April 19, 2006


In some political contests victory is a stake in the heart, with the demise of the opposition swift and final. In others it's like a rubber game, with the combatants jousting until one ultimately wins. In those instances, the battle becomes so interminable as to be inconsequential: Nobody cares who wins.

Now that ballots have been certified from the March primary, here are two outcomes that await future outcomes:

Proviso Township (Maywood, Bellwood, Forest Park, Berkeley, Hillside, Melrose Park, Broadview, Brookfield, Westchester, LaGrange Park and part of Stone Park): The black population in those western suburbs is exploding, and the political clout of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Gene Moore, who is black, is imploding.

In last month's election, Moore lost his bid for re-election as Proviso Township Democratic committeeman. Moore won the post in 2002, when he defeated state Representative Karen Yarbrough (D-7) by 9,073-7,911, getting 53.4 percent of the vote. In 2005 Yarbrough's husband, Henderson, was elected mayor of Maywood over Moore's opposition, and Yarbrough triumphed in the 2006 committeeman's rematch by 9,746-7,045, with 58 percent of the vote. Likewise, in the primary for Yarbrough's House seat, Moore backed Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education President Chris Welch, and he was obliterated by 9,825-3,574, with Yarbrough getting 73.3 percent of the votes cast.

Without question, Moore is a "Dead Man Walking," in both township and county politics. Of late, the county recorder's post has been a springboard to higher office. Carol Moseley Braun won the post in 1988, and in the 1992 "Year of the Woman" she ran for the U.S. Senate. A nasty primary between incumbent Alan Dixon and lawyer Al Hofeld enabled her to win the Democratic nomination with 38.3 percent of the vote, buoyed by a huge black and female vote in Cook County, where she got 409,574 votes (47.4 percent).

Jesse White, an obscure black 16-year state representative from the Near North Side and a protege of longtime Democratic powerhouse George Dunne, was slated for recorder in 1992. He faced a competitive primary and got 40 percent of the vote, to 36 percent for independent Mary "O'Hara" Considine, who is white, and 24 percent for County Commissioner Bobbie Steele, who is black.

White was re-elected in 1996, and in 1998 he ran for secretary of state. The favored Democratic primary candidate, Penny Severns, was diagnosed with cancer and withdrew from the race, endorsing White over Tim McCarthy. White won the primary with 55.8 percent of the vote, and in the election he beat Republican Al Salvi with 55.5 percent of the vote, becoming the first black occupant of that office.

Moore was elected Proviso Township committeeman in 1998, beating incumbent Gary Marinaro 6,883-3,935. He was the Maywood-area state representative from 1992 to 1999. Due to the influence of his ally, Cook County Board President John Stroger, Moore was picked by the county board to replace White as recorder in 1999.

In the pantheon of county office holders, recorder ranks at the bottom in terms of clout. The office employs 275 and has a budget of $13 million. Its primary duty is the recording, microfilming and online posting of approximately one million deeds, mortgages, releases and liens filed annually. Given these mundane tasks, the office generates minimal visibility, and given the paucity of office workers, it does not enable the recorder to build a political machine.

But that didn't preclude White from using his post to increase his visibility and to get elected as 27th Ward Democratic committeeman in 1996, defeating state Senator Rickey Hendon, who held the job since 1987. As a committeeman, White was able to assemble support from his fellow committeemen for his bid for secretary of state in 1998.

Looking ahead to 2008, Moore is toast. There is an unwritten "Code of Clout" among Democratic committeemen: If you can't dominate your ward or township, get another life. Those slated for countywide or statewide office need a viable political base, and if they are not a committeeman, they need a powerful mentor. Moore now has neither.

Moore's sponsor, Stroger, is disabled with a stroke, and his political base has collapsed. Ambitious black politicians are already eyeing running for recorder in 2008, including Yarbrough, aldermen Bill Beavers, Todd Stroger, Anthony Beale, Howard Brookins, Walter Burnett, Isaac Carothers and Emma Mitts, county commissioners Bobbie Steele and Earlean Collins, state senators Mattie Hunter, Kwame Raoul and Kimberly Lightford, and state representatives Ken Dunkin, Robin Kelly and Marlow Colvin.

Count on this: The recorder's office is now a "black" office. If John Stroger leaves office and his son is not named to replace him, Todd Stroger will be slated for Moore's job in 2008. If not Stroger, Beale is next in line.

