April 15, 2009


 There is a correlation between color and clout in the 50-member City Council. There are 23 white aldermen, 19 black aldermen and eight Hispanic aldermen.

 But it's a matter of longevity, not race. In minority wards, political volatility prevails. Black and Hispanic aldermen serve a term or two and lose. In predominantly white wards, permanency is the norm. White aldermen become entrenched and unbeatable by securing key committee chairmanships, controlling staff jobs and raising substantial campaign cash from the interests that they regulate.

White aldermen have a combined tenure of service of 422 years, each averaging 18.3 years or 4.6 terms. Black aldermen have a combined tenure of 155 years, averaging 8.2 years or 2.1 terms. Hispanic aldermen have a combined tenure of 90 years, averaging 11.25 years or 2.8 terms.

 The chairmen of most key committees are white: Ed Burke (14th), with 40 years of service, Finance, Dick Mell (33rd), with 34 years, Rules, Bill Banks (36th), with 26 years, Zoning, Pat Levar (45th), with 22 years, Aviation, Pat O'Connor (40th), with 26 years, Education, Gene Schulter (47th), with 34 years, License, Berny Stone (50th), with 36 years, Building, Tom Allen (38th), with 16 years, Transportation, and Marge Laurino (39th), with 15 years, Economic and Technology.

That may change somewhat in 2011. Several white aldermen, including North and Northwest Siders Banks, Mell, Brian Doherty (41st), Vi Daley (43rd) and Joe Moore (49th) are pondering retirement. Incumbents Levar, Stone, O'Connor, Schulter, Allen, Laurino, Scott Waguespack (32nd), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Helen Shiller (46th) will run.

     Here's an early analysis:

   41st Ward (Far Northwest Side: Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park): After winning the 1991 runoff against Roman Pucinski with 54.1 percent of the vote, Doherty, the council's only Republican, has never been seriously challenged. He got 76 percent of the vote in 1995, 75 percent in 1999, 73 percent in 2003 and 72 percent in 2007. Doherty has opposed the Daley Administration on every tax hike ordinance.

   "This is a tough, 24/7 job," Doherty said, although he admitted that personal economics are an issue, given the aldermanic salary of $102,000. "I have two kids about to start college. That's a problem. I could retire. As of now, I intend to run."

   Doherty generated headlines on March 23 when he fell down his basement stairs and was hospitalized, spurring rumors of intoxication. "That's ridiculous," Doherty said. "I slipped on the carpet." Doherty said that he jogged that Sunday morning, played golf with his dad, dined at an Edison Park restaurant, and watched TV with his family. He said that at 12:15 a.m. he went to his basement to get something for his dog and slipped while ascending the stairs.

   "He's had an impairment problem for years," Doherty foe Frank Coconate said. "He needs help and counseling." Coconate, a perennial candidate for area office, got 1,491 votes (12.3 percent of the total) in a 2008 race for 41st Ward Democratic committeeman. "I'm running for alderman," he said. Coconate needs work. After being fired from his city job and losing an appeal, Coconate was hired as "community liaison" in Bensenville, where airport runway expansion critic John Geils is mayor. But Geils lost to pro-Daley Frank Soto on April 7, so Coconate may be fired again.

   "If anybody needs counseling, it's Coconate," Doherty joked. "He needs to find himself a good psychiatrist."

   No other candidates have emerged. Doherty, age 52, had $13,819 in his campaign account as of March.

   50th Ward (West Rogers Park): The concept of being subtle and tactful is utterly foreign to the irascible Stone, age 82. He sticks his foot in his mouth so often that his dentist doubles as a podiatrist. In his 2007 re-election runoff, he called opponent Naisy Dolar a "pisher" -- Yiddish for "little squirt." A Filipina, Dolar lost to Stone by 661 votes, getting 47.1 percent of the total cast. Last year Stone was crushed by state Senator Ira Silverstein for Democratic ward committeemen, getting only 32.5 percent of the vote. Stone termed Silverstein, his onetime protege, a "boychik" and an "ingrate."

  Stone caught a break when Dolar moved to Florida and opened a restaurant. Now, Stone said, if he runs for reelection in 2011, "there are no candidates of any note to oppose me." Adds Stone: "I feel great." Greg Brewer, an architect who got 18 percent of the vote in 2007, is the only active contender.

