March 11, 2009


Remember the old pop song lyric: "Everybody loves somebody sometime"? That, in a nutshell, explains the March 3 Democratic primary in the 5th U.S. House District.

The "Big Four" -- state Representatives John Fritchey and Sara Feigenholtz, county Commissioner Mike Quigley and Alderman Pat O'Connor (40th) -- spent a combined $1,911,485 and got a cumulative 37,467 votes, but the didn't generate much "love." Quigley eked out a victory with 22 percent of the vote, to 17.8 percent for Fritchey, 16.7 percent for Feigenholtz and 11.6 percent for O'Connor.

The eight also-rans -- Victor Forys, Paul Bryar, Tom Geohegan, Charlie Wheelan, Jan Donatelli, Cary Capparelli, Frank Annunzio and Carlos Monteagudo -- had a core of ardent admirers but never had a realistic chance to win. They raised a combined $1,243,064 and amassed a cumulative 17,412 votes (31.9 percent of the total cast). Clearly, somebody loved them. They were more than just clutter.

Turnout in the 2008 Democratic primary was 124,098. Had the "Little Eight" been running, they would have been fringe candidates. But this was a primary in which people made their choice before going to the polls, not in the polling booth, and that meant money and manpower was less important than motivation.

Fritchey had both money ($605,813) and manpower, and he was backed by Democratic organizations in the 32nd, 33rd, 36th, 38th, 43rd, 45th and 47th wards. Feigenholtz had money ($801,244) and gender appeal, and some manpower. Quigley had money ($402,380) and no manpower, but a potent message: "I detest Todd Stroger, taxes and spending."

The media has hailed Quigley's triumph as an "earthquake," an incipient maelstrom of voter anger and disgust. Not true. The result, to use a metaphor, was more akin to a leap off a curb, not a cliff. Of the district's 350,000 registered voters, turnout was 54,879, or 15.6 percent. Quigley got 12,102 votes, or 3.4 percent of the registered voters and 22 percent of the turnout.

Quigley had the most appeal of the candidates, but the dominant message from the voters was, "I don't give a damn."

On the Northwest Side (see adjoining vote chart), Quigley ran third in the 36th Ward, second in the 38th, 39th, 40th and 45th wards, and first in the 41st, 47th and 32nd wards. In the eastern portion of the district, where liberals predominate, Quigley finished second to Feigenholtz. In the suburbs he ran fourth, with 13.5 percent of the vote.

Fritchey, who tried to posture as a reformer while relying on machine support, was a flop. He finished first in the 36th Ward (30.1 percent of the vote) and the 45th Ward (22.9 percent) and second in the 47th Ward (25.3 percent) and his own 32nd Ward (24.1 percent), where he is committeeman. He needed 40 percent of the vote in those wards.

Here is a report card, grading the campaigns and candidates on a scale of A to F:

Strategy and message:  With Barack Obama ensconced in the White House and perceived by many voters as America's savior, there was no demonization factor in the primary. Nobody could claim that his or her election was critical to Obama's success or necessary to thwart the Republicans or to pass the stimulus package.

Feigenholtz' campaign was all about gender. She figured that more than half of the primary voters would be women and that more than half would vote for her. She and Donatelli were the only women running. Feigenholtz had seven districtwide mailings, all directly targeted to households with female voters and all addressed to women. She stressed that her mother was a physician, that she had fought for women's health issues in Springfield and that "accessible and affordable health care" would be her Washington priority. Grade: D-minus. Poor choice. Stale message. No motivation. With $787 billion in stimulus spending and $3.5 trillion in spending projected over the next 4 years, universal health care is a done deal.

Feigenholtz claimed to have 2,000 donors and 500 workers. She was endorsed by the Service Employees International Union, which intervened in a bunch of 2007 city aldermanic elections. Emily's List, the feminist political action committee, contributed more than $300,000. The net result: Zip. Feigenholtz finished third in the 32nd, 39th, 40th and 47th wards, fourth in the 36th, 38th and 45th wards, and fifth in the 41st Ward. She barely beat Quigley in her east end base, and her gender strategy fizzled. If roughly 30,000 women voted in the primary, then only 6,000 to 8,000 voted for Feigenholtz (who got 9,174 votes) -- barely a quarter of the female vote.

