December 27, 2006


Contrary to conventional wisdom, Mayor Rich Daley is no cinch to be re-elected in 2007.

The mayor's political predicament can be summarized by the do-nothing philosophy espoused by the laconic and essentially inert Calvin Coolidge, the Republican president from 1923 to 1928. Coolidge's legendary observation was, "If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you."

In Daley's case, there's one huge six-wheeler hurtling down the road, namely, the U.S. attorney's investigation of the city's Hired Truck Program and of hiring abuses in contravention of the Shakman Decree. Other "troubles" include the possible indictments of former Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez and former Office of Intergovernmental Affairs director Victor Reyes. They ran the pro-Daley Hispanic Democratic Organization, and the feds believe that those who worked for Daley or Daley's candidates got hired or promoted.

Since the mayoral election is on Feb. 27, the odds are that Sanchez and Reyes won't be indicted by then and, hence, won't flip and finger Daley as a co-conspirator. Daley can do nothing to forestall the inevitable. These "troubles" won't run into the ditch, but they won't affect him until well into the future.

With the close of filing on Dec. 18, Daley has four opponents, two of whom are credible: Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and former Harold Washington aide William "Dock" Walls. Both are black. Also running are Syron Smith and Ziff Sistrunk, neither of whom is consequential. If Daley does not receive a majority of the vote on Feb. 27, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff on April 3. The strategy of Brown and Walls is to amass a huge vote in the city's black wards and hope that enough white and Hispanic voters choose one of them simply to register their disgust at city corruption. To date, 45 people have been charged in the Hired Truck probe, and 42 have been convicted.

Going into the election, Daley must craft a new strategy, unlike that of his previous victories in 1989, 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003.

First, he cannot rely on city and county workers in the predominantly white and Hispanic wards to deliver votes. In 2003 Daley filed petitions bearing more than 140,000 signatures. This year, he filed only 24,100 signatures. In a blunder of monumental proportions, Daley required that all circulators sign an affidavit stating that they were doing so because they did not expect a city job or a promotion. What city worker in his or her right mind would sign such a document?

In contrast, the relatively unknown Walls filed more than 38,000 signatures, and Brown filed almost 30,000.

Second, with Brown and Walls in the race, Daley can kiss off the black vote. Between the two, they will win the support of more than 90 percent of black voters. To win, the mayor has to gain 80 percent of the white vote and at least 70 percent of the Hispanic vote.

The 2007 election will be like those in 1989, 1991 and 1995. In the 1989 Democratic primary, in a turnout of 870,381, Daley got 17,395 votes in the city's 19 black-majority wards, 429,170 in the 26 white-majority wards, and 18,678 in the five Hispanic-majority wards. He beat appointed Mayor Gene Sawyer 486,586-383,795, with 55.4 percent of the vote, and in the ensuing election, Daley beat Harold Washington Party candidate Tim Evans by 574,619-412,864, getting 56.1 percent of the vote, with Ed Vrdolyak getting 36,095 votes. Daley got only 11,265 votes in the black wards.

The 1991 election was not much different. Daley beat black challenger Danny Davis in the primary by 407,730-198,815, getting 63 percent of the vote and getting 31,402 votes in the black wards, and he beat Gene Pincham in the election by 450,155-159,606, with 71 percent of the vote and with 49,778 votes in the black wards.

Ditto for 1995. Daley beat Joe Gardner in the primary by 336,183-164,817 (66.3 percent), getting 45,604 votes in the black wards, and he beat Roland Burris in the election by 350,785-207,464 (60.1 percent), with 57,250 votes in the black wards.

In 1999, when the partisan primary and election was abolished, Daley won the nonpartisan election easily. In a turnout of 524,778, barely half of the turnout in 1989, Daley beat black opponent Bobby Rush by 418,211-106,567, getting 72 percent of the vote and getting 109,367 votes in the black wards.

And in 2003, against desultory opposition from clergyman Paul Jakes and two other black candidates, Daley won with 347,698 votes in a turnout of 442,772, with 79 percent of the vote and with 115,149 votes in the black wards.

But 2007 will not resemble 2003 or 1999. Turnout will be much higher, probably close to 750,000, and turnout in the black wards will be near 390,000, with Daley getting fewer than 40,000 votes in those areas.

Third, Daley won't have a Judy Baar Topinka-like foe to rough up. In the recent governor's race, incumbent Rod Blagojevich's numbers were in the tank. The only way he could win was to make Topinka less palatable than him, and he succeeded by launching a $15 million barrage of negative television and radio ads.

Daley understands that this election is a referendum on him. Do Chicagoans want 4 more years? In December 2005, U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., who was considering a mayoral bid, took a poll, and it indicated that Daley's job approval was 61 percent and his favorable rating was 70 percent but that only 38 percent of those polled wanted to see him re-elected.

Daley had $1.95 million in his campaign account as of July 31. He will have to raise another $4 million and spend all of it. Daley must sell himself by unleashing a torrent of ads bragging about what a stupendous job he's done as mayor. "Good for Chicago" will be the refrain. He must sell the idea that any corruption in city government is inconsequential and that his stewardship is indispensable. His ads will hype the fact that city crime has declined, that school performance has improved, that real estate property values have exploded and that Chicago is a much-improved place to live. On a "livability" index, he will argue, Chicago is just splendid.

Daley can't go negative on Brown or Walls. That not only would raise their name identification, it would solidify their black base and irritate independent voters. Unlike past races, Daley's campaign will be run on the tube. During January and February, the mayor will buy ads amounting to 2,000 gross rating points, meaning that the average Chicago TV viewer will see his ads 20 times per week.

 Daley's worst-case scenario would be a low white and Hispanic turnout, coupled with a huge black turnout. That could force an April runoff. And, for one who was rated by Time Magazine in 2005 as one of America's best mayors, Daley has a real problem.

According to the most recent campaign filings, Brown had $176,000 in her campaign account and Walls had $3,552. Neither is in a position to launch a saturation "it's-time-for-a-change" television or radio onslaught.

But, as both demonstrated, they have substantial support within the black community. As of Dec. 18, there were 125 candidates running for alderman in the city's 20 black-majority wards. That will create an unusual predicament for most of the black incumbents, who have generally supported the mayor. All their challengers will be attacking them as Daley "stooges," generating visibility and enthusiasm and boosting turnout; and their supporters will vote for Brown or Walls.

My early prediction: Expect a low turnout in the white and Hispanic wards. There will be no ground game for the mayor. Brown and Walls will amass 350,000 votes in the black wards and take 25 percent of the non-white vote. If turnout falls under 700,000, it's a very real possibility that Daley will come in with less than 50 percent of the vote.

But that's not necessarily bad news. In Los Angeles in 1973 Mayor Sam Yorty, who was white, was forced into a runoff by former police chief Tom Bradley, who was black. The primary was a referendum on Yorty, who was unpopular, but the runoff was a choice between the white incumbent and the black challenger. Yorty won narrowly, but in 1977 Bradley won the job.

Daley is Chicago's Yorty, and he's in a lose-lose situation. If he narrowly wins on Feb. 27, he'll be viewed as hurt badly. If he plays the race card to win on April 3, he's viewed as on his last legs. The vultures will circle for 2011.

Daley will be mayor for 4 more years, but he may not serve them all. There are too many "troubles" coming down the road.