April 25, 2007


The results of the April 17 aldermanic runoffs proved anew the old adage that a silk purse can't be made from a sow's ear.

Despite assembling all the King's horses and all the King's men -- an army of precinct workers dispatched into certain wards by city Democratic organizations loyal to Mayor Rich Daley -- a bunch of "sow's ears" suffered ignominious defeat. Losers included Ted Matlak (32nd), Vilma Colom (35th), Madeleine Haithcock (2nd), Dorothy Tillman (3rd) and Shirley Coleman (16th).

Pro-Daley incumbents Berny Stone (50th) and Vi Daley (43rd) did prevail. Five of the 11 aldermen in runoffs lost. Of the 12 contests, labor unions were involved in nine and won six. Here's an analysis:

35th Ward (Logan Square): Vilma Colom is a sow's ear. She is arrogant, pompous and insufferable, and, after two terms as an alderman, she got booted in 2003. Colom forgot that an alderman's job is to serve constituents, not berate or ignore them.

But hope springs eternal, and Colom did a mea culpa, proclaiming that she was trying to overcompensate for being a Latina in a machismo Hispanic culture. Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), known as "Old Gringo," helped elect her in 1995 and decided to do likewise in 2007. He put a cork in Colom's mouth, dispatched 300 of his workers into the 35th Ward, and expected that he would have an alderman in his pocket. After all, in a ward with 35 precincts and nine workers per precinct, how hard could it be to find 90 votes per precinct and 3,000 votes wardwide? The answer: Impossible.

Alderman Rey Colon handed Mell the head of Colom in a basket. Although outnumbered at least 10-1 in precinct workers and heavily outspent, Colon beat Colom 4,073-2,464, getting 62.3 percent of the votes cast.

In a ward with a population of 66,000 and with 23,360 registered voters, the April 17 turnout was 6,537 (27.9 percent), almost identical to the Feb. 27 turnout of 6,547. In that race Colon finished first with 3,038 votes (46.4 percent of the total), to 2,218 (33.8 percent) for Colom and 1,291 for Miguel Sotomayer. Despite Mell's strenuous effort, Colom picked up a grand total of 246 votes over the primary. That's pathetic. If 300 precinct workers can't find 3,000 votes in a pool of 23,360, then either they're woefully inept or Colom is woefully unelectable.

Like Colom, Colon had credibility issues. Colon ran for alderman in 1999 on an anti-Daley platform, losing 4,819-3,044. In 2003 he again ran as an independent, and Daley's Hispanic Democratic Organization flooded the ward with workers for Colom. Colon triumphed 4,444-3,212, getting 58.1 percent of the vote in a turnout of 7,656. After winning, Colon joined the HDO, and he has supported Daley on at least 77 percent of key City Council votes. That infuriated many of the white liberals in Logan Square, who comprise about a quarter of the electorate in the heavily Puerto Rican ward. In February they backed Sotomayer.

Colon said he was relying on "community support" in the runoff, but he also was backed by the unions, as he voted for the "big-box" living wage ordinance. He had few precinct workers, as the HDO is virtually extinct. Colon won because he was the least objectionable candidate. All the Mell-men couldn't rehabilitate Colom. Of Sotomayer's 1,291 votes, about a thousand went to Colon in the runoff. Mell deserves a dunce cap for his efforts.

32nd Ward (Wicker Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, South Lakeview): Renowned as Chicago's Loch Ness Monster, as he is rarely sighted among his constituents, Alderman Ted Matlak proved to be another sow's ear. Despite spending in the realm of $700,000 and benefiting from an influx of nearly 500 precinct workers, Matlak still lost. If a movie were made of this race, it would be titled "The Dumb and the Dumbest."

A second loser in the ward is Democratic Committeeman Terry Gabinski, a protege of former U.S. representative Dan Rostenkowski and the ward's alderman from 1968 to 1999. Gabinski anointed Matlak as his successor. Matlak's defeat means that Gabinski will face a challenge from state Representative John Fritchey for committeeman in 2008.

Gabinski is well wired among the "Old Bull" Democratic committeemen, especially on the South Side. Both Matlak and Gabinski have encouraged development in the ward through spot zoning, and developers have reciprocated by donating heavily. But the new residents, affluent and independent, are largely disdainful of precinct solicitors and contemptuous of Matlak.

