February 20, 2008


There is no glorious end to any political career, however distinguished or lengthy. There is only an end.

For the Northwest Side's durable "Grumpy Old Men," that end came on Feb. 5, as the crotchety, cantankerous and curmudgeonly Democratic committeemen from the 41st and 50th wards met their demise.

"I don't know why I lost," grumped Alderman Berny Stone (50th), who was defeated for the 50th Ward party post by his onetime protege, state Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8). "It was all those women and all those Irish," grumped former state Representative Ralph Capparelli, who was upset in the 41st Ward by Mary O'Connor.

Sadly for the "Grumpy Old Men," the results weren't even close. Stone, age 80, has been an alderman since 1973 and a committeeman since 1998. Capparelli, age 82, served in Springfield from 1971 to 2004 and has been a committeeman since 1992. Stone lost to Silverstein by 5,947-2,861, in a turnout of 8,808, with Silverstein getting 67.5 percent of the vote. Capparelli lost to O'Connor, getting 4,380 votes (34.8 percent of the total), to 5,742 (45.6 percent) for O'Connor, 1,540 for Frank Coconate (12.2 percent) and 945 for Patricia Mulligan, in a turnout of 12,607.

But sour grapes, not conciliation or concession, is the order of the day: "I am the real Democrat," Capparelli said. "She is a pawn of the Republicans. I will keep my office open to support Democrats."

"He ran against my age," Stone said. "That's despicable. Only a blind man couldn't see that he made a deal with (Naisy) Dolar and (U.S. Representative Jan) Schakowsky. They plan to defeat me in 2011." Stone won a narrow victory for alderman over Dolar in 2007, defeating her 5,965-5,304, with 52.9 percent of the vote, boosted by an infusion of out-of-ward precinct workers and a new campaign manager. "The (50th Ward Democratic) organization has collapsed," Silverstein said. "That's why I ran." Without a change, added Silverstein, "neither Berny nor anybody else" backed by the 50th Ward Democrats "could win in 2011."

So who will Silverstein -- and his organization -- back for alderman in 2011? "I'm not thinking about it," he said. But the best guess is that he will back himself. With Stone discredited and with all the anti-Stone forces having supported him, Silverstein probably is the only Jewish candidate who can win the aldermanic seat.

Here's an analysis of each outcome:

50th Ward (West Rogers Park): "A lot of people, especially Jewish voters, thought I was running against Berny for alderman," Silverstein said. "I had to educate them." Silverstein endorsed Barack Obama for president, and the Schakowsky organization poured more than a hundred workers into the ward on behalf of Obama, Schakowsky, Silverstein and Larry Suffredin for state's attorney. Stone endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Obama topped Clinton in the ward by 5,005-4,654, with the bulk of Jewish voters backing Clinton and most of the others supporting Obama. Suffredin finished first in the ward with 3,103 votes. The presidential race drew 9,220 votes, but the committeeman's race, which was last on the ballot, drew 8,808 votes . . . and it was a blowout.

Silverstein carried 41 of the 45 precincts in the ward, winning 15 with more than 75 percent of the vote and 21 others with 55 to 74 percent. He won the six precincts north of Touhy Avenue with 65 percent of the vote or better. He won all 11 largely Orthodox Jewish precincts between Touhy and Pratt Avenue, east of Sacramento Avenue, with 75 percent of the vote or better. He won the largely non-Jewish precincts east of Western Avenue, around Warren Park, with 55 to 65 percent of the vote. "He ran a nasty, negative campaign," Silverstein said. "He attacked me a for raising taxes and for not keeping office hours. I ran a positive campaign, and voters responded."

Three precincts won by Stone were in heavily Jewish Winston Towers, along Kedzie north of Pratt, and the other was north of Peterson Avenue near Francisco Avenue.

Ever caustic, Stone declared himself to be "happy for Ira."

"I still run the ward," Stone said. "Now he can run the party. That's less time that I'll have to waste."

Schakowsky and state Senator Jeff Schoenberg, both of Evanston, state Representative Lou Lang of Skokie, Dolar and 2007 aldermanic loser Greg Brewer endorsed Silverstein for committeeman. Suffredin, of Evanston, endorsed Stone. But the key endorsement came from Mayor Rich Daley, who backed Silverstein, despite the fact that Stone has been a longtime mayoral ally. "It was a clear message that Berny's finished," said one ward Democrat."

