November 3, 2010


It ain't over until it's over. That trite and shopworn cliche applies to both sports and politics. However, here's a message to Chicagoans: The 2011 mayoral election is over.

The deal is done. The fix is in. Can you say Mayor Rahm Emanuel?

Sheriff Tom Dart, with a Southwest Side Irish base and wide name recognition, abruptly withdrew from the mayoral contest, claiming that the job would have caused him to be "less of a father." What gibberish. The Chicago mayoralty is the epicenter of Illinois politics, the most powerful job in the state. Dart quit because he didn't have the money or the guts, or because he got a promise for some other post. It's likely the latter.

For those inclined toward conspiracies, it could be conjectured that Dart aborted his bid to make way for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who resides in the North Side 47th Ward but whose powerful father, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, is the Southwest Side 13th Ward Democratic committeeman. But Lisa Madigan has publicly disavowed a mayoral candidacy. If she joins the race after winning reelection on Nov. 2, it would smack of opportunism and deceitfulness.

According to Democratic Party sources, here's what is happening:

First, Emanuel, the Northwest Side 5th District congressman from 2003 to 2008 and the 2-year White House chief of staff, announced for mayor in early October. In less than a month, Emanuel raised a stunning $3.7 million, much coming from Hollywood (where his brother is a movie producer) and Jewish sources. He had $1.2 million remaining in his congressional campaign account, so he has $4.7 million on hand.

Without question, Emanuel will raise another $3 million by Christmas, and he will spend more than $10 million on the contest. Dart could not match that fund-raising prowess. Only Madigan, with her father's help, can raise a like amount.

Emanuel's liberal voting record and close ties to Obama certainly do not ingratiate him to white ethnic voters on the city's Northwest and Southwest sides, but he has enormous appeal to Jewish voters, as he would be Chicago's first Jewish mayor, and to liberals along the Lakefront. To black voters, he is certainly the least unacceptable white contender, and an Obama endorsement in the April runoff would seal the deal.

To be sure, Emanuel, age 50, has a multitude of character flaws: He is arrogant, autocratic, profane, imperious and controlling, and he does not suffer fools gladly. That means he will not suffer the City Council's self-important pomposity gladly. If he is elected mayor, there is no doubt about this: Emanuel will be the boss, and he will brook no dissent.

Second, Dart demanded his quid pro quo -- and he will be rewarded. The sheriff covets the federal U.S. attorney's job, but the Obama Administration, with Rod Blagojevich's re-trial scheduled for April, can't fire incumbent Patrick Fitzgerald. Democratic politicians desperately want a malleable Democrat as U.S. attorney so as to minimize their future exposure. Dart is their guy.

Rumors are rampant that Obama will appoint Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to a federal judgeship. That clears the way for Dart to succeed her as the county's chief prosecutor. Or, perchance, if Dart, who resides in the Southwest Side 19th Ward, wants to be "more of a father," he could prevail upon Emanuel to persuade Obama to make him a federal judge and work 9-to-5 hours.

If the Chicago mayoralty is off the table, Dart, a former state representative, surely lusts after the number two job in the state -- the Illinois governorship. Being a federal judge, the U.S. attorney or the state's attorney would be an excellent steppingstone to the governorship.

Third, with Dart out, Emanuel is a cinch to run first in the Feb. 22 nonpartisan primary and advance to the April 2 runoff. Against Dart, Emanuel would have competed for the city's white vote, which is half the electorate. With the withdrawal from the campaign of Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) due to health issues, Emanuel now faces possible competition for the white vote only from Madigan or Alderman Ed Burke (14th).

Already, the entire Northwest Side Democratic establishment has fallen into line behind Emanuel. He has the public support of Aldermen Dick Mell (33rd), Marge Laurino (39th), Pat O'Connor (40th), Pat Levar (45th) and Gene Schulter (47th), as well as Committeemen Bill Banks (36th), Patti Jo Cullerton (38th) and Randy Barnette (39th) and state Representative John D'Amico (D-15). Levar's wife was a congressional staffer for Emanuel.

Former state representatives Ralph Capparelli and Rich Bradley were running the Northwest Side Dart operation. "We had over 21,000 (nominating petition) signatures" for Dart, said Capparelli, who expressed disappointment over Dart's withdrawal. "He could have won."

