from 5,500 to 11,000 votes. If there is an anti-Daley trend, if the local aldermen underperform by 10 percent, and if 2007 turnout is as high as it was in 1983, many aldermen will be vulnerable. Here's why:

36th Ward: Registration is 28,913. Banks has been an alderman since 1983, he is chairman of the City Council Zoning Committee, and he is hugely popular. His vote exceeded Daley's in 2003 and 1995. For him to be vulnerable in 2007, turnout would have to surpass 18,000, and Banks' vote would have to plunge by 10 percent. That won't happen.

38th Ward: Registration is 27,237. Allen has been an alderman since 1995, and he is chairman of the Transportation Committee. He has vigorously fought illegal rooming-house conversions, and his popularity is on the upswing. He ran only 30 votes behind Daley in 2003. For him to be vulnerable in 2007, turnout would have to surpass 15,000, and Allen's vote would have to drop by 10 percent. No way.

39th Ward: Registration is 24,198. Laurino has been an alderman since 1995. In addition to Barnette being the ward's committeeman, her nephew is a state representative. She ran only 98 votes behind Daley in 2003. Turnout in 2004 was over 18,000. For her to be vulnerable in 2007, turnout would have to hit 15,000. If that occurred and if Laurino's vote declined even slightly, she could lose.

40th Ward: Registration is 23,668. O'Connor has been an alderman since 1983, and he is chairman of the Education Committee. He ran 75 votes ahead of Daley in 2003. Turnout in O'Connor's ward is notoriously light in city elections, although it exceeded 18,000 in 2004. If O'Connor's 2007 vote declines by 10 percent and turnout exceeds 10,000, he could lose.

41st Ward: Registration is a hefty 37,117. Doherty has been an alderman since 1993, and he ran 1,352 votes behind Daley in 2003, 3,909 votes behind in 1999, and 3,552 behind in 1995. Because of his City Council dissents, Doherty is not perceived as a Daley stooge, so if Daley's popularity suffers, his won't.

45th Ward: Registration is 30,044. Levar has been an alderman since 1987, and he is chairman of the Aviation Committee. Levar has run behind the mayor in all of his previous races. Besides being the ward committeeman, Lyons is the county Democratic Party chairman and a longtime Daley ally. Expect a flock of anti-Daley aldermanic candidates in 2007. If turnout hits 17,000 and Levar's vote falls by 10 percent, he'll be in a runoff, and he could lose.

47th Ward: Registration is 32,638. Schulter has been an alderman since 1975, and he is chairman of the License Committee. He finally beat his longtime nemesis, Committeeman Ed Kelly, in 2004. His Ravenswood-area ward is changing and becoming more independent. Schulter ran 2,589 votes behind Daley in 2003. Expect a serious anti-Daley effort in the ward. If turnout surpasses 15,000, Schulter will be in trouble.

50th Ward: Registration is 24,563. Stone is the city's vice mayor, and he has been an alderman since 1973. Stone will be age 79 in 2007, and he likely will retire. There will be a major anti-Daley effort in the ward in 2007.

33rd Ward: Registration is 17,533. Mell, an alderman since 1975 and chairman of the Rules Committee, is the father-in-law of Governor Rod Blagojevich. Mell will be age 68 in 2007, and he likely will retire. But he will dictate his successor, who won't be anti-Daley.

32nd Ward: Registration is 34,907. Matlak has won two terms, but he ran 1,l91 votes behind Daley in 2003. The ward, which encompasses parts of Lakeview and Wicker Park, is politically liberal. Matlak will surely have an anti-Daley foe. His base vote is only about 6,000, and if turnout exceeds 12,000, he's got a problem.