February 13, 2008


It ranks right up there among the worst political campaigns of the decade, which include Alderman Pat Levar's disastrous bid for clerk of the Circuit Court in 2000 and county Treasurer Maria Pappas's fizzled campaign for U.S. senator in 2004. Add to that Alderman Howard Brookins' (21st) embarrassingly inept bid for Cook County state's attorney on Feb. 5.

We now have a triumvirate: dumb, dumber and dumbest.

The 2008 Democratic primary was supposed to be the "Big Black Blowout," with black Democrats sweeping every county office in the wake of a Barack Obama love fest for president. Indeed, Obama crushed Hillary Clinton in Cook County, amassing 708,276 votes (70.7 percent of the total) to her 301,747 votes, but the city and county black vote was not as expected, monolithic. Brookins received an astounding 542,492 fewer votes than did Obama.

"He didn't show his face," said one Democratic observer. "He had lots of yard signs -- Obama and Brookins. He had lots of ads on black radio, but he didn't have pictures anywhere. He needed to show two black faces, and he needed to have Obama's endorsement."

And, added another Democrat, "He needed to demonstrate crime-fighting credentials. He should have talked about how he fought crime in his ward. He had no plan, no program. He thought he would win just because he was black."

In Chicago's 20 black-majority wards, Brookins got 105,818 votes, compared to Obama's 246,043 votes. That means that roughly 140,000 black voters voted for Anita Alvarez, Tom Allen, Larry Suffredin, Bob Milan or Tommy Brewer. Citywide, Brookins had 120,905 votes, which means he won only 15,000 votes outside the black wards, while Obama had 459,039 votes citywide, getting about 213,000 votes outside the black wards. Brookins had 338,134 fewer votes than Obama in Chicago.

In suburban Cook County, Brookins got a pathetic 44,879 votes, finishing fourth, while Obama got 270,335 votes. Brookins had an astounding 225,456 fewer votes than Obama.

Said another observer: "Obama was the change candidate. Brookins was the unknown candidate."

Now that the dust has settled, this much is clear:

First, the Democratic primary, countywide and statewide, was an "estrogen election," as female voters outnumbered male voters by close to 3-2. The discrepancy was most pronounced among blacks and Hispanics, where men are disinclined to vote. The 2008 election was the "Year of the Woman, Part II," with the 1992 election being "Part I."

Had more women run in 2008, more would have won. Alvarez won the state's attorney primary in a huge upset, topping Alderman Tom Allen (38th) by an unofficial 9,946-vote margin and getting just 25.8 percent of the vote to Allen's 24.7 percent. You can blame that on Mayor Rich Daley. Had Daley endorsed Allen, as Allen expected, Allen would have won.

In judicial primaries, countywide and in subcircuits, women won 15 of 19 contested races. In the eight-candidate contest for three Metropolitan Water Reclamation District nominations, featuring four women, two black candidates and one Hispanic candidate, the winners were the incumbents: Frank Avila (a Hispanic), Kathy Meany (a white woman) and Cindy Santos (a white woman with a Hispanic surname).

Second, astounding numbers of liberal and independent voters opted for the Democratic primary. The 2008 primary turnout was a record 1,981,307 statewide, compared to 862,326 for the Republicans. That means 69.6 percent of the Feb. 5 voters were Democrats. In Cook County, turnout in the state's attorney primary was 917,737 for the Democrats and 133,052 for the Republicans. That means 87.3 percent of the voters in Cook County voted Democratic.

The operative question is: Why would any Feb. 5 Democratic voter support any Republican in November?

By comparison, in 1992, when Carol Moseley Braun ran for U.S. senator, statewide Democratic primary turnout was 1.63 million, and in 2004, when Obama ran for U.S. senator, turnout was 1.3 million. So in 2008 turnout was 300,000 higher than in 1992 and 600,000 higher than in 2004. That "surge" of voters was motivated by a combination of Bush revulsion, Obama love, get-out-of-Iraq sentiment and let's-throw-everybody-out-of-office sentiment.

Those new voters, having only a vague notion of who was on the ballot, voted for anybody who was "different" -- such as Alvarez and women for judge.

Third, Obama scored surprisingly well among white voters in Chicago and the suburbs. He beat Clinton 459,039-159,595 (with 72.8 percent of the vote) in Chicago, carrying 36 of 50 wards, and 270,335-149,613 (with 64.3 percent of the vote) in the Cook County suburbs, carrying 22 of 30 townships. Obama won the Collar Counties 247,997-150,409 (62.1 percent), and he won Downstate won 325,629-206,485 (61.1 percent). Overall Obama won 92 of Illinois' 102 counties -- an amazing performance.

