February 24, 2010


Platitudes do not necessarily presage performance. In 2008 Barack Obama ran as a reformer who would bring change. Instead, he has governed as a typical tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.

The proper platitudes do, however, presage victory, especially in a Cook County Democratic primary where minorities and liberals predominate. As proven by Toni Preckwinkle's sizable Feb. 2 victory for Cook County Board president, such buzz words as "independent," "reformer" and "competent" have great impact, particularly when the incumbent, Todd Stroger, is perceived as the incompetent tax-hiking nonreformer.

In analyzing the outcome, here are a few appropriate journalistic platitudes:

*Everybody hates Todd. Stroger's demise eclipses mere defeat or rejection, surpasses embarrassment or humiliation, and approaches abasement and sheer mortification. The incumbent board president got 13.6 percent of the vote. That's an astounding personal repudiation, based on voter anger and abject loathing.

Stroger won four of 50 Chicago wards and got a mere 41.3 percent of the vote in his home 8th Ward. He took 17.1 percent of the Chicago vote and just 8.6 percent of the suburban vote. As for his 78,532 voters, there are counselors available to provide trauma therapy, either for their remorse in backing him or for their shock in being so stupid.

"The Toddler's" misguided, misgoverned 4-year reign is proof positive that there is no gene for political astuteness, and further proof that in the fall election, tax hikers are doomed.

*Preckwinkle is another Obama. Preckwinkle, a 19-year black Chicago alderman who rarely dissented from the City Council majority of Mayor Rich Daley and who has no governing experience, rode a tide of anti-tax, anti-Stroger sentiment and won countywide with 50 percent of the vote. She amassed 281,905 votes, to 131,896 (23.0 percent) for Terry O'Brien, 83,150 (14.4 percent) for Dorothy Brown and 78,532 (13.6 percent) for Stroger. Turnout was 575,483.

Derided by some as the "white liberal" candidate and by others as the "Daley stealth" candidate, Preckwinkle, age 62, assembled an Obama-like coalition of blacks, Hispanics and Lakefront and suburban white liberals while running exceedingly well in white ethnic wards and townships.

According to official tallies, Preckwinkle won 34 of 50 wards, getting 47 percent of the Chicago ballots. She won six of eight Hispanic-majority wards, 14 of 20 black-majority wards and all six Lakefront wards.

Preckwinkle also won 24 of 30 suburban townships, racking up 70 percent or more of the vote in Barrington, Evanston, New Trier, Northfield and Oak Park townships. She got more than half the vote in white-majority Elk Grove, Hanover, Lyons, Maine, Niles, Palatine, Rich, River Forest, Riverside, Schaumburg and Wheeling townships.

In 2004, when Obama ran for the U.S. Senate, he got 301,199 votes, or 66.5 percent of the vote, in Chicago and 163,718 (60.8 percent) in the suburbs. He ran exceedingly well in white liberal areas, and he got 25 to 35 percent of the vote in white ethnic wards. The difference: Obama got near-unanimous black support, and Preckwinkle got only 40 percent support from black voters.

*Liberals love Toni. In the Lakefront wards, which cast 43,187 votes, Preckwinkle got 29,944 votes, or 69.3 percent of the vote, to 7,052 (16.3 percent) for O'Brien and 2,391 (5.5 percent) for Stroger. She also had huge margins in suburban liberal enclaves Evanston (77.9 percent of the vote) and Oak Park (73.8 percent).

*More black voters supported the electable black candidate than the racially pandering black candidate.

Stroger ran on the premise that the 1-cent sales tax hike was needed to provide health services to minorities. That was a racist appeal. However, many black voters understood that, with three black candidates running, O'Brien would win if they did not coalesce behind a single candidate. In effect, a vote for Stroger or Brown, the clerk of the Circuit Court, was a vote for O'Brien.

Turnout in the 20 black wards was 142,493. Preckwinkle got 57,892 votes, or 40.6 percent of the vote, carrying 12 of 14 South Side wards. Stroger got 43,430 votes (30.4 percent), winning the 8th, 21st, 24th and 34th wards, while Brown got 33,645 votes (23.6 percent), winning the 29th and 37th wards.

In the suburbs, Preckwinkle won the black-majority townships of Bloom, Bremen, Calumet, Proviso and Rich, getting 53.4 percent of the total suburban vote to 8.6 percent for Stroger and 11.7 percent for Brown.

