January 25, 2006


A venerable political proverb decrees that you can't beat somebody with nobody. But how about nobody against nobody? Or somebody against somebody?

The March 21 Democratic primary, which features local contests for legislative and party office, will test those presumptions. Here's the outlook:

9th U.S. House District (Evanston, Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Des Plaines, Glenview, Rosemont, Norridge, Harwood Heights, the Lakefront 46th, 48th and 49th wards, part of the 40th and 41st wards, and part of Park Ridge). Frank Coconate is definitely a "somebody" - at least in his realm of influence, which is the Far Northwest Side, where he is chairman of the Northwest Side Democratic Organization.

Coconate was fired from his city job last July after he endorsed Jesse Jackson Jr. for mayor and launched his "Opposition 2007" program to find anti-Daley aldermanic candidates in area wards. He currently is suing to reclaim his job, and he filed to run for Democratic state central committeeman in the 9th District.

Unfortunately, Coconate had two huge problems. First, only the 41st Ward precincts north of Devon Avenue are in the 9th District. That minimized his base. And second, his opponent is Bill Marovitz, a definite "somebody" - a committeeman since 1990, a state representative from 1975 to 1980 and a state senator from 1981 to 1992. He is the nephew of Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, a longtime federal judge, a pillar of the Jewish community and a close friend of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. Marovitz, age 62, is a well connected attorney, and he is married to Christie Hefner, who runs the Playboy publishing empire.

Illinois Democrats elect both a committeeman and a committeewoman from each of the state's 19 districts. The post is unpaid, but it makes the occupant a definite party insider. The 38 members pick one of their number to be the state Democratic chairman (currently Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan). They meet to endorse state candidates and discuss party strategy. And, most importantly, they are expected to use their contacts to raise money for the party. Marovitz is among the most influential and prolific.

In a district that gave John Kerry 68 percent of the vote in 2004, that has a Democratic electorate that is overwhelmingly liberal, and that has a large Jewish vote, Marovitz is unbeatable. Back in 1986 Lakefront liberal Jeff Smith upset incumbent Cal Sutker, the Niles Township Democratic committeeman, by 19,174-16,753, in a turnout of 35,927. In 1990 Marovitz challenged Smith and crushed him 38,441-19,268, with 3,097 votes going to a LaRouche candidate; turnout was 60,806. In 1994 he beat Doug Heitz 51,849-12,658, in a turnout of 64,507. He was unopposed both in 1998, getting 47,010 votes, and in 2002, getting 61,279 votes.

This year Marovitz has the backing of U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and her political organization, plus the support of Mayor Rich Daley and of every elected area Democratic committeeman, legislator and alderman. Coconate, as they say, was spitting into the wind when he filed to oppose Marovitz, and on Jan. 20 he withdrew. But still on the ballot is Pat McDonough, another fired city worker who was a "whistle blower" in the Hired Truck Program scandal. The civil service commission recently ruled that McDonough's firing was without merit and ordered his reinstatement with back pay. McDonough is a "nobody," but he could develop some celebrity status.

McDonough called Marovitz "an elitist who is out of touch Democratic values," adding, "He has Playboy values." And, added McDonough, "in a city overflowing with corruption, incompetence and greed, he conducts business as usual." McDonough noted that Marovitz has closed his campaign account and transferred out $65,728.81 for "personal use." Responded Marovitz: "That's perfectly legal. I paid taxes on that amount."

"I will be a voice for the average Democrat, the union worker, the home owner," McDonough said. "I will speak out on issues. I will not grub support a corrupt system."

My prediction: Never pick an unwinnable fight. Coconate wisely folded. McDonough won't get more than 25 percent of the vote.

39th Illinois Senate District (Oak Park, suburban Leyden Township and parts of the 36th, 41st, 37th and 29th wards). Created by the Democrats to elect an Oak Park state senator, the district is an electoral oddity. Of its 208 precincts, 38 (18.3 percent) are in the black-majority 37th and 29th wards, 42 (20.1 percent) are in Oak Park, 11 (5.2 percent) are in the white-majority 36th and 41st wards, and 117 (56.2 percent) are in Leyden Township (Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Northlake, River Grove, Schiller Park), Proviso Township (Melrose Park) and River Forest Township. The district also contains a small part of Bensenville in DuPage County.

