November 1, 2006


Luckily for Republican Tony Peraica, Todd Stroger is no Barack Obama.

Illinois' Democratic U.S. senator is viewed as a political superstar, a potential U.S. president and a symbol of black upward mobility and opportunity.

Conversely, the Democratic candidate for Cook County Board president -- a job held by his ailing father, John Stroger, for 12 years -- is viewed as an amiable dunce, a pliable puppet of the board's Democratic majority, led by Finance Committee chairman John Daley, and a symbol of the flourishing nepotism and corruption which permeates local government.

"There's an undercurrent of anger among the voters," acknowledged one Northwest Side Democratic committeeman. "And Todd is the perfect target."

And, as the November election approaches, it is obvious that Todd Stroger is no John Stroger. "There's little activity (for Stroger)," said the committeeman in reference to his fellow committeemen.

Indeed, a perfect political storm seems to be aligning itself to make Peraica the first Republican elected county board president since Dick Ogilvie in 1966. Given the fact that the elder Stroger won election with 68.4 percent, 63.1 percent and 62.9 percent of the vote, respectively, in 2002, 1998 and 1994, and given the fact that Democratic presidential candidates won the county by 746,005 votes in 2000 and by 842,319 votes in 2004, a Republican countywide victory seems as absurd as a Chicago Cubs World Series win.

But a Peraica victory is now more likely than not. Here's why:

First, because 2006 is not 1998. In that year, race, party and revenge were the issues. Democrat-turned-Republican Aurie Pucinski mounted a visible campaign against Stroger, but as the incumbent clerk of court and an ex-Democrat, her "reform" message was hollow and unbelievable. Pucinski was detested by white Democratic politicians as an opportunistic turncoat, by liberals as a closet conservative and by blacks as an "insensitive" -- meaning racist -- Northwest Sider. "Destroy Aurie" was the watchword.

Stroger was Mayor Rich Daley's strongest black ally, and City Hall pressured the committeemen to produce. Stroger won 20 of 24 white-majority wards and 46 of 50 Chicago wards. He got more than 96 percent of the black vote and 77.9 percent of the votes cast and carried the city 531,499-150,690, a margin of 380,809 votes. On the Northwest Side, Stroger carried the 32nd, 33rd, 36th, 39th, 40th, 47th and 50th wards. Pucinski won the 38th Ward by 210 votes, the 41st Ward by 3,800 votes and the 45th Ward by 120 votes. Stroger won the six north Lakefront white wards 52,665-24,483. On the Southwest Side, Stroger won the 10th, 11th, 13th, 18th and 19th wards and lost the 23rd Ward by 363 votes.

In the suburbs, Pucinski won by just 326,586-300,545, winning 21 of 30 townships. Stroger won the white-majority townships of Evanston (13,084-5,300), Niles (16,310-12,206) and Oak Park (11,606-5,889) and swept the black-majority townships of Proviso (24,112-15,342), Thornton (30,145-14,481), Bloom (12,431-10,586), Bremen (15,307-12,164) and Rich (13,496-7,072).

The turnout in 1998 was 1,271,778, of which 644,647 votes were cast in Chicago and 627,131 were cast in the suburbs. The turnout on Nov. 7 is expected to be about 1.3 million, with 650,000 cast in both the city and suburbs. To win, Peraica needs to get 65 percent of the suburban vote (422,000 votes) and 35 percent of the Chicago vote (228,000 votes). He must run 100,000 votes ahead of Pucinski in the suburbs and 80,000 votes ahead of Pucinski in the city.

Second, Peraica is not as well known as Pucinski, but he is not detested. In fact, in certain circles, a Peraica presidency would be welcomed for personal and geographic reasons, permitting some Democrats to lay the groundwork for a 2010 campaign for the job.

County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a white Daley loyalist who lost the 2006 Democratic primary to John Stroger by just 13,790 votes, with 46.5 percent of the votes cast, has refused to endorse Todd Stroger and reportedly is covertly aiding Peraica. It would be easier for Claypool to win the Democratic nomination and beat an incumbent Peraica in 2010 than it would be to beat an incumbent Stroger in a primary. Black Democrats on the West Side resent the South Side's dominance in party politics, and especially the handoff of the presidency from John Stroger to Todd Stroger, both from the 8th Ward. If Stroger loses, a West Sider such as U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-7) could win in 2010.

