May 5, 2010


In the 45th Ward, there's no dawning "Age of Aquarius." Peace, love, harmony and bliss will be nowhere found.

Alderman Pat Levar is seeking a seventh term, having first won office in 1987. The 2011 election will be a referendum on Levar, and with seven opponents already seeking his job fully 10 months before the primary, Levar's prospects will surely worsen, making his demise likely.

Chicago's aldermanic elections are nonpartisan, without party affiliation. The initial election is in February. If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the two top contenders occurs in April.

Here's the 2011 anti-Levar field, in alphabetical order: John Arena, Bruno Bellissimo, Don Blair, John Garrido, Anna Klocek, Jose Rivera and Greg Sedlacek.

Here are two historical observations:

First, Levar won with 56.2 percent of the vote in 2007 against three opponents. He won with 64.6 percent in 2003 against two opponents, he exceeded 50 percent by 817 votes in 2007, and he exceeded 50 percent by 1,965 votes in 2003.

Second, there is the "Pucinski scenario." The late 41st Ward alderman was defeated in 1991, after 18 years in office, when he faced seven opponents. Discontent was rampant. He got 41.6 percent of the vote in the first election, to 30.6 percent for runner-up Brian Doherty. Pucinski then lost to Doherty in the runoff, getting 45.9 percent of the vote.

When a longtime alderman's popularity tanks, a runoff occurs. If a majority of the ward's voters reject the incumbent in the first election, they invariably coalesce behind the surviving challenger in the runoff, unless he or she is hopelessly flawed.

Here's a multiple-choice question: To which prospective candidate can the following quote be attributed?

(a) "Levar claims to be a 'nuts and bolts' alderman. Sadly, he's lacking the one, and the other is of poor quality, probably made in China. He's been an abominable alderman."

(b) "The ward's in an economic coma, and Levar is insular and divisive . . . People are hungry for new leadership."

(c) "(Levar) is not a leader . . . The future of the ward looks bleak" if Levar is reelected.

(d) "He can't skip class all semester and then expect to show up and graduate. He's failed to do his job, and doesn't deserve reelection. He lacks the skills required to turn the ward around."

(e) "He is a rubber stamp for Mayor Daley . . . He does nothing to earn his $110,000 salary, and he takes campaign contributions from businesses who obtained lucrative airport leases from the committee he chairs. He's lost his way."

(f) The ward "is a dump and looks more like Detroit every day. He is unquestionably Mayor Daley's biggest lackey. He does what he's told."

The answers are at the end of the column.

Here's a brief sketch of the candidates and their geographic, political or demographic bases.

Arena, age 44, is a former vice president of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, and he owns a creative design and marketing firm. He calls himself a "true progressive" and "the only candidate who stands against corruption and for reform." Arena vowed to "fight waste and corruption," and he supports "a strong inspector general to investigate aldermen." His base is Portage Park, his appeal is to the sizable number of independents and liberals in and around Portage Park, and he expects to spend $100,000 to $150,000 on the race.

In 2008 Barack Obama got 15,509 votes (67 percent of the vote) in the ward.

Bellissimo, age 42, is a former city tax auditor, now employed as an accountant for Harwood Heights. He resides in ward's far northwest corner, and he is totally unknown. His theme is "Renew, Rebuild, Revive 45." He has a $174,000 campaign budget, and he said that he will be working precincts every day. "A door-to-door campaign can succeed," Bellissimo said.

Blair, age 48, recently resigned as chairman of the Six Corners Association's economic restructuring committee, where he scored success in removing blighted signs and securing business credit lines. "We secured city funding for a strategic plan to revitalize Portage Park, and I will extend that plan to the whole ward," said Blair, who was trained as an economist, with an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago. He is employed as a business strategy expert. Blair's base is Portage Park, his focus is on economic development, his appeal is to those who view business revitalization as beneficial to their property values, and he expects to spend $250,000.