Representing the South Lakefront Hyde Park area, where Obama resides, Preckwinkle is an intellectual, not a streetwise black activist, but her goal was to get 40 percent of the black vote, and at least half of that number came from black voters who wanted to keep an African American in the board presidency.

*The Daley/Madigan/Burke/Lipinski/Hynes machine did not fare well. Or did it? O'Brien, the 14-year president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners, is a longtime Daley ally with ties to the South Side. But he ran an insipid campaign, failing to establish himself as the principal alternative to Stroger. He promised to rescind the hated sales tax hike but not to cut additional taxes or spending.

To win, O'Brien needed to be a demagogue. He needed to make a vote for him a vote against Stroger. He needed to make promises that appealed to white middle class voters. He didn't, and getting an anemic 23.0 percent of the countywide vote means his future political prospects are nil.

O'Brien did, however, carry 10 city wards and six townships. He won the mayor's 11th Ward with 51.2 percent of the vote, Ed Burke's 14th Ward with 53.5 percent, Mike Madigan's 13th Ward with 42.1 percent, Bill Lipinski's 23rd Ward with 54.4 percent and Tom Hynes' 19th Ward with 46.3 percent. But even in those wards Preckwinkle ran well, getting 36.3 percent of the vote in the 11th, 27.0 percent in the 14th, 36.1 percent in the 13th, 36.4 percent in the 19th and 31.8 percent in the 23rd Ward.

Pre-primary rumors abounded that Daley really wanted a black board president going into the 2011 mayoral election so as to minimize black discontent. If so, he got his wish. If Daley wanted O'Brien to win, he would have gotten 70 percent of the vote in those wards.

*Adios. As in the 2008 Obama-McCain election, Chicago-area Hispanic voters showed no hesitation in supporting a black candidate (Preckwinkle) over Stroger. In the eight Hispanic-majority wards, which cast 30,826 votes, Preckwinkle got 13,795 votes, or 44.7 percent of the vote, to 9,127 (29.6 percent) for O'Brien and 2,207 (7.1 percent) for Stroger. However, O'Brien won suburban Cicero Township (with 45.7 percent of the vote) and Stickney Township (with 56.7 percent).

As with white ethnic voters, Hispanic voters clearly wanted to be rid of Stroger, and Preckwinkle was the best instrument.

*White voters will vote for the least objectionable black candidate, especially if it means ousting the most objectionable black candidate. On the Northwest Side, where O'Brien, as the sole white candidate, was presumed to have appeal, he carried only three wards: the 45th Ward, where O'Brien got 47.8 percent of the vote (3,827 votes), to 43.5 percent for Preckwinkle; the 36th Ward, where he got 45.9 percent (3,341 votes), to 38.6 percent for Preckwinkle; and the 41st Ward, where he got 51.9 percent (5,030 votes), to Preckwinkle's 41.6 percent. Preckwinkle won the 32nd Ward with 66.3 percent of the vote, the 33rd Ward (55.5 percent), the 38th Ward (49.4 percent), the 39th Ward (49.8 percent), the 40th Ward (56.9 percent), the 47th Ward (67.5 percent) and the 50th Ward (51.3 percent).

Why did Preckwinkle do so well? Four reasons: First, Stroger was deemed an abomination. He had to go. Second, O'Brien failed to click as a candidate. Third, Preckwinkle, by campaign's end, loomed as the frontrunner. For voters determined to oust Stroger, a Preckwinkle vote did the deed, while an O'Brien vote was a waste.

And fourth, as demonstrated in the 2004 U.S. Senate primary and the 2008 presidential primary, which both were won by Obama, there are substantial numbers of independents and liberals in the area who will vote for a non-white, non-conservative candidate.

"She has never voted independently of Daley, has never implemented any reforms, and has not actually changed anything," said Roger Keats, the former state senator who is the Republican candidate for board president. "I am change. She is business as usual."

Another platitude: You can't beat somebody -- however vacuous -- with nobody. Preckwinkle is the midget killer, the woman who purged Todd Stroger. To many, she's the white knight. Keats is unknown, and it will cost him $2 million to run a viable campaign.

A final platitude: Perception defines reality. Preckwinkle is perceived as independent, competent and a reformer. Like Obama, her platitudes may not presage her performance, but they are enough to enable her to win in November.