On the Northwest Side, Clinton beat Obama in the 36th, 38th, 41st and 45th wards, but not by much. Clinton won the 36th Ward by 433 votes, the 38th by 261, the 41st by 807 and the 45th by 83. When a black candidate wins overwhelmingly white ethnic wards, something is afoot. But the Clinton vote also shows white resistance. If Obama is the Democratic nominee, many of those Clinton votes will go the Republican John McCain.

Clinton also won 10 other wards with a large Hispanic population or a Hispanic majority: the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 22nd, 23rd, 30th and 31st. Hispanic voters resist voting for a black candidate.

In the state's attorney's primary, the final unofficial tally was 237,220 votes (25.8 percent of the total) for Alvarez, 227,246 votes (24.8 percent) for Allen, 202,828 votes (22.1 percent) for liberal suburbanite Suffredin, 165,784 votes (18.1 percent) for Brookins, 53,450 votes (5.8 percent) for Bob Milan, who was endorsed by outgoing State's Attorney Dick Devine, and 31,199 votes (3.4 percent) for Tommy Brewer, who is black.

"It was all about negativity, and Alvarez was the candidate who was perceived most positively," argued Brookins

In the presidential race, Clinton didn't trash Obama before the primary. Knowing Illinois would go heavily for its senator, she ignored him and the state. But Allen spent more than $1 million on television ads, trashing Alvarez and Milan, Devine's two top assistants, as "status" and "quo" and ripping Suffredin as a lobbyist. Suffredin slammed Allen as a political "insider." Milan, Devine's first assistant, hyped the endorsement of his boss, while Allen, Brookins and Suffredin trashed Devine for not pursuing corruption in city and county government.

The news media unearthed a bunch of alleged ethical lapses by Brookins, including nonpayment of rent and employee withholding taxes, delinquent child support, property code violations and putting his wife on the payroll of a development company. Brookins issued plausible denials, but the damage was done. His "deadbeat" image estranged him from both black and white women.

Everybody running claimed to be a "reformer" and promised "change." Everybody ripped Devine for not investigating official corruption. The Jon Burge scandal, with Chicago police torture and abuse, was supposed to be a huge issue. Instead, the month-long negative campaign soured voters on everybody but Alvarez.

A 21-year prosecutor and Devine's chief deputy, Alvarez's ads stressed her prosecutorial achievements. Because Devine endorsed Milan, she was distanced from the beleaguered incumbent. Alvarez is of Mexican-American heritage, but most of the Hispanic "establishment" ignored her. U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) endorsed Suffredin.

Alvarez caught three key breaks. First, her husband, a physician, loaned her campaign $600,000, which enabled her to be up on television. Second, the fact that she was once the supervisor of Devine's public integrity unit, during which time she failed to prosecute official corruption, was ignored. Her "do nothing" record was ripe for trashing. And third, she got solid support in Hispanic wards and townships, ran ahead of Allen in white liberal areas such as Evanston, Oak Park and the Lakefront, and finished a close third, just behind Suffredin, in black areas. Alvarez won 16 wards and 10 townships.

Alvarez won a majority in Cicero, Berwyn and Chicago's 10th, 12th, 14th, 22nd, 25th, 30th and 31st wards, but she got only 44,446 of her 237,220 votes in those Hispanic areas. Clearly, a huge number of first-time, younger white voters backed Obama and Alvarez.

Allen and his supporters have reason to be furious. He was well funded by labor unions, and he won all the Northwest Side wards but still got only 27.5 percent of the vote countywide. The South Side 11th, 13th and 14th wards, run, respectively, by John Daley, Mike Madigan and Ed Burke, were won by Alvarez. Where was the mayor when Allen needed him?

Alvarez proclaimed her victory to be the "end of the good ol' boy" network in Devine's office, but she is a "good ol' girl," and she holds the number three job. Her Republican opponent, Tony Peraica, is sure to attack her record and rip her as an "insider" who is part of the problem.

But Alvarez has one key credential: She lives in River Forest, so she won't be running for mayor of Chicago. That, plus her make-no-waves record on public corruption and the upcoming November Democratic landslide, will be enough to elect her.

Unlike the hapless Brookins, Alvarez is the right candidate at the right time.