June 28, 2006


The good news for Chicago's 50 aldermen is that there is no two-party system. So if voters want to toss out the corruption-riddled Democrats and Daley Administration, there's no institutional alternative.

The bad news is that there is a one-party system in Chicago, and that is the Daley Party. As the February 2007 nonpartisan mayoral and aldermanic election creeps closer, a lot of Daley Party aldermen -- which includes almost every member of the City Council -- are growing apprehensive. If an anti-Daley wave erupts, they may go down.

But recent history is comforting. Incumbent aldermen rarely lose. The most volatile recent election was in 1979, when Jane Byrne upset Mike Bilandic, and 34 of 43 incumbents seeking re-election won -- a 79 percent winning percentage. The percentage has been higher since: 35 of 42 (83.3 percent) in 1983, 38 of 47 (80.8 percent) in 1987, 34 of 37 (91.8 percent) in 1991, 42 of 44 (95.5 percent) in 1995, 40 of 41 (97.5 percent) in 1999 and 45 of 48 (93.7 percent) in 2003.

Overall, in the past seven elections, incumbents won 268 of 302 contests (88.7 percent).

National Democrats eagerly await an anti-Bush, anti-Republican "wave" in November, hoping to nationalize the 2006 election and make it a referendum on the Bush Administration. Republicans, conversely, hope that their incumbents can localize voters' concentration on their own performance.

This same scenario could unfold in Chicago in 2007. To date, 44 people have been indicted in the Hired Truck scandal, and 37 have been found guilty. The mayor's office "clout list" for preferential hiring has been revealed, and an endless succession of trials will capture headlines for the remainder of 2006. But voters do not seem enraged, exasperated or itching to oust the administration of Mayor Rich Daley.

That could change if such Daley insiders as Victor Reyes or Al Sanchez are indicted or convicted by 2007. But unless and until those guys go down, Daley is politically safe and secure. It is a certainty that Daley, when he faces the voters in 2007, will not be under indictment.

Nevertheless, a smattering of anti-Daley Party candidates have emerged, some of whom will be running in tandem with U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. on an it's-time-for-a-change platform. Could an anti-Daley "wave" materialize and sweep out some pro-Daley aldermen? Aldermen invariably lose due to their ineptitude or to controversial issues in their ward, but if 2007 becomes a referendum on the mayor, the mayor's aldermen could suffer.

Two of Daley's most reliable supporters are Aldermen Pat O'Connor (40th) and Vi Daley (43rd). Here's an early look at their 2007 prospects:

43rd Ward: Daley, age 63, no relation to the mayor, was first elected in 1999 after serving as chief of staff to her predecessor, Chuck Bernardini. In this upscale ward, centered on Lincoln Park, Daley Administration corruption could be a defining issue, and it could be Vi Daley's undoing.

Already, four aldermanic candidates have surfaced, creating the likelihood that Daley will not get a majority in February and will be forced into an April runoff. Historically, only about half of incumbents who get less than 50 percent of the vote in an election win the runoff, since those opposing the incumbent coalesce behind the challenger in the runoff.

The most formidable Daley foe is Tim Egan, the son-in-law of Marilyn Miglin, who manages a vast corporate empire founded by her late husband. Egan will run as an independent, but he has the support of such Republicans as 42nd Ward Committeeman Rich Gordon. His advantage: Money will be no problem, as he can reach into his family's bank account and spend what it takes. His disadvantage: He has no history of community activism, and he can easily be attacked as a rich kid who is trying to buy the seat.

Also in the race is Michele Smith, a lobbyist with International Truck and a former assistant U.S. attorney. Her consultants include veteran liberals Don Rose and Rich Means. Smith's career gives her credibility and access to funding, but her foes will endeavor to make "lobbyist" a dirty word.

The anti-Daley candidate will be Rachel Goodstein, executive director of Friends of Meigs Field, which advocates reopening the former airport or making it a heliport. She also is a member of the Committee for a Better Chicago, which backs Doc Walls for mayor in 2007, but she is listed on anti-Daley activist Frank Coconate's Web site as the Jackson-backed aldermanic candidate in the ward.

The fourth candidate is writer Pete Zelchenko, who will strike an anti-Daley posture. Zelchenko is focusing on developing a ground game, which means recruiting precinct workers.

