March 12, 2008


Can you say "U.S. Senator Jan Schakowsky"?

After analyzing the Feb. 5 Democratic primary results, don't try and don't bother. The "Jan/Bob Machine," headed by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and her husband, political strategist Bob Creamer, took it on the chin. That setback damaged Schakowsky's hope of being appointed to an Illinois Senate vacancy should Barack Obama resign to become president or vice president.

The "Jan/Bob Machine," centered on the North Shore and north Lakefront, put its credibility on the line and worked mightily for Obama, Larry Suffredin, Jay Paul Deratany and Ira Silverstein. Suffredin, of Evanston, lost the primary for Cook County state's attorney, and Deratany lost for the 2nd District Board of Review seat. Winners were Obama and Silverstein in the 50th Ward Democratic committeeman's race.

"She enraged a lot of powerful Democrats by supporting Deratany" against incumbent Commissioner Joe Berrios, said one Democratic committeeman. Berrios is the county Democratic chairman, a close ally of both Mayor Rich Daley and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and a power in the Hispanic community. "They will pay her back," the source continued. "They can't beat her (for Congress), but will do their utmost to scuttle any Senate appointment."

Under federal law, upon a vacancy, the governor appoints a successor to serve until the next election or to complete the term. Obama's term expires in 2010.

Governor Rod Blagojevich's term also expires in 2010. He would appoint Schakowsky only if he were assured that the "Jan/Bob Machine" would back him for renomination -- and if it could produce votes. Otherwise, he might appoint a caretaker, probably a black politician, and then run for the job himself in 2010.

Schakowsky, age 63, is a strident feminist and outspoken social liberal, championing gun control, abortion rights, gay rights and affirmative action and fiercely opposing defense spending, school choice, welfare reform and, in recent years, the Iraq War. Such views have great appeal in the People's Socialist Republic of Evanston and adjacent areas, and Schakowsky's popularity is considerable.

She began her career as a consumer advocate, was elected as a state representative from Evanston in 1990, entrenched herself with superlative constituent service and high visibility, and has built a political machine based on ideology, not patronage. Liberals love her, work for her, vote for her, and contribute to her.

In 1998, when the venerable Sid Yates retired, Schakowsky ran for Congress and faced 26-year state Senator Howie Carroll and J.B. Pritzker, the heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, in the Democratic primary. Carroll's base was in the 50th Ward, where he was the Democratic committeeman. Pritzker spent lavishly, and, in a huge upset, Schakowsky won, with 45.1 percent of the vote, topping Carroll by 7,480 votes. Carroll got 34.4 percent of the vote, and Pritzker got 20.5 percent.

Schakowsky got 77.4 percent of the vote in Evanston; she got 66 percent in her House district and 60 percent in the north Lakefront 44th, 46th, 47th, 48th and 49th wards. Carroll won Niles Township, part of his Senate district, by 39.3 percent to 38.7 percent, and he got 61.1 percent of the vote in the 50th Ward. Schakowsky triumphed because her margin in her base could not be overcome by Carroll elsewhere.

The 9th District includes a string of suburbs from Evanston west, including Wilmette, Skokie, Lincolnwood, Niles, Morton Grove, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Rosemont. In also includes part of the 41st, 45th, 39th and 40th wards on the Northwest Side, the West Rogers Park 50th Ward and the Lakefront 49th, 48th, 46th and 44th wards.

In her decade in Congress, Schakowsky's left-wing voting record has caused her no electoral problems. She opposed the Bush tax cuts, war funding, a ban on flag desecration, a ban on partial-birth abortions, school choice, U.S. troops for border patrol and overturning a court decision to ban the Pledge of Allegiance. She was re-elected with 70 percent of the vote in 2002, 76 percent in 2004 and 75 percent in 2006. In the Feb. 5 primary she was renominated with 87.9 percent of the vote.

The "Jan/Bob Machine's" base is Evanston, where their allies are in firm control: Lorraine Morton is the mayor, Jeff Schoenberg is a state senator and the township Democratic committeeman, and Julie Hamos is a state representative. Also, two Evanstonians hold county office, Suffredin as a county commissioner and Debra Shore as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner.

