May 26, 2010


Instead of the usual 1,500-word diatribe and analysis, here are three 500-word mini-columns on political developments:

(1) Scott Lee Cohen, if he gets on the ballot as an independent candidate for governor, will guarantee Pat Quinn's defeat. The reason: Cohen will get a hefty black vote. Cohen must file a minimum of 25,000 nominating petition signatures by June 21, and he must get at least 75,000 signatures to withstand a challenge. According to sources, he is paying circulators upwards of $1 per signature, and he likely will spend $100,000.

Cohen won the Democrats' nomination for lieutenant governor in February, but then he succumbed to party and media pressure to withdraw due to unflattering revelations about his past and, he said, "threats" by Democratic kingpins to "expose" his tax records. He regrets that decision. Now it's payback time. His choice for lieutenant governor is Baxter Swilley, a black West Side Chicago community organizer.

Cohen spent $2 million on the primary. If he spends another $2 million on the election, stick a fork in Quinn.

(2) In 2008 the operative buzz word was "change." In short, get rid of George Bush and the Republicans and elect Democrats. This year the buzz words are "new people." In short, bounce out everybody who's in, especially Democrats, since they hold every Chicago, Cook County and statewide office.

Private Republican polling in Illinois indicates that voters are embracing the Republicans, but only because the pantheon of Democrats -- Obama, Madigan, Blagojevich, Stroger, Daley, Burris, Giannoulias and Quinn -- are so utterly repugnant. This year the electorate doesn't want partisan and policy change. They want politician change. If Republican candidates, at every level, package themselves as "new people," they can and will win.

(3) Count on this: Mayor Rich Daley, will not get a "free pass" in 2011. There is little doubt that Daley will run, despite his wife's health situation.

But consider this certain: Either Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) or his ally, former city inspector general David Hoffman, who lost a bid for U.S. senator in the February Democratic primary, will run. Hoffman got 33.7 percent of the vote statewide and 29.3 percent in Chicago.

If Waguespack goes for mayor, Hoffman will seek his aldermanic seat, thereby positioning himself to run for mayor in 2015.

According to polls, there is definite "Daley fatigue." After a reign of 21 years, voters are weary but not quite yet inclined to elect a "new person." The failed bid for the 2016 Olympics, continual revelations of corruption and waste in city government and budget problems all mitigate against Daley's re-election.

But Chicagoans' threshold question is this: Will Daley's ouster make the city better or worse? Right now, the consensus is worse. The shortcomings of the incumbent are more tolerable that the potential inadequacies of his successor.

Column 1: If stupid decisions and poor judgment were a disqualification for public office, there would be few candidates to elect. If the same criteria were applied to office holders, there would be few to reelect.

Cohen, age 44, derided as a "millionaire pawnbroker," spent $2 million of his own money and won the primary, getting 212,902 votes (25.9 percent of the total cast) and finishing 30,040 votes ahead of Art Turner, the slated candidate for the job, who had 182,432 votes (22.2 percent).

After Cohen's upset, the media piled on: He allegedly was $54,000 in arrears in child support. He admitted that he bought and used anabolic steroids. He was arrested after a former live-in girlfriend, who was a convicted prostitute, told police that he held a knife to her throat. Those charges were dropped. His ex-wife once claimed he was physically abusive, but then recanted that allegation at a press conference.

Under intense pressure and, as he said, "for the good of the party," Cohen resigned his nomination.

"The allegations against Alexi Giannoulias and his family's (Broadway) Bank are far more serious than those against Cohen, most of which were unproven," said Alderman Berny Stone (50th). "Jewish voters are not happy" about Cohen's plight, Stone said.

In the six-candidate contest for lieutenant governor, Cohen got an impressive 37.8 percent of the Chicago vote, carrying every Northwest Side ward, getting 47.5 percent of the vote in Stone's ward and winning 15 of 50 city wards. He got 28.6 percent of the suburban vote, winning 17 of 30 townships.

