September 5, 2007


In politics, a month is a lifetime, a year is a millennium, and 2010, when the next census occurs, is an eternity from now. Voters forget, situations alter, and current problems, and conventional wisdom, invariably change.

Politicians on the Northwest Side are already nervously pondering, or eagerly anticipating, the effect of the next census on their wards. At least one predominantly white Northwest Side ward, probably the 38th, will be dismembered in order to create a new Hispanic-majority ward.

The area west of Western Avenue and north of North Avenue which makes up Jefferson Township contains all or parts of 15 wards. It includes all of the 41st, 45th, 38th, 36th, 39th, 33rd, 31st, 30th and 35th wards and parts of the 50th, 40th, 29th, 26th, 37th and 1st wards.

The 29th and 37th wards have a black majority and an exploding Hispanic population. After the 2010 census, the City Council remap will combine those two wards, creating a new Hispanic-majority ward and another pitting Aldermen Ike Carothers (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th) against each other in a black-majority section. Mitts is a protege of Carothers, and he helped her get elected. She surely will step aside.

The 26th, 30th, 31st, 33rd and 35th wards have solid Hispanic majorities and will retain their Hispanic aldermen. The 1st Ward's Hispanic majority is declining rapidly, with a white majority imminent, but that won't threaten Alderman Manny Flores. The far northwest 41st and 45th wards are still almost all white, with a minimal Hispanic presence, but there is a growing Hispanic population in the 39th, 40th, 50th, 38th and 36th wards.

Demographic change, particularly the burgeoning Hispanic population in the area south of Addison Street and east of Central Avenue, will necessitate the creation of another Hispanic-majority ward. That means that the predominantly white areas from the 36th and 38th wards - represented by Aldermen Bill Banks and Tom Allen, respectively -- will be collapsed into one new ward, and if it comes to a confrontation, Banks will win.

The elongated 38th Ward extends from Kedvale Avenue (4100 west) to Octavia Avenue (7300 west), between Belmont Avenue (3200 north) and Gunnison Street (4800 north), with many dips and turns, and it includes the area north of Schurz High School up to Montrose Avenue, Portage Park (west of Laramie Avenue and south of Montrose Avenue), Chopin Park, Dunham Park, Mount Olive Cemetery and the old Chicago-Read facility along Forest Preserve Drive. The Hispanic population of the ward reportedly has grown to almost 80 percent in the area from Cicero Avenue to Laramie, between Belmont and Irving Park Road. That area definitely will be appended to the 30th Ward in the remap.

The Belmont-Central area, once populated largely by Polish immigrants, has evolved into a "Little Mexico." The area between Cicero and Narragansett Avenue, from Addison to Belmont, is now heavily Hispanic. Polish residents have moved west and north into River Grove, Elmwood Park, Franklin Park, Schiller Park, Harwood Heights and Niles. In the next remap, Belmont-Central will be part of a new Hispanic ward.

The 38th Ward has long been the fiefdom of the "Cullerton Clan." A Cullerton or Cullerton family member has been the alderman of the ward for 72 of the 76 years since the ward was created in 1931, in roughly the same area. In fact, a Cullerton has been in the City Council for 119 of the 136 years since 1871, when Eddie Cullerton was elected alderman on the West Side and had a street named after him.

The legendary P.J. "Parky" Cullerton was elected the ward's alderman in 1935. In 1955 Cullerton aligned himself with a then-obscure South Side mayoral contender, Richard J. Daley, and hit the jackpot. After Daley won, he made Cullerton the county assessor in 1958. After Cullerton resigned, his brother Willie became the alderman and served until his death in 1973. P.J. Cullerton was the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman from 1932 until his death in 1981.

Willie Cullerton's successor was his nephew Tom Cullerton, the city's assistant chief electrical inspector when he won the 1973 special aldermanic election. After P.J. Cullerton's death, Tom Cullerton became the ward's Democratic committeeman. He barely survived tough aldermanic contests in 1987 and 1991. He died in 1993, and Mayor Rich Daley named attorney Tom Allen as his replacement. Allen is part of the "Cullerton Clan," at least by affinity. His wife's sister is married to Tim Cullerton, Tom Cullerton's son, who until his recent retirement was the city's chief electrical inspector. Tim Cullerton has no political ambitions, although his children might.

