April 11, 2007


Hormones are raging, especially testosterone and estrogen, and miracles may be imminent in four Chicago aldermanic runoffs on April 17. Voter perception of candidate pomposity, probity, sensitivity and contrition will determine the winners. Of the four incumbents, all could lose.

Here are my final predictions:

35th Ward (Logan Square): Call it Chicago's Iraq, or Baghdad on the Lake. There are political instability, sectarian rivalry and a "surge" in precinct troops in the ward. The loyalties of the political leadership have -- and can again -- change in a flash. Alderman Rey Colon is facing former alderman Vilma Colom in this heavily Puerto Rican ward.

The rap on Colom, who was the ward's alderman from 1995 to 2003, is that she's arrogant, pompous and insufferable, but otherwise she's a wonderful human being. In 2003 the majority of the voters decided that Colom, a loyal supporter of Mayor Rich Daley, wasn't wonderful enough and bounced her in favor of Colon, then a strident Daley critic.

The vote was 4,444-3,212, with Colom getting 41.9 percent of the votes cast. The Hispanic Democratic Organization flooded the ward with workers, to no avail. To know Vilma was to detest Vilma. In a ward with roughly 66,000 people and 23,360 registered voters, only 7,656 people (32.7 percent) voted in 2003, and Colom, despite 8 years of incumbency, got 13.7 percent of the registered vote -- a pathetic performance.

Now Colom's back, having experienced an epiphany and taken mega-doses of estrogen, muttering mea culpa at every opportunity and promising to be a humble, attentive and ever-so-sweet alderman. Her explanation for her past bad behavior is that, as a Latina, she had to overcompensate in a machismo, testosterone-dominated Hispanic culture.

Colom beat Colon in 1999 by 4,819-3,044. Four years later Colon's vote was up by 1,400 while Colom's vote tanked by 1,607 -- a stunning diminution of one-third. Colon finished first in the February municipal election with 3,038 votes (46.4 percent of the total), losing 1,406 votes from 2003, while Colom got 2,218 votes, getting 994 fewer votes than in 2003 and 2,601 fewer votes than in 1999.

The voters' choice on April 17 comes down to this: Who is the least repugnant? Many of Colon's 2003 backers view him as a turncoat, and nobody believes that Colom, if elected, will be "independent," particularly since she will owe her election to Alderman Dick Mell (33rd). "Her vote will be in Dick's pocket," said one observer.

As alderman, Colon has backed Daley on 77 percent of key issues, according to a study by the University of Illinois. "I'm critical of patronage abuses," Colon said. "I voted to support the Shakman Decree. I voted for the big-box living wage. I am an independent." Colon was endorsed by the mayor and what's left of the HDO.

Mell, the governor's father-in-law, is fondly known as "Old Gringo" for his propensity to meddle in Hispanic areas. He has dispatched roughly 300 workers into the 35th Ward's 35 precincts. Their "Mission Impossible" job: Find voters who don't hate or don't know Vilma. "There's been a lot of turnover," said one Mell worker. "Our target is Latinas." Their goal: Canvass and identify 3,000 pro-Colom voters, and then run them on April 17.

"I beat an invasion by the HDO in 2003, and I'll beat an invasion by Dick in 2007," Colon said. The alderman said he has the support of "neighborhood and union" people. "They're throwing the kitchen sink at me," Colon said, questioning Colom's financial reports, which show only $90,000. "She's spending much more than that," he said.

My prediction: Over half the residents of the ward are noncitizens. Colon is "Mr. Nice Guy," providing competent ward services. But Mell's workers are promising everything and anything to get a Colom vote. Colom's mailers highlight Colon's past drunken driving arrests. In a squeaker, Colom will beat Colon by 50 votes.

50th Ward (West Rogers Park): The tally is in. Alderman Berny Stone is the winner of Chicago's "Grumpy Old Man" sweepstakes. And, despite his age (79), abrasive daughter, verbal miscues and gender issues, Stone will win another term.

Stone has a propensity to run off at the mouth. Back in 1986 he called Luis Gutierrez, now a U.S. representative, a "little pipsqueak." He tabbed his 2007 foe, Naisy Dolar, a "pisher," which is Yiddish for a "little squirt." Stone also said that Dolar, a Filipino American, was "playing the racial card." Stone has evolved into the Jesse Helms of Chicago politics: Hated by thousands but loved by just a few more.