Burke, age 66, who has served in the City Council since 1968, has $6.2 million in his campaign account, could match Emanuel dollar-for-dollar, and he could co-opt much of the Southwest Side white vote. Fioretti's base is the Near South Side, and he has $136,000 in his campaign account.

In the 2008 election, 106,387 votes were cast in the five Southwest Side wards and 224,884 were cast in the 10 Northwest Side wards.

There will be at least two Hispanic candidates: City Colleges of Chicago Board chairman Gery Chico, who lost the 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary to Obama, and city Clerk Miguel del Valle, who was appointed in 2006 after former clerk James Laski pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges and who was elected to a full term in 2007. Chico is Mexican American, and del Valle is Puerto Rican. The Hispanic vote will not exceed 12 percent. If both run, both lose.

And fourth, no Harold Washington-like candidate has emerged capable of energizing black voters. Blacks comprise roughly 40 percent of the electorate, and three or more black candidates will be running: state Senator James Meeks, a social conservative who is the pastor of Salem Baptist Church, state Senator Rickey Hendon, who lost the 2010 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, and former U.S. senator Carol Moseley Braun, who was defeated in 1998 after one term in the Senate. Other possible candidates include Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. and U.S. Representative Danny Davis.

All have flaws, and none is capable of electrifying and motivating black voters, as Washington did in 1983 and 1987. "Crossover" is the key term. What black candidate is capable of attracting white votes? Answer: None.

Braun is a retread, but she has especial appeal to black women. Meeks said that he would not quit his church, which raises questions about church-state separation. His anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage stance has great appeal to black evangelicals. Rogers is unknown. Davis and Hendon are obnoxious, in-your-face, big-spending, pro-affirmative action liberals -- the kind of black politician that ethnic white voters detest.

The early presumption was that Dart and Emanuel would compete for the white vote and that Meeks and Braun would compete for the black vote, with a white-versus-black runoff and a white victor. Now, with Emanuel as the white frontrunner and with a fractured black field, the top black contender may not eclipse 15 to 18 percent of the vote. An early poll paid by black business leaders put Braun at 11 percent, due to her residual name identification, and Meeks at 5 percent. Emanuel had 22 percent, and Dart had 12 percent.

Clearly, half of Chicagoans have no clue as to whom they want as mayor, and Democratic politicians, especially African Americans, are ambivalent. Here's a rundown, based on performance:

Braun: Braun carried Chicago in 1998 over victorious Republican Peter Fitzgerald by 552,729-145,540. She got 315,890 votes in the city's predominantly black wards and 236,839 votes in the predominantly white and Hispanic wards. She lost the 41st and 45th wards, and she narrowly carried other Northwest Side wards. That only proves that Braun can beat a white conservative Republican, which Rahm is not.

Hendon: Hendon ran third in the 2010 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, with 113,690 votes overall and with 68,233 (21.9 percent of the total cast) in Chicago. Had West Sider Hendon not run, splitting the black vote, Art Turner would have been nominated. Hendon is much reviled on the South Side.

Chico finished fourth in the 2004 primary for U.S. Senate, getting 53,433 votes (4.3 percent of the total); Obama won with 655,923 votes (52.8 percent). Chico got 29,414 votes (6.4 percent) in Chicago. He had a bare plurality in the Hispanic wards, and he averaged about 500 votes in the Northwest Side wards. Chico is going nowhere.

Emanuel: He won a hotly contested 2002 congressional primary after Mayor Rich Daley dispatched an army of city payrollers, led by now-convicted Don Tomczak, to the district. He beat Nancy Kasczak by 46,774-35,716, getting 50.5 percent of the vote, with six others running.

Despite backing from every Northwest Side Democratic committeeman, Emanuel carried the 36th Ward with 54.2 percent of the vote, the 38th Ward with 46.3 percent, the 39th Ward with 56.8 percent, the 40th Ward with 57.6 percent, the 41st Ward with 43.1 percent, the 45th Ward with 46.8 percent and the 47th Ward with 49 percent. Clearly, there was voter resistance to Emanuel in 2002, and there will be similar resistance in 2011. As a pro-Obama liberal, Emanuel is a hard sell, but if the 2011 runoff is a choice between a pro-Obama white candidate and a pro-Obama black candidate, white voters will opt for the least obnoxious -- Emanuel.

My early prediction: Emanuel is the man to beat. Unless Madigan runs, Emanuel is the next mayor.