In the Senate district's two Illinois House districts, Skip Saviano (R-77) of Elmwood Park, who is white, represents the 84 percent white 77th District, while Deborah Graham (D-78) of Chicago, who is black, represents the 39 percent black and 50 percent white 78th District, which includes liberal Oak Park. The state senator is Don Harmon, a white Democrat from Oak Park who was first elected in 2002.

Despite the fact that the Senate district is 67.6 percent white and 76.4 percent suburban, Harmon crushed his Republican foe in 2002 with 70.3 percent of the vote. In that election Rod Blagojevich won 67.3 percent of the vote in the district in his bid for governor.

This year Mike Nardello, a precinct captain in Alderman Bill Banks' 36th Ward Democratic organization and the director of finance in the city Department on Aging, is challenging Harmon. Nardello's problem is positioning. To win, he must portray himself as an "independent" and "reform-minded" Democrat and build an anti-Harmon, anti-Blagojevich, suburban coalition.

Nardello is socially conservative and anti-Blagojevich. Harmon supported the governor's 2004, 2005 and 2006 budgets, including the $165 million "budget sweep" of state agencies in 2004, the "pension raid" to reduce state obligations, and a myriad of tax and fee hikes. Harmon also voted to roll back the gaming tax by 50 percent. On social issues, Harmon backs abortion rights, gay rights, gun control and local smoking bans.

The early outlook: Harmon is the Oak Park Township Democratic committeeman, an area where Blagojevich is not particularly popular, especially among teachers. In 4 years Harmon has not clearly defined himself or politically entrenched himself. But all the local committeemen, including Banks and state Senator Jim DeLeo (D-10) of the 36th Ward, have endorsed Harmon. To win, Nardello would have to run a targeted, lavishly funded campaign. He would have to run up a huge vote in the suburbs by blasting Harmon as a liberal, keep down Harmon's vote in Oak Park by blasting him as a Blagojevich toady, and depress Harmon's vote in the black areas by attacking him as a foe of educational reform. That negative campaign would take more money and manpower than Nardello can muster. Expect a 60 percent Harmon win.

40th Illinois House District (Northwest Side, parts of the 30th and 33rd wards). Democrats often do the talk about minority empowerment, but they hypocritically don't always do the walk. An example is Democratic state Representative Rich Bradley's district, which is 47.1 percent Hispanic. The district is bell-shaped, running from Lawrence to Belmont, from Damen on the east to Laramie on the west.

Bradley, first elected to the House in 1998, is a clout-heavy Democrat. He is an assistant general superintendent of the city Department of Streets and Sanitation. His wife, Cynthia Santos, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, has a job with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office and is the 5th U.S. House District Democratic committeewoman. Wilfredo Aponte, who is Hispanic, filed against Bradley.

The bottom line: Bradley is living on borrowed time. A Hispanic opponent will beat him some day - but not perhaps until 2010 or 2012. In the meantime, he's a loyal cog in the "Madigan Machine," and he piles up his pension dollars. Bradley wins because no credible Hispanic has the money or fortitude to oppose him.

Niles Township (Skokie, Lincolnwood, parts of Niles and Glenview). Sutker has been the Democratic committeeman since 1973, and the township regularly delivers solid margins for the Democrats. Kerry got 62.4 percent of the vote there in 2004, and Blagojevich got 62.4 percent in 2002. Sutker lost for re-election as a county commissioner by 4,427 votes in 2002 to Larry Suffredin of Evanston, who was backed by Schakowsky's organization, but he carried his township with 60.4 percent of the vote.

Sutker is retiring, and he backs Lou Lang, a state representative since 1987 and the president of Sutker's organization, as his successor. Lang is popular, and he has the money and manpower to churn out votes. Rich Reeder of Skokie, who previously worked for the campaigns of Schakowsky, Suffredin and Barack Obama, also filed for committeeman.

The outlook: Reeder is a "nobody," and he will go nowhere without support from the Evanstonian S&S crowd. Lang is a "somebody," who if elected at age 56 will be committeeman for a long time. According to insiders, the deal is done: Suffredin is unopposed for renomination for commissioner, and Reeder will get no outside-the-township support.

(Editor's note: Stewart was McDonough's attorney in his unemployment claim against the city.)