June 17, 2009


For the reader's edification, and in furtherance of this column's exclusive and ongoing UCPT (Understanding Chicago Politics Test), here are some new multiple-choice questions about Cook County government.

The Cook County Board has passed an ordinance that bans a dual candidacy for both board president and for county commissioner. Historically, board presidents Bill Erickson (1946 to 1954), John Duffy (1955 to 1961), Seymour Simon (1961 to 1966), George Dunne (1969 to 94) and John Stroger (1994 to 2006) held both jobs, giving them a vote in deliberations. Current president Todd Stroger does not.

The ordinance, which has yet to be signed by Stroger, means that ambitious current commissioners, Republicans Tony Peraica and Liz Gorman and Democrats Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin, cannot run against Stroger in 2010 unless they abandon their seats. Claypool is set to announce his candidacy on June 30 and not seek re-election as a commissioner.

Question Number One: The board passed a 1 percent sales tax rollback by a 12-3 vote (with two absences), which Stroger vetoed. An override requires the votes of 14 of the 17 commissioners. The veto was sustained, as four commissioners opposed the override and two voted "present." Will Stroger also veto the "dual run" ban?

(a) No, because he's dumber than the proverbial box of rocks, and he hopes the ban will dissuade Claypool and Peraica from running in 2010.

(b) No, because it's his personal bailout plan. Stroger is the 8th Ward Democratic committeeman, in the 4th County Board District, a seat held by his father for 36 years. After John Stroger's 2006 stroke, Alderman Bill Beavers (7th) was chosen as the replacement commissioner candidate, and Todd Stroger was chosen as the replacement board president nominee. Stroger understands that he will not be nominated in a 2010 countywide race, so he will sign the ordinance, get his ally Beavers to retire, announce that he's running for the 4th District seat instead of for board president, and guarantee himself a job in 2011 and thereafter.

(c) Yes, because Stroger is utterly delusionary and believes that he can retain his current job and win Beavers' job. That would make him "King of Kings," and utterly veto-proof. At present, an override requires a 75 percent vote. If "The Toddler" were both the board president and a commissioner with a vote, an override would require an 87.5 percent vote (14 of 16 commissioners) -- an impossibility.

(d) Every answer to this question is making me angry and nauseated, so I'm just going to stop reading, pout, watch a Cubs game, and get thoroughly inebriated.

Answer: (b) and (d).

Question Number Two: If Stroger signs the "dual run" ban, how will it affect the 2010 contest for board president?

(a) Peraica, who got 46.3 percent of the vote as the 2006 Republican candidate against Stroger, won't run. He was barely reelected commissioner in 2006 from his west suburban district, by a margin of 845 votes (with 50.6 percent of the vote), and he will focus his 2010 money and energy on keeping his job.

(b) Suffredin, of Evanston, who got just 22.1 percent of the vote in a failed 2008 primary bid for Cook County state's attorney, won't give up his seat.

(c) It doesn't matter to Claypool, who has been a commissioner since 2002 and who got 46.5 percent of the vote in the 2006 primary against John Stroger. Arguably, had the elder Stroger not had a stroke a week before the primary, Claypool would have prevailed. It's up or out for him. If he's not elected board president in 2010, there's no incentive to remain a commissioner for another 4 years.

Claypool is a longtime business associate of senior White House advisor David Axelrod, and he could have gotten a top staff job in the Obama Administration. If he doesn't succeed Stroger, he will be off to Washington.

(d) It takes pressure off Mayor Rich Daley and the Democratic Machine. If he were on the February ballot, Stroger would precipitate a huge turnout by anti-tax voters, with a definite trickle-down effect. Every liberal, tax-hiking Democrat would be at risk. So the "Machine" will dump Stroger, console him with a county commissioner's post, and unite behind the so-called "reformer," Claypool, who was once Daley's mayoral chief of staff.

Answer: All of the above.

The prospective field for board president in the Democratic primary includes three black candidates, Stroger, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, from the Hyde Park 5th Ward, and Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, whose base lies among black ministers but who fared disastrously in a 2007 Chicago mayoral bid, getting just 20 percent of the vote, and one white candidate, Claypool.

