April 5, 2006


Cook County's legendary "Wheel of Justice" was predictably unpredictable on March 21. In contests for 23 judicial nominations, the common thread uniting many of the winners was random selection, or rather, sheer, blind luck.

Such criteria as legal qualifications and bar association endorsements proved, as usual, to be secondary to such factors as gender, party endorsement, ethnicity, name familiarity and Irish surnames. In fact, in a reversal of prior trends, 2006 is the judiciary's "Year of the Man." According to final returns, men won 13 of 20 contested primaries, and 14 of the 23 new judges will likely be men.

In the past, female lawyers, often Irish-surnamed networked with each other. Their goal: only one woman in each contested race. And, against five or six guys, she usually won. But in 2006, with more women than men running, there were many reversals of the norm.

In the Appellate Court primary, attorney Joy Cunningham eked out a 497-vote victory despite a multiplicity of female candidates and the endorsement of a well qualified man by the county Democratic Party. Significantly, Cunningham's candidacy was backed by the organizations of U.S. Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) and Luis Gutierrez (D-4), both potential 2007 Chicago mayoral contenders.

In fact, a review of 270 races in nine Democratic primaries for judicial office from 1990 to 2006, including contests for Illinois Supreme Court, Illinois Appellate Court and Cook County Circuit Court (countywide and in the 15 subcircuits), all of which elected a Democrat, showed that women were victorious in 116, or 43.0 percent. In 38 Republican primaries for suburban subcircuit judgeships since 1992, all of which elected a Republican, women were victorious in eight, or 21.1 percent.

As a yardstick for gender diversity on the bench, 1992 was a breakthrough year -- the so-called "Year of the Woman." In 1990 women won four of 18 Democratic judicial primaries (22.2 percent), while in 1992 women won 24 of 51 primaries (47.1 percent). In 1994 that dropped to 19 of 52 (36.5 percent), but it peaked in 1996, when women won 25 of 46 Democratic nominations (54.3 percent). In the latter three elections, largely because of networking, with a single woman facing a field of men, a woman won 68 of 149 nominations (45.6 percent).

After a downswing in 1998, when women won six of 22 Democratic judicial nominations (27.2 percent), it was back to normal. Women won 11 of 21 nominations (52.4 percent) in 2000, 12 of 25 contests (48.0 percent) in 2002 and in eight of 15 nominations (53.3 percent) in 2004, but just seven of 20 nominations (35.0 percent) in 2006.

Here's an analysis of Democratic races:

Appellate Court (Hartigan vacancy): The Democrats slated David Erickson, a former first assistant to Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine, who is a close political ally of Mayor Rich Daley. He had three female foes with Irish surnames: Circuit Court Judges Barbara Riley and Eileen Brewer and Cunningham, who is black.

Nominating Erickson was a huge priority for the Daley organization, but it appears that a large black turnout in both Chicago and the suburbs, engendered partly by circumstances surrounding John Stroger's stroke, gave Cunningham a boost. Early returns put Erickson ahead, but final results from all of Chicago's 2,604 precincts and all of suburban Cook County's 2,386 precincts give Cunningham 135,808 votes (28.2 percent), to Erickson's 135,311 (28.1 percent).

The Jackson-Gutierrez combine wanted to prove than they could elect a minority candidate over the opposition of the "Daley Machine" -- and they apparently succeeded.

Riley got 76,083 votes (15.8 percent) and Brewer got 69,581 (14.5 percent). The fifth candidate, James Bailey, got 64,010 (13.3 percent).

Cunningham would have won easily if either Brewer or Riley had not been in the race, and she would have won big if neither had run. The "Machine's" Erickson vote was under 30 percent, and Bailey surely took some votes away from Erickson, but the combined female/Irish-surnamed vote, when coupled with the black vote, was nearly 60 percent. There will now be months of discovery recounts and legal wrangling, but if Cunningham's victory is sustained, that's a big defeat for the "Daley Machine."

Appellate Court (Hartman vacancy): A man beat four women. The Democrats slated Judge Mike Murphy, presiding judge of the County Division. He had four foes: Circuit Court Judges Cassandra Lewis, Deborah Dooling and Kathleen Kennedy and attorney Christine Curran. In this situation, Murphy was a slam dunk. He got 185,266 votes, or 37.8 percent of the votes cast.

Lewis, who is black, had support in her base, and she finished second with 126,516 votes (25.8 percent). Her vote mirrored Cunningham's, and she probably would have won had she been Murphy's only foe. But Dooling got 56,636 votes, Kennedy got 84,937, and Curran got 36,292. Again, the female/Irish-surnamed/black vote was over 60 percent.

