December 20, 2006


In assessing the 2007 aldermanic contests, the "F" word is both operative and redundant.

There's the "Fatigue Factor" and the "Financial Factor" -- a bunch of Fs. With filing having closed on Dec. 18, there appears to be yet another "factor" on the Northwest Side: The "Few Factor" -- as few candidates have filed against the area's incumbents.

Aldermanic salaries are up to $98,125 in the next term, so there's a financial incentive to run. Petition signature requirements are as low at 300 in most wards, so there is no impediment to run. As of the closure of filing, 245 candidates filed for alderman in the 50 wards.

The key re-election criterion is fatigue. Are area voters, as they say, sick and tired of their alderman? It doesn't seem so.

The alderman's job is to provide ward services, which means they must satisfy thousands of constituents annually. But, by not providing requested services, for whatever reason, aldermen irritate, antagonize or infuriate other constituents. The rule of thumb is that the longer an alderman is in office, the more enemies he makes, and the lower is his or her popularity.

Over time, those served forget. But those disserved or not served remember. That means an alderman's base continuously shrivels.

But there is an exception: If around long enough, voters begin to view their aldermanic incumbent with affection, and he or she becomes an icon -- highly venerated and impervious to challenge or defeat. Among this rare breed are Northwest Side Aldermen Dick Mell (33rd), Berny Stone (50th), Gene Schulter (47th) and Pat O'Connor (40th). Approaching that threshold are Aldermen Bill Banks (36th), Tom Allen (38th), Brian Doherty (41st) and Marge Laurino (39th). In fact, given the lack of contested 2007 aldermanic contests, it seems that that there are a whole lot of icons in the making on the Northwest Side.

But, lest incumbents become too complacent, the visage of Roman Pucinski looms large as a classic case of voter fatigue. Pucinski was a 14-year congressman who, after a failed 1972 U.S. Senate bid, ran for the open 41st Ward aldermanic seat in 1973. He won the city job easily, and he was re-elected in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1987. But Pucinski was a renowned promise maker and a notorious promise breaker. He never rose to the iconic level, and by 1991 voters were finally fatigued. Pucinski faced a field of eight candidates, finished with 42 percent of the vote in the primary, and lost the runoff, getting 45.9 percent of the vote against the heretofore unknown Doherty.

Are there any Pucinskis lurking in 2007? Here's an early look at Northwest Side races:

32nd Ward: Incumbent Ted Matlak is a blue-collar kind of guy in a demographically changing, upscale ward. To be sure, an alderman's job is to be the ward's housekeeper, but as the Wicker Park/south Lakeview/Ukrainian Village 32nd Ward becomes more affluent, Matlak's base withers.

Knockdowns are epidemic, and developers are everywhere. The policy of the Daley Administration, which Matlak supports, is to encourage development, which means more taxable properties and more white voters. But the new occupants of those dwellings tend to be liberal and, perplexingly for Matlak, against more zoning variations and development, which will clog their streets even more. In 1999 Matlak beat a liberal feminist with just 54 percent of the vote, but he upped that to 74 percent in 2003 against Jay Stone, Berny Stone's son.

 The outlook: After his 1999 wake-up call, Matlak, age 42, has focused on providing ward services. But community activists are still disgruntled. The candidates who filed against him are John Lag, Paul Miller, Catherine Zaryczny and Scott Waguespack, none of whom is well known, but all of whom will campaign vigorously. A five-candidate field could keep Matlak below 50 percent of the vote, forcing an April runoff. He is in jeopardy.

33rd Ward: Mell has been an alderman since 1975, and he demonstrated his clout by orchestrating the rise of his son-in-law, Rod Blagojevich, from state representative to congressman to governor. Rumors were rife that Mell, age 67, would retire in 2007 due to the prolonged illness of his wife, Marge. But she died in early December. "Dick will now focus totally on politics," said one of his aides.

The outlook: The 33rd Ward, which runs from Belmont Avenue to Lawrence Avenue and from Lawndale Avenue to the Chicago River, is 54 percent Hispanic, but Mell is unbeatable. The candidates who filed are Tom Gunderson and Raul Medina.

35th Ward: Defeated aldermen rarely regain their post. Given the power, perquisites and visibility of the job, any alderman who gets ousted has to be deemed some kind of dunce.