"It's the death of a dynasty," noted attorney Frank Avila, referring to the 32nd Ward. Rostenkowski's father, Joe, was an alderman and committeeman from 1936 to 1960, and he made his son a congressman at age 30. The area near Milwaukee, Division and Ashland avenues was the heart of Chicago's Polish-American community, along with Ukrainian Village. But the ethnic bungalows have been (and are being) razed for million dollar "McMansions" and $500,000 condominiums. The new residents expect service as a right, not as a trade-off for their vote.

Scott Waguespack is a lifelong Bucktown resident, and he was the consensus choice of anti-Matlak independents in the ward. Waguespack works for the mayor of Berwyn. He got 3,185 votes (39.3 percent of the total) in the primary, to 3,793 (46.8 percent) for Matlak and 1,122 for Catherine Zaryczny. Matlak missed winning by just 257 votes.

Gabinski called in his markers. The precinct captains who once turned out a tidy vote for the "Rostenkowski Machine" are dead or retired. Gabinski, as he did in 1999, when Matlak defeated Lorna Brett 6,725-4,019, with 54.3 percent of the vote, brought in workers from the 10th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 23rd, 40th and 47th wards and got the mayor's endorsement. Workers were 10 deep in most precincts, and a slick Matlak mailer hit every household every other day.

But Matlak's years of neglect and invisibility could not be overcome. It was expected that Waguespack would win if the turnout for the runoff exceeded 20 percent. The ward has 34,907 registered voters, and 8,100 (23.2 percent) turned out on Feb. 27. Waguespack won the runoff 4,177-4,055, getting 50.7 percent of the vote in a turnout of 8,232 (23.5 percent). Despite Gabinski's Herculean efforts, Matlak got only 262 more votes in the runoff than in the municipal election, while Waguespack got 992 more. That means the Zaryczny vote, even though she endorsed Matlak, moved almost entirely to Waguespack.

The clear message from the 32nd Ward: Residents who pay $20,000-plus annually in property taxes expect an attentive, responsive alderman. They expect their alderman to get community input prior to rezoning. They expect their alderman to return phone calls. Matlak is a 1950s-style alderman who thinks that it's the voters, not him, who should be not seen and not heard.

Back in 2003 Gabinski was poised to hand off his post to Matlak. But Fritchey, a state representative since 1996 and the son-in-law of the brother of Alderman Bill Banks (36th), announced that he was running for committeeman. Daley intervened, Gabinski unretired, and Fritchey and Matlak withdrew from the race. As for 2008, Fritchey said recently that he is "definitely running" for committeeman if Matlak loses.

Expect Gabinski to retire. After 71 years, the Rostenkowski era is over. If Matlak couldn't win in 2007, Gabinski definitely won't win in 2008. Put a dunce cap on Gabinski's head. He encouraged development in order to raise dollars from developers, and he sowed the seed of his demise.

50th Ward (West Rogers Park): Berny Stone has been the alderman of his hereditarily Jewish ward since 1973. He was re-elected narrowly in the 2007 runoff, topping Naisy Dolar by 5,965-5,304, with 52.9 percent of the vote. But voters can begin to mouth this phrase: Bye-bye Berny. Stone, age 79, will not be an alderman beyond 2011, and he may resign before then. This is his last term.

Stone faced three opponents in the February election and finished with 5,059 votes (48.3 percent of the total) in a turnout of 10,469. The ward has 24,563 registered voters, and Jews comprise about 30 percent of the ward's population but about 40 percent of the voters. In the runoff, it was "people of color" - meaning Asians, Arabs, Muslims and Hispanics -- versus Jews. "There's more Jews than Filipinos in my ward," said Stone, and he was right.

Dolar, who is Filipino, got 2,958 votes (28.3 percent of the total) in the primary. Daley endorsed Stone, and U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesse Jackson Jr. endorsed Dolar. Stone brought in a new campaign staff for the runoff, and his target was simple: Find more Jewish votes, especially in the Winston Towers precincts. He did.

The result: In a turnout of 11,269, Stone upped his vote to 5,965 (52.9 percent of the total), an increase of 906 over Feb. 27. Dolar's vote increased to 5,304, a spurt of 2,346, meaning that she got almost all of the 5,410 anti-Stone votes from February. Stone won by 661 votes and said that Schakowsky will never be "North Side boss."

But Stone's own "boss" days are numbered. The Jewish vote in the ward is dwindling, and "people of color" will soon be a voting majority. Dolar is the favorite to win in 2011.