September 3, 2008


There is a significant distinction between being a character and being a character assassin.

Mike Marzullo, the quirky, pesky and creative Democratic candidate for state representative in the Northwest Side 20th District, is the former, not the latter. Marzullo, a construction laborer for the city Department of Aviation and a 24-year municipal employee, has no campaign money, no precinct organization and no name identification.

But he thinks he can win in 2008, and he succinctly summarizes his rationale for a possible upset of incumbent Mike McAuliffe (R-20) in three sentences: "I am a Democrat. He is a Republican. Voters will reject every Republican." Message to Marzullo: In your dreams.

Marzullo, who works the night shift, walks precincts every day, and he has disseminated 33,000 fliers which demand that McAuliffe "come out of the closet" and reveal himself for what he is, namely, a Republican. "He is embarrassed to be a Republican," Marzullo said. "He should be." Marzullo also ripped McAuliffe as a "toady" for "special interests" and said he has "not accomplished anything in 10 years" in Springfield.

Contrasting Marzullo with McAuliffe's past Democratic opponents is like comparing Gibson's to Super Dawg. McAuliffe has defeated such Democratic heavyweights as Tom Needham (1996), state Representative Bob Bugielski (2002) and state Representative Ralph Capparelli (2004), but Marzullo thinks that 2008 will be all about party affiliation, not name recognition or accomplishments.

The state representative contest will be listed fourth on the Nov. 4 ballot, with the Republicans atop the Democrats. The McAuliffe-Marzullo contest follows that of president, U.S. senator and U.S. representative. "There won't be a (Democratic) blow-out," McAuliffe said. "McCain will win the district, and voters will split their tickets."

McAuliffe is supporting McCain, and Marzullo, without any great enthusiasm, and only because he "reflects party sentiment," has endorsed Barack Obama.

In 2004 Democrat John Kerry won the 20th District over George Bush by 24,719-20,455 votes, getting 54.7 percent of the total. In that same election, McAuliffe trounced Capparelli, a 34-year incumbent and the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, who ran in a different district in 2002 so as to allow his buddy Bugielski to claim the 20th District. Then, after Bugielski lost, Capparelli ran in the 20th District in 2004. McAuliffe had 25,022 votes (59.2 percent of the total) to 17,249 for Capparelli. Turnout was 45,174 in the presidential race and 42,271 for state representative. McAuliffe ran roughly 4,500 votes ahead of Bush, and Capparelli ran about 7,500 votes behind Kerry.

In that contest, McAuliffe spent $580,825, the bulk coming from Springfield Republican sources, to $288,073 for Capparelli.

In the 2001 remap, the old 13th District (Capparelli) and 14th District (McAuliffe) were largely combined. Al Gore beat Bush 20,324-17,643 in the 14th District in 2000, while McAuliffe beat Democrat Frank Coconate by 23,150-14,346. McAuliffe ran about 5,500 votes ahead of Bush. Bush beat Gore by 21,983-20,309 in the 13th District, while Capparelli ran unopposed.

Without question, McAuliffe will run ahead of McCain in 2008.

Clearly, the overwhelmingly white Far Northwest Side has a subliminal Republican base -- which periodically surfaces to vote against liberal and black Democrats (such as Todd Stroger) and regularly backs McAuliffe and 41st Ward Alderman Brian Doherty. Attacking McAuliffe for being a Republican and supporting McCain is not a particularly astute strategy.

Clearly, a lot of traditionally Democratic voters will resist Obama and back McCain. The 41st Ward, especially in Edison Park, has a huge number of voters of Irish-American heritage. Kerry eked out a 54.7 percent win in the district; expect Obama to run 5 to 10 points behind Kerry. Marzullo disagrees: "There will be many more voters, and they will vote Democratic," he said. To be competitive, 20th District turnout would have to exceed 50,000, but expect McAuliffe to tie Marzullo to Obama, which will engender a "Big Mack" vote -- for McCain and McAuliffe.

Clearly, the McAuliffe name, if not magic, is well known: Mike McAuliffe has been on the ballot six times since 1996, and his father and predecessor, the late Roger McAuliffe, was on the ballot 12 times from 1972 to 1994. Marzullo is a nobody; he ran for alderman against Doherty, a McAuliffe ally, in 2003, and got 1,955 votes (13 percent of the total), to 10,777 (73 percent) for Doherty.

Clearly, the 20th District's political kingpins view Marzullo as an irrelevancy or an irritation. Capparelli is supporting Marzullo, but he was defeated for ward Democratic committeeman in 2008. The district has 122 precincts, of which 49 are in the 41st Ward, 35 are in the 36th Ward, six are in the 38th Ward, 25 are in Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights), six are in Rosemont and one is in Niles. The 36th Ward Democrats -- Alderman Bill Banks and state Senator Jim DeLeo -- now have an alliance and a nonaggression pact with Republicans McAuliffe, Doherty, county Commissioner Pete Silvestri and state Representative Skip Saviano (R-77), the latter two being from Elmwood Park.

In 2002 the 36th Ward voters backed their guy, Bugielski, who won the ward by 2,490 votes; but McAuliffe won the 41st Ward by 4,079 votes and the district by 2,583 votes. In 2004 the Banks-DeLeo bunch ditched Capparelli, and McAuliffe won the 36th Ward by 1,512 votes and the 41st Ward by 5,181 votes.

"They're not real Democrats," scoffed Marzullo, referring to the 36th Ward. "That's why McAuliffe has to go. He's sold out and made deals with everybody."

Marzullo rips McAuliffe for his votes against free senior citizen rides on the CTA, for cutting CTA routes, for allowing the county to reassess property annually, and for backing utility rate hikes. "He is mis-characterizing those votes," McAuliffe said. "I always vote to oppose tax and rate hikes."

As for being a Republican, McAuliffe confesses his crime. "I'm the Republican committeeman. I don't deny it. But don't blame me for Democratic incompetence and tax hikes in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois."

As can be discerned from the adjoining vote chart, McAuliffe is almost obsessive about opposing any rate, fee, budget or tax hike. Of course, those votes are symbolic and irrelevant. Democrats have a 67-51 House majority, and they can pass any bill; a five-seat gain (to 72-46) would give Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan a veto-proof supermajority. If that occurs, Marzullo said, McAuliffe would be inconsequential. "I will be an independent," Marzullo promised. "I won't be under Madigan's thumb, or, like McAuliffe, vote like the Republicans tell me."

My prediction: Marzullo derides McAuliffe as a "Super Republican," but he forgets that, on the Northwest Side, many voters view the election of another Republican president as less odious than the election of a black president. McAuliffe will win comfortably, with at least 58 percent of the vote.

Also included in the adjoining vote chart are state Representatives Rich Bradley (D-20), John D'Amico (D-15), Joe Lyons (D-19) and John Fritchey (D-11) of Chicago, Lou Lang (D-16) of Skokie, Rosemary Mulligan (R-65) of Des Plaines and Beth Coulson (R-17) of Glenview.

All the Democrats are loyal "Madigan monkeys," and they all will win easily in 2008. Lyons and Lang are in the Democratic leadership. McAuliffe voted against six of seven spending hikes, Mulligan against five and Coulson against just two. Both Mulligan and Coulson face Democratic foes who are stressing their party affiliation and posturing as independents.

But there is one big difference: Madigan will flood the 65th and 17th districts with mailings in support of Aurora Austriaco and Daniel Biss, respectively, ripping the incumbents as dastardly Republicans. But there won't be any dollars for Marzullo, and, from Madigan's perspective, that will be money well unspent in the 20th District.