 Silverstein said he hasn't "seriously looked" at running for alderman but that he "might do it." Rumors are circulating that Silverstein's wife, Debra, could run for alderman. "She's not of any note," Stone said. Stone scorned Silverstein's stewardship of the ward's Democrats. "He's the committeeman," he said. "He's supposed to find candidates to run. He has no organization. So he's going to run his wife? That's a joke."  Stone said he will serve out his term and that he will not resign to allow his daughter, Ilana Stone Feketitsch, his aldermanic chief of staff for 14 years, to be appointed.

Financial disclosures show Stone with $41,639 in campaign funds, Silverstein with $49,954, and Brewer with $685 and indebtedness of $115,000.

47th Ward (Ravenswood, Northcenter, Lincoln Square): Schulter, age 62, is not a City Council "giant," but his bland and inoffensive demeanor has blunted any animosity in his demographically changing ward. He's neither well loved nor well hated, but he's been reelected eight times.

The ward is "becoming younger, whiter, richer, more independent and less populate," attorney Jack Lydon said. "There are fewer senior citizens and minorities. There are many foreclosures and vacancies." Lydon ran for alderman in 2003 and got 4,319 votes (36 percent of the total) in a turnout of 12,033. Lydon was backed by Committeeman Ed Kelly, whom Schulter ousted in 2004. "I have no plans to run," Lydon said of 2011.

In 2007 Schulter thumped undertaker Marty Cooney by 7,241-1,981, getting 78 percent of the vote in a turnout of 9,222.

"He's been respectful toward me," Kelly, who is still active politically, said of Schulter. "I have no intention (of backing a Schulter foe in 2011)," Kelly said.

Barack Obama won the ward by 10,538-4,864 over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary. Clearly, there is a huge liberal, independent vote, but that has yet to evolve into an anti-Schulter vote. The alderman had $697,629 in his campaign account.

49th Ward (Rogers Park): Moore is desperately seeking an escape hatch from his aldermanic post, which he has held since 1991. In 2007 he spent  $945,839 and eked out a 251-vote runoff victory over Don Gordon. Moore's 2011 prospects rank between dismal and nonexistent. The alderman, age 50, fervently hopes that U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky runs for U.S. senator in 2010. In a crowded open Democratic congressional primary, Moore would be a credible contender.

Gordon is running again. If Moore ejects or retires, he'd likely support David Fagus, the ward's Democratic committeeman, for alderman. Other candidates may include community activist Katy Hogan and 2007 loser Jim Ginderske. Moore had $59,265 in his account.

40th Ward (Hollywood Park, North Park, Peterson Park): O'Connor, age 54, is Daley's council floor leader, and he was unopposed for re-election in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. However, he botched the opportunity to win the open 5th U.S. House District seat by failing to secure Daley's support, and he got just 6,139 votes (12.1 percent of the total cast) in the primary. In his home ward, O'Connor got 1,562 votes (53.3 percent of the total), in a turnout of 2,931.

O'Connor got 5,906 votes in 2003 and 5,625 votes in 2007. There are no 2011 candidates on the horizon, but O'Connor's organization and voter support ain't what it used to be. He had $220,204 in his campaign account on Jan. 1.

36th Ward (Galewood, Montclare, Dunning, Cumberland Corridor): Banks has been the subject of numerous press reports about how his nephew, zoning attorney James Banks, secured approvals from his uncle's committee. The feds' "Operation Crooked Code" probe reportedly is investigating zoning decisions relating to the 36th Ward and before Banks' committee. Firefighter Nick Sposato, who got 2,595 votes (23.8 percent of the total) in 2007, is running again. "We need change," Sposato said.

Banks' three political committees had a cash balance of $837,349 as of Jan. 1. "He raises money because he's zoning chairman," Sposato said. "What's he doing to get that kind of money?"

Banks, age 59, was unopposed in 1987, 1995, 1999 and 2003. It is expected that he will retire, if not in 2011, then shortly thereafter, and hand off the aldermanic job to his son, Joey, a law student. When he quits, he'll join the law firm of his brother and nephew, and make gazillions of dollars as a zoning attorney.

38th Ward (Belmont-Central, west Portage Park): Allen came within 9,946 votes of winning the 2008 Democratic primary for state's attorney. He said he will run for reelection in 2011, not for judge in 2010. Allen won with 89 percent of the vote in 2003, and he was unopposed in 2007.  Jennifer Dianovsky, the vice president of the Friends of Portage Park, may run against him. Allen had $42,080 in his account.