If Steele and other black independents run, a white candidate could win in a huge field.

But Moore could be saved from his one-way ticket to oblivion. If Mayor Rich Daley is ousted in 2007 and replaced by an independent such as Jesse Jackson Jr. or Luis Gutierrez, the 2008 Democratic primary will be chaos. Anybody, even Moore, would have a shot at winning in a large field.

Maine Township (Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Glenview and parts of Niles and Mount Prospect): Like the Emperor Nero, who supposedly fiddled while Rome burned, the township's Republicans are squabbling while their base turns off and voters gravitate toward the Democrats.

Most township Republicans scream a silent prayer: Stop the stupid fighting.

In the recent primary, the Democratic vote exceeded the Republican vote 10,652-8,690. The Democrats topped the Republicans 11,558-10,194 in 2002, while the Republicans topped the Democrats 9,487-6,982 in 1998. John Kerry beat George Bush by 3,695 votes in the township in 2004, and Al Gore beat Bush by 1,533 votes in 2000. Clearly, the township is trending Democratic.

And, just as clearly, Republican acrimony is facilitating the process. In 1998, after the death of state Senator Marty Butler, who was the township Republican committeeman, Bill Darr was picked as his replacement. In 2001 Darr and township Trustee Bob Dudycz conspired to dump Mark Thompson, a Butler ally, as township supervisor. They succeeded, and Dudycz became supervisor. In 2002 Thompson ran against Darr for committeeman and beat him by 153 votes. In 2005, in a Republican primary for supervisor, Thompson ran against Dudycz and lost by 22 votes. In 2006 township road commissioner Bob Provenzano, a Dudycz ally, ran for committeeman against Thompson and lost by 319 votes. And that means Thompson will run again for supervisor against Dudycz in 2009. So the idiocy continues.

And while the waltz to be the "Last Man Standing" continues, there are no precinct workers working. Under Butler and Darr, the Republicans had captains in almost all of the township's 134 precincts. The conservative Dudycz-Provenzano crowd, which controls township government, has workers in about 40 precincts. The more moderate Thompson has captains in about 30 precincts, and state Representative Rosemary Mulligan (R-65), a Thompson ally, has workers in about 60 precincts, but they are loyal to her and her pro-choice agenda on abortion. Thompson won because he carried his base in Des Plaines, had the powerful support of Marty Butler's widow, Gerry, who commands a formidable army of geriatric women voters, and got Mulligan's backing. Mulligan was fearful that Provenzano, if he were committeeman, would run somebody against her in the 2008 primary.

Hence, there's no unity, no cohesion and no plan, and until somebody takes control and ends this perpetual political Ping-Pong, the township's Republican Party will continue to atrophy. The war is inconclusive, and the warriors are weary.

One victim of this Republican fratricide could be appointed state Senator Cheryl Axley (R-33), who took the job vacated in 2005 by Republican Dave Sullivan.

Axley's district includes Maine and Elk Grove townships (Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Rolling Meadows). Axley is the Elk Grove Township Republican committeeman, and she was the township clerk from 1993 to 2005. All the Maine Township factions support her, but she is unknown outside her township. Axley will face a formidable Democrat, Dan Kotowski, in November.

In the March primary, Kotowski, a 39-year-old public relations consultant and former Chicago City Council staffer who moved to Park Ridge in 2001, clobbered trial lawyer Jim Morici by 8,068-4,611, getting 63.6 percent of the vote.

Kotowski's strategy is to get exposure. Last summer he was out walking precincts every evening and weekend. His message: "I am independent and fiscally responsible." Since Springfield Democrats will fund his campaign, if he wins he won't be an independent, he'll be a stooge for Senate President Emil Jones. And since Democrats control state government, any "fiscal irresponsibility" attaches to them.

The combined Kotowski-Morici primary vote was 12,679. Axley, unopposed, got 10,738 Republican primary votes. Kotowski will continue to work his Maine Township base, and he needs 60 percent of the township vote in November to win the seat. Axley needs 55 percent of the Maine Township vote to win.

My early prediction: Kotowski came from nowhere to win the primary, and he will be well funded. Axley is still a nobody, and she must unify and motivate squabbling Maine Township Republicans. Give the November edge to Kotowski.