Fritchey emphasized his early opposition to former governor Rod Blagojevich's "pay to play" antics and his bill to ban contributions from state contractors. He claimed to be a reformer, but he was too tentative. He should have proclaimed: "I stood up to Blagojevich." Or "I helped Illinois get rid of Blagojevich."  Instead, he touted his "legislative experience." Grade: D-minus. To disgusted voters, "experience" meant more of the same.

Fritchey also relied on Democratic precinct captains to deliver his vote, but he failed to articulate a salient message and pre-sell the voters. When workers knocked on doors, people were unimpressed. In the 36th Ward, where his father-in-law Sam Banks is the brother of Bill Banks, the alderman and committeeman, Fritchey got a tepid 1,721 votes (30.1 percent of the total), to 1,380 for Forys and 769 for Quigley, in a turnout of 5,555. He should have gotten 4,000 votes in the ward. Likewise, he should have gotten 3,000 votes in the 38th Ward, not 769, and 4,000 votes in the 45th Ward, not 1,544.

Fritchey raised substantial funds from union sources, and he was endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Chicago Teachers Union, but they were worthless in delivering any votes.

Forys, a physician, finished fourth, ahead of O'Connor, getting 6,419 votes (11.7 percent of the total). His theme was: "I am a Polish American. Vote for me." He raised $322,022 and had six direct-mail pieces to every Polish-surnamed household in the district. Forys ran first in the suburbs, getting 22.6 percent of the vote. There is a large Polish-American population in Elmwood Park, River Grove, Schiller Park, Franklin Park and Northlake. In addition, Forys ran first in the 38th Ward, with 25.9 percent of the vote (to 15.2 percent for Fritchey), second in the 36th Ward and third in the 45th Ward. His vote was negligible in the eastern portion of the district. Grade: B.

If there had been 25 candidates or if the district just contained its western portion, Forys could have won. He proved that an ethnic appeal to Poles generates votes.

Quigley basically ran against Todd Stroger, the enormously unpopular -- in the city's predominantly white areas -- president of the Cook County Board. His theme: anti-corruption, anti-spending, anti-taxes, anti-incompetence. A county commissioner since 2002, Quigley was the most visible and vocal opponent of Stroger's sales tax hike and spending increases. As a result, he had high name identification throughout the 5th District, even though his county board district is in the east end of the district.

Grade: A. Quigley sent out eight direct-mail pieces to every Democratic household, proclaiming himself an "anti-tax" fighter who "stood up to Stroger." Without a base or an army of workers in the west portion of the district, sounding like a Republican and blasting Stroger, not Mayor Rich Daley, Quigley carved an astute voter niche as the anti-establishment, send-a-message candidate. Endorsements by the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times helped.

In the east portion of the district, Quigley carried his home 46th Ward with 52.1 percent of the vote, but he barely edged out Feigenholtz in the 44th Ward (34.6 percent to 34.2 percent) and the 43rd Ward (27.3 percent to 25.4 percent). In the Ravenswood-area 47th Ward, where Alderman Gene Schulter backed Fritchey, Quigley got 29.3 percent of the vote, to Fritchey's 25.3 percent. In the Wicker Park 32nd Ward, Fritchey's base, Quigley beat him 26.5 percent to 24.2 percent.

O'Connor's strategy was no strategy. He got 53.3 percent of the vote in his 40th Ward and 27.6 percent in the 39th Ward. Grade: D. He knew he was a loser when he failed to get Daley's endorsement and party slating. After finishing with an embarrassing 11.6 percent of the vote, O'Connor's hope for higher office is extinguished.

Here are the "real" losers:

Todd Stroger: With Quigley going to Washington, Stroger now will face only Claypool in 2010.

Unions: What good is all that money when unions can't motivate their members?

Rahm Emanuel: The former congressman, now Obama chief of staff, won't be able to reclaim his seat.

Fritchey: Forget about running for Illinois attorney general in 2010.

Ward committeemen: They couldn't deliver a third of the vote in a 15 percent turnout.