Allen, age 55, was easily re-elected as alderman in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. He currently is seeking slating as the Democratic nominee for state's attorney in 2008. "I'm happy as alderman," Allen said, but he added that being the state's attorney would be the "fulfillment of a dream."

"I'm not now ready to be a judge," for which he could be slated if he wanted, Allen said.

After Tom Cullerton's death, his daughter Patty Jo "P.J." Cullerton became the Democratic committeeman, and she has held the job since 1993. Cullerton carried on the family business, working for the county assessor's office, rising to become manager of technical review and then shifting to the Cook County Forest Preserve District as the assistant to the superintendent. After 30 years on the county payroll, she retired in 2005.

Should Allen be elected to another office and resign, his successor as alderman surely would be P.J. Cullerton. "There are many qualified people who could replace him," Cullerton said, but she didn't name one. She is daily at the aldermanic/Democratic ward office on Irving Park.

If the 38th Ward is strangely configured, so, too, is Banks' 36th Ward. Much of the old 38th Ward, the area west of Harlem Avenue and north of Belmont to the city limits, is now in the 36th Ward. The old 36th Ward, prior to the 1990s, was south of Belmont and east of Harlem. The current ward runs south to North Avenue, between Narragansett and Harlem, and follows Belmont west to Cumberland and the city limits, curving in a crescent from Austin westward and northward to Lawrence.

The Harlem-Narragansett corridor south of Belmont contains an eclectic demographic mixture: It is Hispanic and Polish from Belmont to Diversey Avenue, it is overwhelmingly Hispanic from Diversey to Grand Avenue, and it is a mixture of white and black from Grand to North, with the blacks primarily east of Oak Park Avenue and the whites to the west.

The next remap surely will slice the area south of Belmont off Banks' 36th Ward and the area east of Central off Allen's 38th Ward. That means the creation of a new white-majority ward running from Central to Cumberland, north of Belmont. The white, upscale area where Allen lives, around Portage Park, will be appended onto Alderman Pat Levar's 45th Ward.

The bad news is that, if P.J. Cullerton replaces Allen as alderman, she would be remapped into a ward with Banks, who would be unbeatable. Cullerton resides in the Harlem-Forest Preserve Drive area.

The good news is that the next Chicago aldermanic remap will not take effect until 2015. Hence, if Cullerton is appointed to replace Allen any time before 2011, or if Allen remains as the alderman, either would run for election in 2011 in the ward's present boundaries. The 2011 municipal election will occur in February, with a filing deadline in December of 2010. The 2010 census figures won't be disseminated until mid-2011, so the 2011 ward races will be run in the existing wards.

If Allen is at risk, then Alderman Dick Mell (33rd) is at requiem. When Mell leaves, a Hispanic candidate will win the seat, but as long as Mell runs, he can't be beat. Mell's 33rd Ward, which runs from Belmont to Foster Avenue, east of the Chicago River to Central Park Avenue, is now more than 60 percent Hispanic. Mell, the father-in-law of Governor Rod Blagojevich, is known as "Old Gringo" among Hispanics, and the bulk of his precinct captains are Hispanic.

Mell, age 68, has been an alderman since 1975 and the ward's Democratic committeeman since 1976. Without Mell's advice and political assistance, Blagojevich would never have risen from assistant state's attorney to state representative to congressman to governor. Now, according to sources close to Mell, he is sorry that he did so.

Mell's wife died in 2006. His aldermanic chief of staff, Chuck Lomanto, is his presumed successor if he resigns during his term. That will not occur. Mell will run again in 2011.

The bottom line: The 2010 census will be in effect for the 2012 ward committeeman races, but the 2000 census will be in effect for the 2011 aldermanic races. My prediction: The "Cullerton Clan's" dominance will end in 2015, which means 84 years in the 38th Ward and 126 in the council.