Daley's challenge is balancing livability with development. The 43rd Ward extends from Diversey Avenue to North Avenue, east of Sheffield, but it also takes in the ultra-swank area east of State Street from North to Division, plus the corridor along Wells Street and the corridor along Armitage Avenue to Southport. About a quarter of the dwelling units are high-rise condominiums, with the remainder a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, three-flats and smaller condos. About 20 percent of the residents are renters, but a huge chunk of the ward's rental units have been converted into condominiums in the past 20 years.

Traffic congestion is excruciating on such thoroughfares as Lincoln Avenue, Fullerton Avenue, Armitage and Clark Street, and it gets worse with each new development.

Knockdowns are epidemic, and Daley has fought to downzone many residential properties to forestall additional development. She also has tried to upgrade and expand the CTA's Brown Line service and to minimize the ward's problem with homeless vagrants by pushing them elsewhere, and she established a free trolley service, which primarily is used by tourists.

"She's spineless," said Zelchenko of Daley. "She does what (Mayor) Daley tells her. She won't stop overdevelopment. She can't solve traffic congestion. This ward is on the precipice of being unlivable."

But is Daley beatable? In 2003 she was unopposed and got 5,678 votes. In 1999 she beat Chris Cleveland 6,776-3,439, getting 66 percent of the votes cast. In 1995 the pro-Daley Bernardini won 5,436-2,440 (69 percent), and in 1991 the pro-Daley Ed Eisendrath was re-elected 8,537-6,182. Eisendrath resigned in 1993 to take a federal post, and Daley appointed Bernardini as his replacement.

The ward has 36,467 registered voters. John Kerry beat George Bush 19,571-10,134 in the ward in 2004, and Al Gore beat Bush 16,550-10,470 in 2000. That means a Republican base vote of about 35 percent and a large liberal Democratic vote. Turnout in prior contested aldermanic races ranged from 7,800 to 14,000. Daley's base vote is around 6,000, and if the 2007 turnout is high, her chances diminish.

The outlook: The crowded field will keep Daley under 50 percent. Expect Smith and Egan to press her hard and force a runoff. If that occurs, the alderman will lose.

40th Ward: O'Connor, age 52, is the Education Committee chairman and the mayor's council floor leader. After unsuccessful bids for Cook County state's attorney in 1990 and 1992, and after surviving a bout with cancer, O'Connor has accepted his fate: to continue being an alderman and, as he was quoted as saying, to "do great stuff for your neighborhood, not great stuff for yourself." This epiphany occurred after O'Connor was investigated in 1985 by a federal grand jury for hiring 15 staffers, including relatives and friends, to empty out his committee's year-end surplus in both 1983 and 1984. At one time, O'Connor's father, mother and wife were all on the city payroll.

O'Connor's indiscretions are now ancient history, but his close ties to Daley aren't. Coconate, who is recruiting anti-Daley aldermanic candidates in all Northwest Side wards, said, "We will find an opponent (to O'Connor)."

The ward includes the Hollywood Park, Peterson Park and North Park areas between Kedzie Avenue and the North Branch of the Chicago River, from Peterson Avenue south to Lawrence Avenue, 16 precincts surrounding Rosehill Cemetery, and an area in West Rogers Park from Ravenswood to Broadway, between Pratt Avenue and Granville Avenue. O'Connor's political base is in the west end of the ward.

The alderman's priority over the past decade has been the rejuvenation of the Lincoln Avenue commercial strip, an 8-block stretch between Peterson Avenue and Foster Avenue which he termed a "hotbed of criminal activity," including prostitution and drugs. The Acres, Riverside, Lincoln, Patio and Spa motels are now history. Another focus has been the redevelopment of the Lincoln Village shopping center, which got a boost when Home Depot decided to build nearby.

O'Connor was first elected in 1983, beating one-term Alderman Ivan Rittenberg by 11,383-9,052, with 55.7 percent of the vote. In 1984 he ousted Democratic Committeeman John Geocaris, who had backed Rittenberg, by 7,612-5,456 (60 percent). Despite his so-called "All in the Family" hiring antics, O'Connor won re-election with 55 percent of the vote in 1987 and 70 percent in 1991, and he was unopposed in 1995, 1999 and 2003. Does that make O'Connor an unbeatable icon in his ward? Or is he a complacent incumbent waiting to be beat?

The early outlook: O'Connor will win his seventh term in 2007.