March 1, 2006


Has the Hired Truck Program scandal taken a toll on Mayor Rich Daley's popularity? Has the vaunted Daley precinct organization withered to any appreciable extent? Is there growing anti-Daley sentiment?

The March 21 Democratic primary will provide a clue. Here's an analysis of key races:

Illinois Appellate Court (Hartman vacancy): The forces allied with U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2), a likely 2007 mayoral candidate against Daley, have coalesced behind attorney Joy Cunningham, a vice president and general counsel to Northwest Memorial Hospital. According to sources close to Jackson, the congressman has reached out to U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4), another potential mayoral contender, and to white liberals along the Lakefront and North Shore, to cobble together a coalition for Cunningham, who is black.

To date, this race has been under the radar screen. To win, Cunningham needs nearly unanimous black support, plus a quarter of the white vote. Her pitch to black ward and township committeemen, most of whom are Daley allies, is that she's the only black candidate in a field against four white candidates. And she is campaigning aggressively among white liberals, emphasizing that she is a black woman.

The slated Democratic candidate is David Erickson, a former associate judge and former first assistant to Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine, who is white. Also running are Circuit Court Judges Barbara Riley and Eileen Brewer and assistant state's attorney James Bailey. Do four white candidates help Cunningham? Or do three female candidates help Erickson? Daley strategists do not want this contest to be a referendum on the mayor. They do not want Erickson to lose, but if he does, they do not want to be blamed for his loss.

The most recent historical guide comes from 2000: In the state Supreme Court contest, wholly within Cook County, party-endorsed Judge Tom Fitzgerald, a white candidate, got 43 percent of the vote, to 38.1 percent for Judge Bill Cousins, a black candidate, with two other white candidates getting 18.9 percent. That indicates a base organization vote -- and likely 2006 vote for Erickson -- of at least 43 percent. In the 2000 Appellate Court contest, also in Cook County, party-endorsed Judge Shelvin Louise Hall, who is black, got 48.8 percent of the vote against two white Irish-surnamed foes. That indicates that when black committeemen pitch in, the slated judicial candidate's vote is close to 50 percent.

My prediction: The countywide Democratic primary turnout was 791,605 in 2002, but it may drop to less than 750,000 this year. The county's black population was 1,390,448 in 2000. A total of 230,464 votes were cast in Chicago's 20 black-majority wards in 2002; add the 95,000 black voters in the suburbs and another 45,000 scattered throughout Chicago, and the total black vote in Cook County is around 350,000.

If black committeemen bring in a third or more of their vote for Erickson, he's a winner. Cunningham is not Jackson's tool, but she needs his backing to boost her black vote. But Jackson's visibility also would boost Erickson's white vote. Expect Erickson to come in with about 42 percent of the vote and to nose out Cunningham. And expect Jackson to be mum about the outcome.

Illinois Appellate Court (Hartigan vacancy): Democratic slate makers picked Judge Michael Murphy, presiding judge of the County Division, which handles adoptions, election law and tax deeds, for the spot. Circuit Court Judge Casandra Lewis, who is black, filed, but Murphy has the luck of the Irish: Also running are Judges Kathleen Kennedy and Deborah Dooling and attorney Christine Curran. That means the gender vote is fractured. Lewis, however, does not have Cunningham's connections, so she will not get a huge black vote. Expect Murphy to win, with Lewis a fairly close second.

Sheriff: What's going on at the County Jail? There have been three escapes in the past 10 months, after none over the previous 10 years. One correctional officer reportedly has confessed that he aided the escape in order to embarrass Sheriff Mike Sheahan and help the campaign of Richard Remus. Sheahan is retiring after 16 years, and the party slated his chief of staff, Tom Dart, to run to replace him.

Challenging Dart in the primary are Remus, a former jail supervisor, and Sylvester Baker, a black former sheriff's police officer. The impact of the escapes on the contest has been minimal. First, the public does not blame Sheahan. There are from 9,500 to 11,000 inmates in the facility daily, guarded by 2,791 correctional officers spread over three shifts and seven days. Given the number of scoundrels behind bars, many fantasizing their escape, and persistent attempts at drug smuggling and gun smuggling, it's amazing that there haven't been more incidents. And second, Dart is a virtual unknown. He served in the Illinois House for 10 years, and he ran for state treasurer in 2002; he was Sheahan's hand-picked choice as successor. Dart can't be blamed for problems at the County Jail.