But that hasn't deterred Vilma Colom, the alderman from 1995 to 2003. She lost to the anti-Daley Rey Colon by 1,232 votes in 2003, after beating him by 1,775 votes in 1999. After winning, Colon became a Daley loyalist and an ally of the Hispanic Democratic Organization. Also running is Esteban Burgon, Miguel Sotomayor and James Villalpando. The outlook: In this Puerto Rican-majority Logan Square ward, Colon will win.

36th Ward: Banks is deemed a political powerhouse. He's chairman of the City Council Zoning Committee. He has more than $800,000 in his campaign account. He's been an alderman since 1983 and the ward's Democratic committeeman since 1981. In his Galewood and Montclare ward, Banks, age 56, was unopposed for alderman in 1995, 1999 and 2003.

Is Banks yet an icon? He faces credible opposition in 2007 from Nick Sposato, a city firefighter, plus Rich Behrendt, Susan Diliberto and Dave Tirado. Their theme is that it's time for a change, much like it was in the 1991 Pucinski race. Why this sudden surge of opposition? The outlook: Banks will win, but in a crowded field, he won't top 50 percent by much.

38th Ward: Unlike his predecessor, Tom Cullerton, who had a tempestuous tenure, barely winning in 1983, 1987 and 1991, Allen has a lock on this ward. He won in 1995, 1999 and 2003, and he is unopposed in 2007.

39th Ward: A Laurino has been the ward's alderman since 1965, and Marge Laurino has been an alderman since 1995, representing Mayfair, Sauganash, Edgebrook and Albany Park. It's the family business. She faces opposition in 2007 from Peter Belz, a computer programmer with the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk's Office, and Dennis Healy. The outlook: Another Laurino win.

40th Ward: O'Connor, age 52, first elected in 1983, the mayor's council floor leader and the Education Committee chairman, is an absolute icon in his Hollywood Park/Peterson Park/North Park ward. He was unopposed in 1995, 1999 and 2003. He faces Rafael Chagin in 2007, but he will win easily.

41st Ward: For Brian Doherty, the only Republican in the City Council, 2007 does not appear to be his 1991-like Armageddon. Four aspirants seek his job. Frank Coconate is not one of them. As chairman of the Northwest Side Democratic Organization and an organizer for U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.'s aborted campaign for mayor, Coponate was supposed to line up anti-Daley aldermanic contenders in Northwest Side wards and run himself in the 41st, but he pulled a Hamlet. He won't run for alderman. He did the same thing in 2006, backing out of a run for county commissioner.

Ward Democratic Committeeman Ralph Capparelli, who Coconate plans to challenge in 2008,  could not find a Democrat to support for alderman.

Running against Doherty are Andy DeVito, a foreman in the city Aviation Department, and Mike Hannon, a law student backed by Coconate, Don Markham and Marty Reid. The outlook: Doherty will win his fifth term, thereby eclipsing Pucinski's 18 years.

45th Ward: Will longtime incumbent Pat Levar be 2007's Pucinski?

Levar, age 55, faces formidable opposition from his former top aide, Terry Boyke. Levar is backed by 45th Ward Democratic Committeeman Tom Lyons' organization, and he amassed more than 7,500 petition signatures. Boyke came in with more than 3,000. Also filing were Anna Klocek and Bob Bank.

The is was that Levar could be vulnerable in a multi-candidate race, with each contender taking a small slice of the vote and keeping Levar to less than 50 percent of the vote. That would necessitate an April runoff. With only four candidates on the ballot, Levar could win outright on Feb. 27. Boyke needed at least six candidates to ensure a Levar-Boyke runoff, and Levar is favored.

47th Ward: Gene Schulter, age 59, has been the alderman of his Ravenswood ward since 1975. The area is trending upscale, but no disenchantment with Schulter has surfaced. He faces nominial opposition from Martin Cooney in February.

50th Ward: Berny Stone's West Rogers Park ward is melting pot of cultures and demographics. But Stone, age 79, is a much-beloved icon, winning with 76 percent of the vote in 2003 and running unopposed in 1999. He could be vulnerable to a well funded liberal or an ethnic candidate who could unite the ward's large Indian, Pakistani, Chinese and Vietnamese population. But none of his 2007 foes, Naisy Dolar, Salmon Aftab or Greg Brewer, has that capability. Stone will win his 10th term easily.