Third, Peraica has astutely portrayed the race as a referendum on reform, while Stroger has been lamely playing the race, party and ideology cards. Peraica rails about how the "bosses" slated Stroger, while Stroger's ads use that dirty word: Peraica is a "Republican." And Peraica is attacked for opposing abortion rights, gay rights and gun control and for cutting the county budget. Stroger has been advertising heavily on black radio stations, hyping himself as one who will "carry on the work of John Stroger." But he also has pledged to "oust" 500 county employees.

And fourth, if he wins, Peraica will be largely a figurehead. Democrats will hold a 12-5 majority on the board. If Stroger wins, he won't even have a vote in deliberations, as John Stroger's seat as county commissioner was passed to Alderman Bill Beavers. If Peraica wins, he won't have the support of the current "reform" (or anti-Stroger) majority, which includes white Democratic commissioners Claypool, Mike Quigley and Larry Suffredin and black commissioner Earlean Collins. The president has broad budgetary authority, but once Peraica starts cutting the budget, expect Claypool and Quigley, who also is a potential 2010 contender for president, to start howling; under John Stroger, both were staunch advocates of fiscal restraint.

Peraica's winning formula is this:

* The Northwest Side, which encompasses 10 wards, will cast about 136,000 votes. In 1998 John Stroger got 73,492 votes in those wards, or about 56 percent of the votes cast. With the local Democratic organizations ignoring Stroger, Peraica should win big. He needs at least 100,000 votes from the Northwest Side, which is almost 75 percent of the total.

* The Southwest Side, encompassing six wards, will cast about 101,000 votes. Stroger got 66,801 votes in those wards, or about 65 percent of the total, in 1998. Peraica needs to reverse that outcome, generating at least 65,000 votes.

*  The Lakefront is critical. It is ideology versus morality. It's a choice between the "social extremist" Peraica, whom Stroger claims would ban abortions and flood the county with guns, or the dumb and flawed Stroger, who is part and parcel of the "corrupt" system. Peraica needs to reverse the 1998 outcome, winning 50,000-30,000.

* Black and Hispanic wards. Turnout was only 55,000 in the Hispanic wards in 1998, and Stroger won 44,096 votes. Peraica needs 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, or 22,000 votes. Turnout in the black wards in 1998 was almost 380,000, and Pucinski got just 12,361 votes (3.1 percent). Peraica needs to up that showing to at least 10 percent, or close to 35,000 votes.

* And in the suburbs, Peraica must generate a tidal wave. He must break even in such liberal bastions as Evanston and Oak Park, must win 2-1 in the white-majority townships and must get at least 20 percent of the vote in the black-majority townships. Overall, Peraica must shave 100,000 votes off John Stroger's 1998 showing.

My prediction: Peraica is not a perfect candidate, but he has made the race a referendum on the "Stroger Succession" and has persuasively argued that Stroger will be a stooge, not a reformer, as president. In a turnout of 1.3 million voters, Peraica will win by 15,000 votes. Then expect 4 years of acrimony. If by 2009 Peraica's reputation is that of gutsiness and determination, not ineptitude, he may be the logical Republican candidate for governor in 2010.

Other predictions:

Governor: Democrat Rod Blagojevich's numbers are pathetic for an incumbent, but Republican Judy Baar Topinka's are anemic. Expect Blago to win a second term with 45 percent of the vote, to Topinka's 40 percent and with 15 percent for Green Party candidate Rich Whitney. You can't beat $25 million in negative advertising.

U.S. Representative (6th District): This west suburban district has a large and growing minority and a Democratic base. In a normal year, Republican Peter Roskam, a state senator, would be a victor, but in today's volatile environment, Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth is the right candidate at the right time. She will win by 1,500 votes.

U.S. Representative (8th District): Republicans in Washington surely detest former congressman Phil Crane. Had he retired in 2004, a Republican would have kept this McHenry County-Lake County seat. Instead, Democrat Melissa Bean won by 9,191 votes, and she is unbeatable in 2006.

State Representative (20th District): After two arduous campaigns against powerhouse Democrats, Mike McAuliffe (R-20) has finally caught a break. Democrat Mark Dobrzycki, a Harwood Heights trustee, has run an underfunded and largely unnoticed campaign. McAuliffe will win with 62 percent of the vote.