April 29, 2009


This is not a gossip column. Every week it delivers "political intelligence," which is not to be confused with intelligent politicians, of which there are some. As the 2010 political season commences, here are a few nongossipy tidbits:

*Topinka redux. Judy Baar Topinka is Illinois' Al Gore -- the person remorseful voters wish they had elected. Impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich's dirty money and dirty campaign enabled him to demolish Topinka in the 2006 governor's race. "Victimization" is a powerful concept, as is "remorse," and the 65-year-old Republican is looking to reclaim her old job as state treasurer, which she held from 1995 to 2007.

But the state's Republican "establishment," in its infinite stupidity, is trying to steer her into a race for state comptroller. They're backing state Senator Dan Rutherford (R-53) of Pontiac for treasurer.

Message to Republicans: To use Blagojevich's legendary phrase, Topinka is "f------ golden." There's no way Topinka could lose a race for treasurer. But the same can't be said of Rutherford, who got buried in a 2006 bid for secretary of state, getting just 33.1 percent of the vote.

Topinka was elected by 77,018 votes in 1994 (with 50.4 percent of the vote), reelected in 1998 by 62,679 votes (49.7 percent) and in 2002 by 396,965 votes (54.8 percent). She lost to Blagojevich in 2006 by 1,369,315-1,736,731, a margin of 367,416 votes, getting 39.3 percent of the vote. However, the Green Party candidate got 361,336 votes (10.4 percent), so Blagojevich had less than a majority, amassing 49.8 percent of the vote after spending more than $25 million to demonize Topinka.

Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is running for U.S. senator, so the post will be open. The only certain Democratic contender is state Representative Robin Kelly (D-38) of south suburban Matteson, who is black. Other candidates may emerge. Topinka is the favorite.

*Paul Vallas is laying a huge egg. He's about as much of a Republican as Dick Cheney is a humanitarian do-gooder liberal. Vallas, the former Chicago schools chief executive officer and city revenue director, ran the school systems in Philadelphia and New Orleans. He is now seeking the Republican nomination for Cook County Board president in 2010.

Vallas is a longtime confidant and advisor to Mayor Rich Daley, and nobody doubts his role for 2010: To be the backup should embattled black Democratic incumbent Todd Stroger inexplicably manage to get nominated. In that case, Vallas would have a clear shot. Vallas postures as a reformer, but if he won Stroger's job, he would be dependable cog in the "Daley Machine."

"I've heard his speeches," said veteran Republican activist Chester Hornowski of Vallas, who is making the rounds of Republican gatherings. "He utters not a word about the culture of corruption in Chicago and the county. Not a word about cutting taxes and spending. He's not now and never will be a Republican."

Republican County Commissioner Tony Peraica, who lost to Stroger in 2006 with 47.1 percent of the vote and got walloped in the 2008 state's attorney's contest, getting just 25.3 percent of the vote, may run again in 2010. This much is clear: In a primary, Peraica would defeat Vallas. Republicans would rather back a past and future loser than a Trojan Horse Republican like Vallas. Of course, Daley could intervene, but that would necessitate diverting at least 100,000 controllable white Democratic voters into the Republican primary. That's just not doable.

There will be tempestuous Democratic primaries for governor, U.S. senator, county board president and a myriad of other offices on Feb. 2, 2010. Since white Chicago Democratic committeemen have a horse in various races (including Lisa Madigan for governor, Forrest Claypool for board president and Giannoulias for senator), they won't be inclined to come to Vallas' rescue.

But Lee Roupas, the county Republican chairman, is fervently pushing Vallas, and Peraica may run for state attorney general, so Vallas may be unopposed and emerge as the Republican nominee.

*Tossing Todd. To coin a metaphor, Stroger's stewardship of county government is akin to Bozo the Clown piloting the Space Shuttle. Two Democrats are running against him in 2010: Claypool, who got 46.5 percent of the vote in the 2006 primary against Stroger's father, and Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, from the Hyde Park 5th Ward.

With Preckwinkle slicing into Stroger's black vote, Claypool would get the bulk of the white vote. But Preckwinkle also could get support from white liberals and white women, much as Anita Alvarez did in 2008, winning the Democratic state's attorney primary with just 25.8 percent of the vote.