In the past decade, the "Machine," like spokes on a wheel, has expanded and made new alliances: In 2002, in a titanic Evanston-versus-Skokie battle, Suffredin ousted incumbent Cal Sutker as county commissioner. Sutker was the Niles Township Democratic committeeman. His replacement, Lou Lang, is not hostile to Schakowsky. In 2003 the "Machine" elected several Park Ridge aldermen (who didn't last long). Evanston was a hotbed of support for Obama in 2004, when he ran for senator. In 2006 the "Machine" gave a huge vote to Shore, and she won countywide. "Machine" allies Bill Crowley and Mike Kreloff are the Democratic committeemen of, respectively, New Trier and Northfield townships, to the north of Evanston. The "Jan/Bob" operation sent in workers to help Alderman Joe Moore (49th) and Naisy Dolar in the 2007 Chicago aldermanic races. Moore barely won, and Dolar narrowly lost to Alderman Berny Stone (50th), a bitter Schakowsky critic.

Given her congressional post and her close ties to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Schakowsky can raise significant money. Her fund-raising topped $1 million during the 2006 campaign cycle, and she doled about half of that to other liberal Democratic congressional candidates and used the rest to maintain her "Machine." Every year she recruits young interns for her campaign and congressional staff and trains them in the art of winning elections.

Creamer's 2004 indictment on 34 counts of bank fraud and tax evasion, stemming from a 1997 check-kiting scheme, did not adversely affect Schakowsky. Creamer pleaded guilty to two counts in 2006 and was sentenced to 5 months in prison. He's now back, and running the "Machine."

Schakowsky was an early backer of Obama for president. Jan and Bob figured that Obama's popularity, coupled with Schakowsky's liberal network throughout Cook County, would make 2008 a breakout election and catapult their "Machine" to greater glory. They presumed that a mammoth vote in their base for Suffredin and Deratany would be decisive. They were wrong. There were far fewer liberals than they thought, and the Schakowsky blessing was ineffectual.

Evanston Township: Schakowsky's vote, as usual, was monstrous. She got 18,299 votes, and Obama got 16,651, but Suffredin amassed only 11,150 votes, and Deratany got 7,290. Deratany spent almost $3 million on media ads blasting Berrios for being an "insider" and shifting the property tax burden from commercial to residential property, yet Berrios got 44.4 percent of the vote in Evanston.

Niles Township (Skokie, Lincolnwood, Niles, Morton Grove, Glenview): Schakowsky got 16,067 votes, and Obama got 10,017, but Suffredin got only 7,097, and Deratany got 7,041. Berrios won the township with 56 percent of the vote. Where had all the liberals gone?

New Trier Township (Wilmette, Glencoe, Winnetka, Kenilworth): In this wealthy enclave, with a substantial Jewish population, Obama trounced Clinton 9,932-4,377, getting 68.3 percent of the vote, but Suffredin got just 6,287 votes (51.2 percent).

Northfield Township (Northbrook, Northfield, part of Glenview): The population is wealthy but mostly gentile. Obama beat Clinton 9,747-7,132, getting 56.7 percent of the vote, and Suffredin got just 5,013 votes (34.9 percent).

50th Ward (West Rogers Park): The "Jan/Bob Machine" sent in money and manpower to assist Dolar in her 2007 bid to oust Stone. Dolar lost the runoff by 661 votes, getting 47.1 percent of the vote. She is set to run again in 2011. Fearing that Stone was running the ward's Democratic organization into the ground, Silverstein, a state senator and a former Stone protege, ran for committeeman -- with the support of Dolar and Schakowsky. He got 5,953 votes (67.5 percent of the total cast), while Schakowsky had 6,984 votes and Obama had 5,009 (49.8 percent); lagging behind were Suffredin, with 3,370 votes (39 percent) and Deratany with 3,557 (46.3 percent). Berrios won the ward, and Clinton lost it by just 349 votes. "Silverstein won this on his own," said one observer. Schakowsky can't take any bows.

49th Ward (Rogers Park): Moore, who has been an alderman since 1991, is a "movement liberal" and an ally of county Clerk David Orr, who is an ideological soul mate of Schakowsky. Moore was re-elected in 2007 by 247 votes, with 50.9 percent of the votes cast, and he had "Jan/Bob's" support. In the 2008 primary, Schakowsky got 7,820 votes, Obama got 7,606, Suffredin got 3,619, and Deratany got 4,236. Liberalism is in decline in the ward.

The bottom line: The function of a political machine is to deliver a consistent, uniform vote for all the candidates on their slate. The 2008 results indicate that "Jan/Bob" is dysfunctional. Schakowsky and Obama are enormously popular, and they are embraced by liberals everywhere, but their appeal was not transferable to candidates such as Suffredin or Deratany.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The "Jan/Bob Machine" ventured into political waters in which they had no compass, no clue, and no business, and they got their head handed to them. Schakowsky will be a congressman forever, but never a senator.