December 2, 2009


Add this word to Chicago's political lexicon: "Feigenholtzed." It's a word describing a stupid, simplistic, stereotypical campaign which culminates in an embarrassing and resounding defeat.

Add this word to the North Shore's political lexicon: "Footliked." It describes a flawed, clueless campaign, predicated on delusional presumptions and resulting in a crushing loss.

And add this prediction to this column's unending procession: In the Feb. 2 Democratic primary in Illinois' north suburban 10th U.S. House District, Julie Hamos is poised to be both "Feigenholtzed" and "Footliked." For an experienced politician and a 12-year state representative, Hamos' flawed campaign and prospective defeat is both incomprehensible and inexcusable.

Hamos' political base is in Evanston, where she is a loyal cog in the "Jan/Bob Machine" run by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and her husband, Bob Creamer. She won Schakowsky's legislative seat in 1998, in a district encompassing Evanston and Winnetka; that year Schakowsky won Sid Yates' congressional seat.

In Springfield, Hamos was the ultimate insider. A longtime public sector lobbyist and the wife of Illinois Appellate Court Judge Alan Greiman, himself a Skokie state representative from 1974 to 1987, Hamos was a cog in Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan's machine. She consistently voted with the Madigan majority. Greiman and Madigan are close allies. Every time Greiman loses a bid for the Appellate Court, Madigan gets him appointed on an interim basis.

In recent years Hamos emerged as a visible advocate of increased funding for mass transit. An attorney, Hamos' goal and expectation was that she would run for Illinois attorney general in 2010, with incumbent Lisa Madigan vacating the post to seek the governorship.

Had a vacancy opened, Hamos, age 60, would have been a formidable contender. As a liberal Jewish woman, with Cook County support from the "Jan/Bob Machine," with Madigan pressuring his state representatives statewide to back her, and with glowing media endorsements due to her record, Hamos would have been Illinois' next attorney general. But Lisa Madigan opted not to run for governor or senator, which prompted U.S. Representative Mark Kirk (R-10) to run for U.S. senator, opening the 10th District seat.

And Hamos promptly violated three cardinal political rules:

First, don't run for an office just to run for an office. Hamos wanted a promotion, and with Madigan's office foreclosed, she leaped at the chance to go to Congress.

Second, develop a political base. Hamos was prepared to run statewide, but not to run in the 10th District. She lives in Schakowsky's district, and she has utterly no identity in Lake County or elsewhere.

And third, learn from other's mistakes. The horrendous 2009 congressional campaign of Sara Feigenholtz in Chicago's 5th U.S. House District, to succeed Democrat Rahm Emanuel, should have been a red flag, begging avoidance. Instead, Hamos is replicating it.

"She has no footprint" in the 10th District, said a Deerfield Democratic activist who is backing Dan Seals in the primary. Seals was his party's nominee in 2006 and 2008, losing to Kirk with 46.6 percent of the vote and 47.5 percent of the vote. Seals is "held in high esteem," said the activist. "He fought two tough battles. He deserves another chance because the seat is open. Hamos is an interloper."

But a Cook County elected official, part of the "Jan/Bob Machine," has a different opinion: "She is a woman. She is Jewish. She will win," the official said. That, succinctly, is the stereotypical Hamos campaign strategy.

The 10th District is split. Half of it takes in Cook County's North Shore suburbs, north of Golf Road, stretching from the lake to Barrington. It includes Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glencoe -- areas with a substantial Jewish vote -- as well as Winnetka, Northbrook, Northfield, Glenview and Golf in the east; it also stretches west to Wheeling, Prospect Heights, part of Buffalo Grove, Palatine, Arlington Heights, Barrington and Inverness. Kirk beat Seals in this portion of the district with 55.1 percent of the vote in 2008.

The other half is east Lake County, east of Routes 83 and 45. It includes Highland Park, Deerfield, Riverwoods, Buffalo Grove and Lincolnshire -- areas with large Jewish populations -- plus Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Vernon Hills, Mundelein and Libertyville -- predominantly gentile areas inclined to vote Republican. There also is a sizable Hispanic population in Waukegan and North Chicago. Seals beat Kirk in 2008 with 50.6 percent of the vote.