The early line: If it's Claypool versus Stroger and Preckwinkle, Claypool wins the nomination and no Republican could beat him. If Stroger quits and other prominent white politicians -- such as Assessor Jim Houlihan or Sheriff Tom Dart -- jump into the race, Preckwinkle would have a chance. At present there is no pro-Daley black politician of sufficient credibility that the "Daley Machine" could support and nominate. If Stroger is perceived as a loser, the machine will gravitate to Claypool, who once was Daley's chief of staff.

*One fewer Daley. Daley's brother Bill apparently has taken himself out of the 2010 U.S. Senate race. Appointed incumbent Roland Burris suffers the taint of Blagojevich, and he has raised less than $1,000 to date. However, his legal bills exceed $500,000. Yet, in a perfect storm, he could win, provided that he gets monolithic black support in a high turnout and has several white opponents.

Carol Moseley Braun won the 1992 primary with 38.3 percent of the vote, topping U.S. Senator Alan Dixon and attorney Al Hofeld. Black voters comprise about a quarter of the Democratic primary vote, and Braun's 1992 vote was augmented by support from white women and liberals.

Burris's 2010 foes will be Giannoulias and U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9), an Evanston liberal who will have great appeal to female voters.

*DuPage revival. Once Illinois' bedrock of Republicanism, DuPage County has been rapidly trending Democratic. In 1984 it went 76 percent for Ronald Reagan for president, in 1992 it went 60.8 percent for George H.W. Bush, in 2000 it went 56.9 percent for George W. Bush, and in 2008 it went 54.7 percent for Barack Obama.

A gaggle of DuPage County Republicans are eagerly eyeing statewide bids in 2010, and they are already stepping on each other's toes. In a typical nonpresidential year Republican primary, the turnout is around 750,000, and about 100,000 of that comes from DuPage County -- nearly 15 percent.

DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett has already lost twice statewide, in 2002 to Madigan for attorney general (by 114,946 votes, getting 47.1 percent of the vote), and in 2006 as Topinka's running mate for lieutenant governor. With Madigan almost certain to run for governor in 2010, Birkett definitely will run for her job. Should Madigan opt not to challenge Governor Pat Quinn, Birkett would shift to a gubernatorial bid.

State Senator Kirk Dillard (R-24) of Westmont and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom are eager to break out onto the statewide scene -- Dillard for attorney general and Schillerstrom for secretary of state. But too many DuPagers would prompt a backlash.

This much is certain: In a Republican primary for attorney general, the well known Birkett would win -- against Peraica or anybody else. In the election, Birkett would highlight his "tough on crime" prosecutorial record and rip Democratic "corruption."

*After Madigan: Two Democrats are positioning themselves for the attorney general job, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and state Representative Julie Hamos (D-18) of Evanston. Hynes lost the 2004 U.S. Senate primary to Obama, getting 14.3 percent of the vote, but he has won by wide margins for his current post, getting 58.6 percent of the vote in 1998, 63.2 percent in 2002 and 64.3 percent in 2006. In 2008 he was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama for president.

The key is the black vote: Hynes is already trying to lock up support from black committeemen in Chicago and Cook County. Unless a black candidate runs, Hynes will succeed. Hamos will piggyback on Schakowsky's campaign, appealing to white liberals and women.

Another formidable candidate would be state Representative Jack Franks (D-63) of McHenry, an early advocate of Blagojevich's impeachment.

Since no Democrat has any crime-busting credentials, Birkett could win.

*Next Number Two:  State Representative Turner (D-9) has cleared out the field for lieutenant governor among black contenders. Turner, age 57, is the deputy majority leader, and he has represented a West Side district since 1980. Other aspirants include state Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-83) of Aurora and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Frank Avila of Chicago, both Hispanics. The dark horse is state Representative John Bradley (D-117) of Downstate Marion, a fierce Blagojevich critic.

The Democrats would prefer a black lieutenant governor, but Bradley, once derided by Blagojevich as a "wallflower," could win.