January 3, 2007


To use that hackneyed expression, the Hispanic Democratic Organization's influence in Chicago politics ain't over until it's over.

It won't be over before the 2007 municipal election. It will be over if and when former HDO chieftains Victor Reyes and Al Sanchez get indicted and convicted.

The HDO was created to be Mayor Rich Daley's political machine in the city's Hispanic wards. And, according news reports surrounding the U.S. attorney's Hired Truck probe, the feds are looking into whether Reyes, the mayor's former Office of Intergovernmental Affairs director, and Sanchez, the former Department of Streets and Sanitation commissioner, conspired to hire Hispanics for city jobs who had done precinct work for the mayor's candidates or to promote those who did. That would violate the federal Shakman decree, which bans political hiring, firing or promotions.

Longtime HDO critic Frank Avila called the organization a "criminal enterprise." Avila will be prophetic if Reyes and Sanchez go down. And if they are convicted, how can the mayor disclaim any knowledge of their activities? Daley would be next, but that won't happen before the Feb. 27 election.

The HDO is alive, well and functional. It has set several priorities for 2007, including boosting Daley's vote in Hispanic wards, re-electing Aldermen John Pope (10th), George Cardenas (12th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th), and electing challenger Joaquin Salamaca against incumbent Ricardo Munoz (22nd).

Eleven wards have Hispanic majorities, but three will retain their white aldermen: Pope, Ed Burke (14th) and Dick Mell (33rd). Eight wards have Hispanic aldermen -- four of Mexican descent and four who are Puerto Rican. There is intense rivalry between those groups. Here's a look at Hispanic ward contests:

1st Ward (West Town, part of Ukrainian Village on the Near West Side): The HDO exerted a Herculean effort to re-elect Jesse Granato in 2003, but he lost to anti-HDO independent Manny Flores in this gentrifying ward by 1,573 votes in a runoff. Flores, a young attorney, harbors hopes of running for mayor or Congress in the future, and he is allied with Avila.

But Flores is now a Daley supporter, and he has raised $283,614, much from developers. The outsider is now an insider. Flores is unopposed.

12th Ward (East Little Village, Brighton Park on the South Side): The HDO's loyalty is never permanent. Ray Frias, a pro-HDO former city police officer, was elected alderman in this predominantly Mexican-American ward in 1995. He was indicted for bribe taking in the "Silver Shovel" investigation and was found not guilty in 1998, and he won re-election in 1999 with 63 percent of the vote. But in 2003 Frias' HDO clout was dwarfed by that of Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, who backed George Cardenas for alderman.

In a monumental upset, Cardenas finished with 2,121 votes (45 percent of the votes cast), to Frias' 2,173 (46 percent). Recognizing that he would lose the runoff to Cardenas, Frias conceded. For this election, the HDO is behind Cardenas, who faces six foes. The most formidable are Jesus Salazar, a liberal independent, and Carina Sanchez, who is backed by Frias, the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce and the Service Employees' International Union. Also running are Jesse Iniguez, Alan Mercado, Jose Rodriguez and Al Bocanegra. The outlook: Expect a Cardenas-Sanchez runoff. A Cardenas loss would be a huge HDO embarrassment.

22nd Ward (West Little Village, South Lawndale on the Near South Side): This predominantly Mexican-American ward has been represented by anti-HDO Ricardo Munoz since 1995. Munoz has been an occasional critic of Daley, and he is angling to run for Congress in 2008 in the 4th District

Munoz won with 54.8 percent of the vote in 1995 and with 66 percent in 1999, and he was unopposed in 2003. But the ward's density and gang problems, coupled with Munoz' reputation for not providing services, means he is beatable. The HDO candidate is businessman Joaquin Salamaca. Also running are August Sallas, who lost in 1999 with 10 percent of the vote, and Jose Gutierrez. The outlook: U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) has announced his retirement in 2008, and everybody running for that job wants to see Munoz defeated in 2007, to get him out of the race. The outlook: Expect Salamaca to win.

25th Ward (Near West Side, around the medical center complex, and Pilsen): Incumbent Danny Solis, the mayor's favorite Hispanic alderman and an HDO beneficiary, also is running for Congress in 2008. In this Mexican-American ward, Solis should be secure, but he faces six foes, including convicted former alderman Ambrosio Medrano, former state representative Juan Soliz, Aaron del Valle, Joe Acevedo, Martha Padillo and Cuahutemoc Morfin.