The once heavily Jewish 50th Ward, which Stone has represented since 1973, ain't what it used to be. It's become haven for "people of color" -- Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Thais, Indians, Pakistanis, Hispanics, Assyrians and Middle East Muslims -- who are approaching a majority. But Jews, Stone's base, still constitute 30 percent of the vote, and non-Jewish whites are about 20 percent. Stone is playing his own card -- the Jewish card. "There's more Jews than Filipinos," he said. He's relying on the Jewish Winston Towers precincts, as well as those north of Touhy Avenue, to carry him to victory.

Stone got 5,059 votes in February (48.3 percent of the total cast) to Dolar's 2,958 (28.3 percent), with the remainder to Greg Brewer and Salman Aftab. Stone missed winning outright by 176 votes. If the April 17 turnout equals the turnout of 10,469 on Feb. 17, Dolar must get 96.7 percent of the anti-Stone vote. No way.

"People of color are supporting me," Stone said, referring to Assyrians and Muslims and many Asians. Dolar has been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, and by U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson Jr. Schakowsky's endorsement can peel off some Jewish liberals and women from Stone's base.

My prediction: Dolar is fresh, while Stone is stale. Dolar is trying to solidify the ward's Asian vote and is continually asserting that Stone, if re-elected, will resign and allow his daughter Alana, his chief of staff, to replace him. But Stone's Jewish base will prevail, and "Energizer Berny," who keeps going and going, will win with 53 percent of the vote.

2nd Ward (South Side: Dearborn Park, North Bronzeville, Taylor Street, South Lawndale): Hell hath no fury like a legal paper trail. Barack Obama is in the U.S. Senate largely because the divorce records of Blair Hull and Jack Ryan caused their 2004 candidacies to implode. Bob Fioretti is next.

Any incumbent alderman who gets less than 50 percent of the vote in the municipal election is in severe jeopardy. Alderman Madeline Haithcock, who is black, got just 20.4 percent of the vote on Feb. 27, to 28 percent for Fioretti, who is a white lawyer. That means 79.6 percent of the ward's voters, in a 10,437 turnout, rejected their incumbent. That should make her toast. In addition, the 2nd Ward has a growing white population.

But the three black candidates got a combined 6,332 votes, to 4,105 for the two white candidates. Haithcock has been hammering Fioretti as a sexist and a liar, citing a 2003 order of protection that he got against a court reporter. Fioretti said that he had no "dating relationship" with her, but court documents state otherwise. Fioretti has been pounding Haithcock for "14 years of failed leadership" and has ripped her for putting her husband and her daughter on her aldermanic payroll.

The bottom line: Haithcock is astutely playing the "race card" and the "gender card." Blacks still comprise a majority in the ward. Haithcock is characterizing Fioretti as a rich white guy who's trying to oust a "sister," and she's appealing to white women by ripping Fioretti as some kind of "stalker." Fioretti has been endorsed by Jackson.

My prediction: If the election were a referendum on Haithcock, she would lose. Her ineptitude is indisputable. But she has made Fioretti the issue. She has solidified her black base, and she will get a lot of votes from white women. In a phenomenal comeback, Haithcock will win with 52 percent of the vote.

32nd Ward (Wicker Park, Bucktown, South Lakeview, Ukrainian Village): Like Haithcock, Alderman Ted Matlak is desperately trying to shift the focus of the race to his opponent, Scott Waguespack. Like Haithcock, Matlak is trying to use a legal paper trail. Like Haithcock, Matlak is trying to portray Waguespack as a liar.

And, like Haithcock, Matlak's ineptitude as alderman is indisputable.

Matlak topped Waguespack in February by 3,793-3,185, missing an outright win by just 257 votes. The ward's Democratic committeeman, Terry Gabinski, who is Matlak's mentor, is calling in his chits, and a multitude of out-of-ward workers are flocking in. Matlak is attacking Waguespack's ethics, claiming that he calls himself an attorney although he failed the bar exam twice and that he works for the mayor of Berwyn and is under investigation for not showing up for work.

Waguespack disputes both allegations, asserting that he is a law school graduate and that Berwyn's mayor denies there is an investigation. My prediction: Waguespack will win, getting 55 percent of the vote.