The Democratic-endorsed Appellate Court candidates got, respectively, 28.8 percent and 38.2 percent of the vote in Chicago. The black/reform candidates, Cunningham and Lewis, got, respectively, 30.1 and 29.8 percent of the vote in the city. If the Murphy/Erickson vote is the "Daley Machine" base vote, then the mayor is in deep doo-doo in 2007.

The mayoral primary turnout on Feb. 27, 2007, will surely be 800,000. That means the mayor needs 200,000 more votes than his organization produced on March 21.

Circuit Court (Burr vacancy): Former Circuit Court clerk Aurie Pucinski, the daughter of the late alderman Roman Pucinski and a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat, was elected judge in 2004 from the Northwest Side 10th Judicial Subcircuit. Pucinski wants to move to the Loop, and she can't do so as a subcircuit judge, so she ran countywide and won with 185,544 votes (37.5 percent), beating party-endorsed Joanne Guillemette, a black lawyer who has lost three previous bids for judge. Guillemette got 125,530 votes (25.4 percent) -- a total almost identical to that of Cunningham and Lewis.

That didn't mean Guillemette had monolithic black support. Because she was backed by Daley, she was shunned by Jackson-Gutierrez. Because she has running against the much-despised Pucinski, white pro-Daley committeemen pushed Guillemette hard. She was rated as unqualified by every bar association. Also, anti-Pucinski votes were siphoned off to Ann Collins Dole (120,429) and Paul McMahon (63,293). Dole ran especially well in the suburbs and along the Lakefront. The well known Pucinski would have lost had she only one foe.

Since Pucinski cannot be a "double judge," she will resign her subcircuit judgeship in November. That means there will be a subcircuit election to fill the final 2 years of that vacancy in 2008.

Circuit Court (Jaffe vacancy): Residual name identification never hurts, and a well known man usually beats a woman. In this race, party-backed Mike Howlett Jr. was opposed by Meg Carey. Howlett's late father, Mike Sr., was the state auditor from 1961 to 1972 and the secretary of state from 1973 to 1976, and he lost the 1976 governor's race to Jim Thompson. Howlett crushed Carey 101,747-73,461, getting 58.1 percent of the vote.

6th Judicial Subcircuit (Near Northwest Side): In this Hispanic-majority area, a familiar name -- Ed Lechowicz, the son of longtime party fixture Ted Lechowicz -- lost to Ramon Ocasio by 9,544-8,066, with 4,398 votes going to Roxanne Rochester. Ethnicity trumped familiarity. In addition, Lechowicz was rated unqualified by the bar groups.

10th Judicial Subcircuit (Northwest Side 39th, 40th, 41st, 45th and 47th wards, Park Ridge, Niles and Des Plaines): Pucinski beat party-endorsed Jim McGing to win her judgeship in 2004, but only narrowly, 16,077-14,796. But persistence is rewarded, and McGing is persistent. McGing lost the 1992 state Senate race to Republican incumbent Wally Dudycz by 3,111 votes, with 48.4 percent of the votes cast, and he lost to Pucinski by 1,281 votes. McGing works for Sheriff Mike Sheahan as director of legislative affairs.

This year, again with party endorsement, McGing cruised to an easy win, getting 57.7 percent of the vote, beating John Pembroke and Brian Grossman.

11th Judicial Subcircuit (Northwest Side 36th and 38th wards, Oak Park and nearby western suburbs): Larry Andolino discovered that good losers are underappreciated and unrewarded. In the 2004 primary Andolino beat Paula Daleo by 36 votes. Daleo then filed an election challenge, alleging "voter intimidation" in Andolino's base, the 36th Ward, where Bill Banks is the alderman and Democratic committeeman. For whatever reason, Andolino chose not to litigate the matter and conceded, and Daleo was declared the victor by five votes.

Andolino's expectation was that he, like McGing, would get his judgeship in 2006. As in 2004, he was Banks' pick in 2006, and he was endorsed by all the local Democratic committeemen. But in a stupendous reversal of fortune, Andolino lost by 11,527 votes, getting just 32.7 percent of the vote. The winner was Mary Colleen Roberts, an openly gay assistant state's attorney from Oak Park.

In her Oak Park base, Roberts crushed Andolino 13,204-3,622, getting 78.5 percent of the vote. In Andolino's Chicago base, where Banks was supposed to deliver big, Andolino lost 9,200-7,255, with just 44.1 percent of the vote. What happened to the vaunted "Banks Machine"?