A recent court decision held that convicted felons, such as Medrano, who was convicted in the "Silver Shovel" probe, cannot run for public office. That could knock Medrano off the ballot. Solis was appointed by Daley to replace Medrano in 1997, and he won with 81 percent of the vote in 1999 and with 54 percent in 2003. But the HDO is fractured. Del Valle is a former aide to Sanchez, and Acevedo is the brother of state Representative Eddie Acevedo (D-2), a staunch HDO ally.

The outlook: Solis will be in a runoff, against either del Valle or Acevedo. In a 12th Ward-like situation, the HDO could back his foe. Solis is in danger.

26th Ward (West Town): Incumbent Billy Ocasio took this Puerto Rican-majority ward in 1993, after his mentor, then-Alderman Luis Gutierrez, went to Congress. Daley appointed Ocasio, who won with 57.9 percent of the vote in 1995, with 54 percent in 1999 and with 76 percent in 2003. Since Gutierrez is not running for mayor in 2007, the generally pro-Daley Ocasio can openly back the mayor.

Ocasio had HDO backing in the past, but he faces a curious situation in 2007. Jesse Granato, who lost his 1st Ward seat in 2003, is challenging Ocasio, as are Sammy Maldonado and Onix Vera. Granato is a longtime HDO loyalist. Rumors abound that Gutierrez may recant his retirement decision and run again in 2008.

The 26th Ward is Gutierrez' political base. If Granato upsets Ocasio, the message to Gutierrez will be clear: Stay retired. The outlook: Ocasio will win.

30th Ward (Near Northwest Side, Cragin, Avondale): Ariel Reboyras, a longtime HDO operative, won this Puerto Rican-majority ward seat in 2003 with a stunning 77 percent of the vote.

Reboyras faces two 2007 foes: The anti-HDO Jose Anthony Alvarez, who is of Cuban ancestry and who lost a 2002 Democratic primary for the Illinois House in the 3rd District to incumbent Willie Delgado by 24 votes; and Wayne Strnad, who got 23.3 percent of the vote in a 2004 primary against Delgado and 6 percent in a 2003 race for alderman in the 29th Ward.

The outlook: Alvarez's brother, Al, is a close ally of Dick Mell, and Mell will send workers into the ward. Alvarez will run well, but absent a Reyes or Sanchez indictment, Reboyras will win.

31st Ward (West Logan Square): In this Puerto Rican-majority ward, Democratic Committeeman Joe Berrios, who also is a powerful Board of Review commissioner, reigns supreme. The alderman is Ray Suarez, a Berrios ally first elected in 1991 with 70.8 percent of the vote; he was unopposed in 1995, got 62 percent of the vote in 1999 and was unopposed in 2003. Suarez faces Renne Chavez and Ray Hernandez in 2007, and he will win easily.

For decades, the pro-HDO Berrios/Suarez faction has been feuding with the anti-HDO independents allied with state Senator Miguel del Valle (D-2) and state Representative Willie Delgado (D-3). But that's now history. Peace has broken out.

Daley appointed del Valle as the city clerk in 2006. In the ensuing deal making, Delgado got del Valle's Senate seat and Luis Arroyo, a member of Berrios' organization, got Delgado's House seat. In fact, Berrios now has two state representatives from his ward, Arroyo and his daughter, Toni Berrios (D-39).

35th Ward (Logan Square): Mell, known derisively as "Old Gringo" among Hispanic politicians, interceded in 1995 to elect Vilma Colom as alderman in the newly created Puerto Rican-majority ward. She won with 59 percent of the vote in the 1995 runoff and with 61 percent in 1999. She was allied with the HDO.

But, becoming arrogant, Colom alienated her allies and supporters and she lost in 2003 to the anti-HDO Rey Colon, getting just 42 percent of the vote. She had beaten Colon in 1999. And, virtually seconds after winning, Colon became a Daley supporter and an HDO ally.

 Also running are Esteban Burgon, James Villalpando and Miguel Sotomayor. The outlook: With HDO and Daley backing, Colon will win a second term.

City Clerk: Del Valle, who is Puerto Rican, was a state senator for 19 years, and he never was a Daley ally. In fact, he broke into politics as a Harold Washington supporter. In 2007 he faces opposition from Jose Cerda III, Tom O'Brien, Dozier Thomas, George Sims, Diane Jones and Sally Johnson.

As a Daley appointee, del Valle will get support in white wards. As a longtime independent, he will run strong on the Lakefront and in black wards, and he will sweep the Hispanic wards. And that makes a lot of his Hispanic rivals nervous, as del Valle now is in a position to be mayor some day.