My prediction: Black committeemen are not backing Baker, and Dart is a top priority for all committeemen. If he doesn't get at least 60 percent of the vote, it will be an embarrassment to the Daley machine. Expect him to get 63 percent.

10th Judicial Subcircuit (Northwest Side and adjacent northwest suburbs): Aurie Pucinski and Jim McGing clashed in a tough race for judge in 2004, with Pucinski eking out a win by 1,281 votes. Both are running again in 2006, but luckily for McGing, Pucinski is running for a countywide judgeship, while McGing is again the slated candidate in the subcircuit.

Court rules mandate that judges elected in a subcircuit remain residents of the subcircuit for their first 6-year term. Judge Pucinski lives in Norwood Park, but she wants to move to the Loop. If she is elected to a countywide judgeship, she can live anywhere in the county. So Pucinski filed for the Burr vacancy, where she faces Joanne Guillemette, a black attorney who is the slated candidate, as well as Ann Collins Dole and Paul McMahon. Most lawyers would gladly sacrifice any bodily appendage to become a judge and would happily live in a roach-infested garden apartment to stay on the bench.

But not Pucinski. Her ploy has stirred up a lot of resentment. "She won't win," predicted Democratic county chairman Tom Lyons. My prediction: With her well known name, she will win. Pucinski will top Guillemette by more than 3,000 votes.

McGing, who is Sheahan's director or legislative affairs, got 14,796 votes (35.3 percent) in 2004, to Pucinski's 16,077 (38.3 percent), with the balance going to appointed Judge Carolyn Quinn, who had 11,069 votes (26.4 percent). McGing ran first in his base in the 41st and 45th wards, but Pucinski, with her appeal to older ethnic voters, especially women, ran a close second there, with more than 35 percent of the vote. Quinn ran strong in the eastern end of the subdistrict, where she was endorsed by liberal and gay groups, and she carried the 47th Ward. McGing foolishly relied on the party apparatus in the Maine Township suburbs (Des Plaines and Park Ridge), and he was stunned when Pucinski beat him there by 1,527 votes.

This year it's a laugher for McGing. He faces desultory opposition from Brian Grossman, an assistant state's attorney, Park Ridge lawyer John Pembroke and David Barry, whose nominating petitions are still under challenge. All the committeemen have endorsed McGing, as have the Chicago Federation of Labor/AFL-CIO, the local police and firefighters unions and the IVI-IPO. He expects to raise and spend $100,000. My prediction: Get fitted for the robes. McGing will win with 64 percent of the vote.

11th Subcircuit (Northwest Side and adjacent western suburbs): Like McGing, Larry Andolino was a narrow loser for judge in 2004, and he again is the slated candidate in 2006, but unlike McGing, he's not getting a free ride.

The 11th Subcircuit is more diverse than the 10th Subcircuit. Andolino's base is in the 36th Ward, where Alderman Bill Banks is the committeeman. This is a culturally conservative area, as is suburban Leyden Township. But the subcircuit also takes in liberal Oak Park, parts of the black-majority 29th and 37th wards and part of Proviso Township, including predominantly black precincts in Maywood and Bellwood and predominantly white precincts in Melrose Park. Andolino's foe in 2004 was Paula Daleo, who was supported by U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-7).

Andolino won the 36th Ward by 4,400 votes, but he barely carried Leyden Township. He lost Oak Park by 2,500 votes, got only 40 percent of the vote in Melrose Park, and lost the black areas overwhelmingly. Nevertheless, the official count gave him a 36-vote victory: 19,200-19,164. But Daleo filed a challenge alleging "voter intimidation" and miscounting in the 36th Ward. After months of legal wrangling, Andolino conceded and Daleo was declared the victor by five votes.

This year, it's different. Andolino is facing Mary Colleen Roberts, an openly gay assistant state's attorney from Oak Park. In 2004, spurred by Barack Obama's candidacy, turnout in Oak Park was 12,014, and Obama got 10,340 votes. Turnout there will be lower in 2006, which hurts Roberts. Davis endorsed Andolino, who expects to carry Leyden Township and who will finish first in Melrose Park.

My prediction: The race will be close, but Andolino, buoyed by a huge 36th Ward vote, will win with 53 percent of the vote.