But Stone still has 3 years left on his aldermanic term. Although he pledged in 2007 to seek re-election in 2011 if victorious, Stone now says he has "no intentions" as to his future. "I'll decide later," he said. However, voters in the 50th Ward did decide. If Stone is so ill advised as to run in 2011, he'll lose again.

41st Ward (Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park, Edgebrook): "I have no idea what I will do now," O'Connor admitted. "I will have to build the party from scratch. I can't expect help from Capparelli or anybody else."

As graceless as Stone in defeat, Capparelli gives credit to the political organization of Alderman Brian Doherty (41st) and state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), both Republicans. "They recruited her," he said. "They funded her. They supported her. They elected her. Now we have a Republican as Democratic committeeman."

O'Connor vociferously denied that charge. "I ran my own campaign," she said. "They were not involved. People wanted a change."

Clinton topped Obama in the presidential race by a relatively narrow 7,196-6,363 in the ward, in a turnout of 13,559. Turnout in the committeeman's race was 12,609. The ward is more than 95 percent white, but nearly half the Democratic voters opted for a black candidate for president. Returns show that Obama backers opted for O'Connor, and even if women accounted for 60 percent of the Democratic turnout, as Capparelli asserts, they didn't all back O'Connor. Obama won 16 of the ward's 57 precincts and O'Connor won 39, with one tied. Fifteen of Obama's 16 precincts were won by O'Connor. Capparelli carried just 17 precincts -- a pathetic showing, but better than Stone in the 50th Ward.

In 2004 Capparelli, running unopposed, got 7,549 votes. This year roughly 4,500 more people voted in the committeeman's race, and few of them voted for Capparelli.

"I won," Coconate crowed. "I ran to defeat (Capparelli), and I succeeded. He's been a do-nothing committeeman. Now we can rebuild the party." In theory, Coconate is correct. Had all of his 1,540 votes gone to Capparelli, the incumbent would have won.

Interestingly, the seeds of Capparelli's demise were planted long ago. First elected a state representative in 1970, Capparelli was a quiet but bitter rival of 41st Ward Alderman Roman Pucinski. Republican Roger McAuliffe was elected to the Illinois House in 1972, and he and Capparelli became close buddies. McAuliffe was the 38th Ward Republican committeeman, and he forged a "nonaggression pact" with the 38th Ward's Democrats, led by the "Cullerton Clan," under which his troops would work only for him and not for any other Republican, in return for which the Cullertons would not work against him.

After multi-member House districts were abolished in 1980, McAuliffe and Capparelli got new districts within the 7th Illinois Senate District. McAuliffe got his 38th Ward, parts of the 36th and 45th wards and Norwood Park Township, and Capparelli got his 41st Ward, plus part of the 45th Ward and most of Niles and Morton Grove. They then made their own nonaggression pact. After the 1990 census, the parties' leadership made sure that two safe districts were carved for McAuliffe and Capparelli.

But 1991 was a critical year. McAuliffe understood that his Belmont-Central-based district was changing, filling with Polish immigrants and becoming increasingly Democratic, so he made a move to the north. He ran his protege, Doherty, for alderman against Pucinski. Capparelli, who then had a viable precinct operation, did nothing to aid Pucinski. Doherty beat Pucinski, and Capparelli ousted Pucinski as the ward's Democratic committeeman in 1992, but he never thereafter attempted to defeat Doherty. Time passed, Capparelli's organization withered, Roger McAuliffe died in 1996 and was replaced in the General Assembly by his son, and the Doherty-McAuliffe forces ran the 41st Ward. Capparelli's "nonaggression pact" lulled him into a false sense of security.

In 2001 Capparelli, then the dean of the Illinois House, let his fellow Democrats create a Northwest Side district favorable to Mike McAuliffe. He ran in 2002 in a different district, with the understanding that he would take a state job and not run for re-election, but he rejected all job offers, ran against McAuliffe in 2004, infuriated the Doherty-McAuliffe group, lost big, and has been a marked man since.

Hindsight is wonderful. It is easy to say that the "Grumpy Old Men," Stone and Capparelli, should have gotten out while they were on the top of their game, before their shelf life expired. But they didn't. And that is sad.