Garrido, age 42, is a 19-year Chicago police officer lieutenant who is assigned to the 21st (Prairie) District; he also is an attorney. He resides in the Gladstone Park area. Garrido unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for Cook County Board president in the Feb. 2 primary against the slated Roger Keats, garnering 42,986 votes (31.3 percent of the total cast) countywide and 836 votes (51.5 percent) in the 45th Ward, in a turnout of 1,625. Garrido has a dual base, Republicans and police officers. He estimated that police officers and firefighters and their families constitute 2,000 votes in the ward. John McCain got 7,266 votes (31.4 percent of the total cast) in 2008. Garrido's major issue will be fighting crime, and he will spend $150,000.

Klocek, age 46, is a real estate agent who resides in Forest Glen and who is the mother of four children. She ran for alderman in 2007, getting 1,086 votes (8.3 percent of the total). She hasn't stopped running, and she said "the Bully" -- meaning Daley -- "needs to go." She is critical of the Daley Administration, and she asserts that "it's time the 45th Ward had an alderman who will please us, not please the mayor." Klocek is active in the Polish-American community, but the bulk of the Poles in the ward are noncitizens and can't vote. Being the only woman in the race is an advantage. She will spend $30,000.

Sedlacek, age 50, is a marketing consultant. He has never run for public office, but he is a ubiquitous presence at CAPS, school council and other area meetings. His reputation is that of a gadfly, and his rhetoric is not soothing. "Levar doesn't deserve another four years," Sedlacek said. "He deserves a dunce cap for all his mistakes over the past 24 years." He said his campaign is a "crusade" to oust "family, flunkies and felons" and to "overthrow Levar's thugdom." To put it charitably, Sedlacek's base is among the severely "discontented."

Rivera confirmed that he is running, complained that he gets a lot of "crank calls," said he doesn't read this column or Nadig Newspapers, and refused to provide any information.

On issues, there are few differences:

All of the candidates promise accessibility, transparency, interactive Web sites and community input. Arena said he will have staff members assigned to economic development issues and that he will create "citizens' advisory boards." Blair said he will have a zoning advisory committee to make recommendations on development issues, that he will empanel a "strategic leadership council" to undertake economic planning, and that he will have an annual wardwide survey. Garrido promised that he would not be "a micro-manager of ward affairs, as is Levar."

On crime, all agree that gang activity and tagging are a serious problem.

Only Bellissimo has emphatically endorsed Daley for reelection, saying, "He's been a competent mayor."  Garrido ripped the mayor as a "career politician" who "has depleted the ranks of the police department." Blair said that Daley "has gone in the wrong direction," citing the failed bid for the Olympics and the parking meter and Skyway sales. Arena said it's time for "a break with the past." Klocek and Sedlacek view the mayor as akin to a communicable disease.

Endorsements: Garrido is backed by Dave Haynes, the 45th Ward Republican committeeman. Blair, significantly, has been endorsed by two recent aldermanic candidates, Terry Boyke, a former Levar aide, who got 30.5 percent of the vote in 2007, and Pete Conway, who got 33.4 percent in 2003. Arena has been endorsed by Bob Bank, who got 4.9 percent of the vote in 2007.

The outlook: The ward has 53 precincts. In 2007 Levar's vote increased in three precincts and declined in 50 compared to 2003. With a turnout of 13,403 in 2003, Levar averaged 164 votes per precinct; with a turnout of 13,125 in 2007, he averaged 140 votes per precinct.

With eight candidates running and seven assiduously trying to create an anti-Levar frenzy, turnout will spike to at least 16,000, perhaps more. Each contender will energize his or her base. Levar got 7,380 votes in 2007, and that won't increase. He will barely crest 45 percent of the vote in 2011.

My prediction: The top-tier candidates are Arena, Blair and Garrido, with Klocek a factor. The anti-Levar field is dividing up at least 55 percent of the vote. The magic number is 3,500 -- just 22 percent of the vote. Whoever averages 70 votes per precinct will make the runoff.  If forced into a runoff, Levar will lose. He's 2011's Pucinski.

Answers to the quote question: a. Klocek. b. Arena. c. Bellissimo. d. Blair. e. Garrido. f. Sedlacek.