After Cohen quit, Quinn was under intense pressure to pick Turner, who is black, as his replacement. Instead, Quinn opted for Sheila Simon, a white Downstater. That choice irritated blacks. In the primary Dan Hynes aired ads featuring Harold Washington's disparagement of Quinn, who was his revenue director, but Quinn won the 20 black-majority wards by 87,959-58,466, with 60.1 percent of the vote. Given that Hynes' father, Tom, ran against Washington for mayor in 1987 and that every black ward Democratic committeeman was backing him, Quinn's margin was not impressive.

In November, with an expected statewide turnout of 3.4 million, about 365,000 black voters will turn out in Chicago and about 160,000 will vote in the county suburbs. Of those 525,000 voters, at least 95 percent will vote Democratic. In 2006 Rod Blagojevich got 1,736,731 votes, or 49.8 percent of the votes cast, topping Republican Judy Baar Topinka by 367,416 votes.

The latest Rasmussen poll puts Republican Bill Brady up 45 percent to 38 percent over Quinn.

The bottom line: If Cohen gets on the ballot, his anti-establishment, anti-incumbent and I-was-wronged message will ensure him at least 200,000 votes -- and ensure Quinn's defeat.

However, the initial ballot access challenge is daunting. Illinois has 7,375,688 registered voters. Those who circulated petitions in 2009 for primary candidates cannot circulate a petition for Cohen as an independent, and Quinn's lawyers will argue that those who voted in the Feb. 2 primary cannot sign an independent's petition.

Column 2: Lest Republicans become too giddy about their 2010 prospects, polling by the respected Frank Luntz, paid for by the recently organized Two-Party System political action committee, should make them giddier. According to party sources, Luntz' Illinois poll indicates the following:

First, that the Republican "brand" has no value. The poison of George Bush remains. Disaffection with President Obama and the Democrats will not cause voters to embrace the Republicans.

Second, that Obama's performance has been uninspiring. Phrases like "gone too far" and "out of control" typify the current political environment.

Incredibly, in Illinois a majority of those polled believe that almost half of the state's $55 billion budget is "waste," but education spending is untouchable. "Don't cut my kids" is the mantra. Luntz' advice to Brady: Advocate "targeted" cuts, not across-the-board cuts, and avoid education spending cuts.

Third, "magic words" for this year are "new people." According to the Luntz poll, there is "fatigue" with Mayor Rich Daley, and there is widespread animosity toward such dolts as Rod Blagojevich, Todd Stroger and Roland Burris. Quinn and Giannoulias, along with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, are viewed with great skepticism, bordering on distaste.

Rumors abound that Madigan will bring the Democratic-controlled General Assembly back into session after the November election and pass a state income tax hike after Quinn wins. If Brady wins, they'll let him do the budget-slashing job himself. According to Luntz, voters consider a tax hike to be inevitable. If Brady expects to win, he must persuade them otherwise.

Column 3: Turnout in the 1983 Chicago mayoral election was 1,288,102; it was 447,571 in 2007, a decrease of 840,531 votes, or 65.3 percent. Since his first mayoral bid in 1989, Daley's citywide vote has progressively declined, from 574,619 in 1989 to 450,155 in 1991, 350,785 in 1995, 418,211 in 1999, 347,698 in 2003 and 318,578 in 2007. If turnout rebounds toward 700,000, Daley is in trouble.

But that won't happen without a serious black contender. U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) has been hopelessly tarnished. State Senator James Meeks (D-15) is waiting for 2015, when Daley, who will be age 73, surely will retire.

Daley has never faced a credible white liberal in a mayoral contest. Waguespack won his Lakeview-Bucktown aldermanic seat by 122 votes in the 2007 runoff, and he's had a rocky tenure as an alderman. His supporters claim that the Daley Administration intentionally denies services to the ward. Given Waguespack's dubious reelection prospects, a quixotic mayoral bid is an escape hatch. Hoffman would be favored to win an open aldermanic seat.

Would black voters back an anti-Daley white candidate? Probably not. They just wouldn't vote. Daley is a solid favorite in 2011.