Hamos is unknown north of Golf Road, but she has a number of assets:

First, Hamos is raising considerable cash, with $567,000 reported through Sept. 30; Seals raised $303,000. Hamos is already up with ads on cable television, and she has begun what will be a deluge of direct mail.

Second, Hamos is Jewish, born in 1949 in Hungary to Holocaust survivors. The district's population is roughly a quarter Jewish, and Jews will provide at least 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote. "Female Jews vote for Jews," said one area politician. "If there is no Jewish candidate, they vote for a woman over a man. If there is no woman, they vote for a minority over a white. But for men, Israel is a major consideration. They will readily support a pro-Israel Republican like Kirk, and they will reject any Democrat deemed pro-Palestinian."

Third, Hamos has the endorsement of three powerful women, state Senator Susan Garrett (D-29) of Lake Forest and state Representatives Karen May (D-58) of Highland Park and Elaine Nekritz (D-57) of Northfield. They will utilize their political networks and resources on Hamos' behalf. That is especially critical in Lake County.

Fourth, the "Jan/Bob Machine" presumably will send workers into New Trier Township to aid Hamos; however, a bruising primary for Hamos' 18th Illinois House District seat will keep many of Schakowsky's and Creamer's minions in Evanston, working for their candidate, Robyn Gabel.

Fifth, there is "Seals Fatigue." In 2006 Seals spent $1.9 million in an overlooked, underdog campaign, losing by 13,651 votes. In 2008, with national Democrats making his race a top priority, Seals spent $3.6 million and lost by 14,802 votes, running 42,895 votes behind Barack Obama. Seals nearly won when he should have lost big, and he lost when she should have won.

Sixth, State Senator Terry Link (D-30), the Lake County Democratic chairman, is running for lieutenant governor. So as not to damage his campaign, his organization is making no endorsement in the congressional race. That helps Hamos.

Seventh, Hamos is an accomplished legislator, which offsets the "interloper" image; she also was an early supporter of Obama for U.S. Senator in 2004, which buttresses her liberal credentials.

Hamos' mailings, thus far, have focused on "women's issues," such as health care, and are targeting female voters. The hapless Feigenholtz employed that strategy earlier this year, figuring that in a seven-candidate field with six men and with women making up almost 60 percent of the primary turnout, all she needed was half of the women's vote. So she bombarded every female voter with direct mail and ignored male voters. The result: Feigenholtz got 9,194 votes (17 percent of the total), in a turnout of 50,986.

Feigenholtz's demise sent two clear messages: With the Democrats in the U.S. House majority, and the Obama Administration pushing health care reform, that issue is moot for 2010. One more pro-Obama congressional vote is irrelevant. And, equally important, women don't vote just on "women's issues."

In 2008 Jay Footlik, Jewish, raised in Skokie, a lobbyist for the American-Israel Political Action Committee and a former White House aide to Bill Clinton on foreign policy, officially the "liaison to the Jewish community," challenged Seals in the primary.

Footlik ripped Seals, who is not Jewish and is of mixed race, as being insufficiently pro-Israel and lacking the stature to face Kirk. The result was a blowout: Seals won by 75,877-17,271, with 81.5 percent of the votes cast. Seals won in Cook County 42,107-8,568 and in Lake County 33,770-8,703. Clearly, Footlik's I'm-Jewish-and-he's-not appeal fell flat among Jewish voters, who did not view Seals as anti-Israel.

The bottom line: Hamos has no longstanding connection to issues which affect the 10th District, has never articulated any foreign policy positions, and has been missing on Israeli matters. Seals has enormous residual name identification and a volunteer network in place, and he can argue that, with the seat open, he deserves a third chance.

My prediction: To triumph, Hamos must avoid being "Feigenholtzed" and "Footliked." Women's issues, women's endorsements and Jewishness aren't enough. She must bludgeon Seals as a likable loser who's already bungled two opportunities. She must stress her electability, her ties to Obama and her record while promising to be a stalwart "Friend of Israel."

Turnout will decline to the 2006 level of 33,156. In that primary, Zane Smith ran as the outsider and Seals was the endorsed candidate. Seals won by 23,462-9,694, with 70.1 percent of the vote. Seals' 2010 base is at least 15,000 votes, perhaps 18,000.

As of now, despite Hamos' fund-raising edge, Seals is the favorite.