If Stroger doesn't retire, Brown won't run. If he does, she surely will, but she and Preckwinkle will fragment the black vote and get Claypool nominated.

If Stroger does retire, a white office holder, such as Sheriff Tom Dart or Assessor Jim Houlihan, could run, but they would fragment the white vote with Claypool and get Preckwinkle nominated.

Question Number Three: Who will be the 2010 Democratic nominee?

(a) Claypool. (b) Preckwinkle. (c) Stroger. (d) Brown. (e) Dart. (f) Houlihan.

Answer: (a). The 2010 Democratic primaries for state and county offices will have racial overtones. Illinois Senate president Emil Jones, who is black, was replaced by John Cullerton, who is white, earlier this year. If Roland Burris is ousted from Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and Claypool replaces Todd Stroger, there will be nary an African American, excepting Obama and state Secretary of State Jesse White, in major office in Illinois.

Question Number Four: Will black voters be infuriated and less likely to turn out in the November 2010 election? (a) yes. (b) no. Answer: (a).

Developments are already fast and furious in the 2010 contests for commissioner, of whom five incumbents are black, two are Hispanic and 10 are white. Five are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Here's an early look at one race:

10th District (Lakefront and part of the Northwest Side): Mike Quigley, a Claypool ally and a vituperative Stroger critic, was elected to Congress in April, in large part due to his anti-tax reputation.

The district encompasses 10 wards, stretching along the Lakefront from the 43rd Ward (Lincoln Park), at North Avenue, to the 49th Ward (Rogers Park), including all of the 44th and 46th wards, almost all of the 48th Ward and a sliver of the 49th Ward; it also embraces a handful of precincts in the 40th, 39th, 50th, 45th and 32nd wards.

When the Democratic committeemen met in late April to select Quigley's successor, the narrow choice was Bridget Gainer, a 40-year-old community activist with roots in the Southwest Side 19th Ward, where her father, Bill, one of the founders of the South Side Irish parade, is a close ally of Democratic Committeeman Tom Hynes.

Quigley backed his chief of staff, Kim Walz, and she had support from the committeemen in the 43rd, 44th (Quigley's base) and 49th wards, as well as from Pat Levar (45th), who likely voted for Walz as a favor to Quigley, since his wife, Mary Ann, had been a deputy district director for Rod Blagojevich and Rahm Emanuel since 1996 and he wanted to keep her on Quigley's congressional payroll. She has been retained.

Gainer was supported by committeemen from the 48th, 50th, 46th, 40th and 39th wards. She won by a weighted vote of 36,308-25,389. "If I had the support of the 46th Ward, I would have won," Walz said.

"(Gainer) had policy expertise and budgetary expertise," said 39th Ward Committeeman Randy Barnette. But so, too, did Walz, who had been a Quigley staffer for 8 years.

Gainer is no interloper, having lived in the 48th Ward since 1993. She was an organizer and a director of Alternatives, a youth development program at Senn High School, a Chicago budget analyst from 1997 to 1998, the director of the Chicago Park District's north Lakefront division from 1998 to 2000 supervising contracts for landscaping, parking, vendors, trades and Soldier Field, and since 2000 a public affairs consultant for Aon Insurance. "I understand county government, and I understand that we must provide a safety net," she said.

"There's a (voter) rage about taxes and government incompetence," said Gainer, who is part of the anti-Stroger bloc. "Todd is toxic. He's the poster boy for government dysfunction." Gainer voted to roll back the sales tax and to override the veto.

Going into 2010, Gainer will be well funded. Her key ally is Carol Ronen, a former state senator and the 48th Ward committeeman. Gainer has tight connections with the "nonprofits," meaning the private foundations that serve the disadvantaged and the disabled. She does not want to cut the county's $3 billion budget; instead, she only opposed raising taxes.

Walz is now the district director of Quigley's Chicago office. "I have no plans to either run or not run (for board president)," she said. County electrician Mike Hickey, Chicago Cubs vice president Mike Lufrano, gay activist Jim Madigan and lawyer Jay Paul Deratany, who lost for the Board of Review in 2008 and who sought the appointment, may run. Deratany has plenty of money, but against anybody but Walz, Gainer will win.