November 10, 2010


The unforeseen but solid thrashing of Republican Alderman Brian Doherty (41st) in the Northwest Side 10th Illinois Senate District race may prove to be a harbinger for upcoming aldermanic contests, for several reasons.

First, Doherty, who has been an alderman for 19 years, was relentlessly hammered in Democratic mailers and television ads for his support of the Democratic Mayor Rich Daley. Although Doherty opposed property tax hikes, he did back Daley's parking meter lease and most Daley budgets, and he voted for a multitude of tax and fee hikes.

In February a slew of veteran area Democratic aldermen -- Marge Laurino (39th), Pat Levar (45th), Pat O'Connor (40th), Gene Schulter (47th), Dick Mell (33rd) and Berny Stone (50th) -- who have been more emphatic in their fealty to Daley, supporting property tax increases, are on the ballot. Each could be vulnerable to a similarly focused, well funded attack.

Alderman Tom Allen (38th), an occasional Daley critic, is retiring to become a judge; his replacement likely will be ward Democratic Committeeman Patti Jo Cullerton, the daughter of the late Alderman Tom Cullerton (1973 to 1993) and the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of former aldermen.

Springfield Democrats, captained by state Senate President John Cullerton, dumped more than $800,000 into the 10th District on behalf of appointed Democratic incumbent John Mulroe. Their message, delivered by mail, by media and on foot, was that Doherty represented the status quo and that he should be blamed for all of Chicago's ills.

It worked. Mulroe, although demonized by $400,000 in Republican spending which derided him as a $150,000 triple-dipping "patronage" employee, prevailed by 29,962-24,122, getting 55.3 percent of the vote.

The question is: Does any aldermanic challenger have $250,000 to spend to demonize the incumbent? If so, they will succeed.

Second, despite a toxic anti-Obama, anti-Democratic environment throughout the country, a Republican "wave" was nowhere apparent on the Northwest Side. Democratic committeemen, supplemented by an army of SEIU and AFSCME union workers, delivered solid margins in their wards for Mulroe, as is shown in the adjoining vote chart. Mulroe won Levar's 45th Ward by 2,998 votes (with 61.5 percent of the vote), Cullerton's and Allen's 38th Ward by 2,783 votes (63.7 percent) and Committeeman Bill Banks' 36th Ward by 1,515 votes (57.9 percent). Those three wards plus a precinct in the 29th Ward gave Mulroe a bulge of 7,299 votes.

In Doherty's 41st Ward, where Mulroe also resides, the outcome was humiliating for the Republican. Doherty needed a margin of at least 3,200 votes. Instead, he won by a meager 1,040 votes, getting just 53.4 percent of the vote. Doherty needed a margin of 1,000 votes in the 29 suburban precincts (Harwood Heights, Norridge and Niles), but he won by just 436 votes, with 53.8 percent of the vote.

Doherty personally campaigned in the 45th Ward, and he has a tested precinct organization in place in the 41st Ward. Every voting household got at least four negative Mulroe mailers, but it was all for naught.

To win, Doherty needed 60 percent of the vote in the 41st Ward, not less than 45 percent in the 45th and 38th wards, half the vote in the 36th Ward, and 65 percent in the suburbs. "Within my (ward) perimeter, I didn't win by enough, and elsewhere I lost by much more than I expected," Doherty said.

Third, turnout was lower on Nov. 2 than it will be in February. Given the lure of the open mayoral race, it will spike by 20 to 30 percent. Those nonvoters will be unlikely to support incumbents.

Fourth, there is a discernible independent base vote in each ward, as measured by the vote for Forrest Claypool for assessor. Democrat Joe Berrios, blasted in the media as a pay-to-play "insider," won the job, amassing a countywide vote of 640,882 (48.1 percent of the total cast), to 424,549 for Claypool (32.1 percent) and 235,846 for Republican Sharon Strobeck Eckersall and 16,094 for Green Party candidate Robert Grota. Notably, the combined Claypool-Eckersall vote of 660,395 exceeded Berrios's total by 19,513 votes.

As delineated in the vote chart, Berrios had far less than a majority in every Northwest Side ward, getting an anemic 25.2 percent of the vote in the 41st Ward, 33.9 percent in the 45th Ward and 36.6 percent in the 38th Ward. In every area ward, Berrios ran 3,000 to 4,000 votes behind Pat Quinn, and he even trailed David Miller, the hapless Democratic candidate for state comptroller who was crushed by Republican Judy Baar Topinka. Topinka, who lost the 2006 governor's race, was the top vote-getting Republican in every Northwest Side ward, running way ahead of Doherty, U.S. Senate nominee Mark Kirk and governor candidate Bill Brady.

In analyzing the 2011 election, remember this: The Berrios vote is the hard-core Democratic base, the Claypool vote is the independent base, and the Eckersall vote is the Republican base.

"They produced," crowed Mulroe, referring to Levar, Cullerton and Banks. "There was no Republican 'wave' in Cook County," groused Doherty. "Nobody can underestimate the strength of those organizations" in the 36th, 38th and 45th wards.

Fifth, the so-called 41st Ward/36th Ward "nonaggression pact" crumbled, to Doherty's immense detriment. In the past, Doherty and his 41st Ward Republican ally, state Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), along with county Commissioner Pete Silvestri and state Representative Skip Saviano (R-77), had a deal with Democrats Banks and former state senator Jim DeLeo of the 36th Ward. They wouldn't meddle in Banks' ward, nor would Banks meddle in the 41st Ward, and everybody backed Silvestri. In 2004 Banks rolled over on then-state representative Ralph Capparelli, enabling McAuliffe to triumph.

This year, instead of breaking even in the 36th Ward, as Doherty expected, Mulroe won by 1,515 votes. Doherty got only 4,011 votes in the ward, 559 fewer than Brady, 1,111 fewer than Kirk and 1,305 fewer than Silvestri.

Silvestri lost the 36th Ward by 5,679-5,316 to Democrat Cary Capparelli, Ralph Capparelli's son. In Silvestri's 9th County Board district, which is more than half suburban, Silvestri won the 41st Ward by 3,287 votes, Chicago by 20,289-17,906 and the suburbs by 26,725-12,948, for an overall 55.3 percent victory.

But here's the kicker: Green Party candidate Brock Merck, unknown and unfunded, got 7,039 votes (8.4 percent of the total) in the race. Clearly, some voters wanted somebody different.

Sixth, Mulroe's campaign strategy was brilliant. Mulroe is a 41st Ward resident, has a law practice in Edison Park, is active in Saint Juliana Parish, and is an ally of 41st Ward Committeeman Mary O'Connor. His strategy was twofold: Attack Doherty's base in the 41st Ward to diminish his margin and rely on Democratic committeemen to deliver elsewhere.

To achieve the former, Mulroe located his headquarters in the 41st Ward and spent the bulk of his door-to-door precinct time in the ward. Instead of losing the ward by 3,000 votes, Mulroe lost it by just over 1,000 votes -- a huge accomplishment. To checkmate the latter, Doherty had to rely on personal campaigning and mailings; he didn't have a personal precinct organization outside his ward, and there is no Republican organization anywhere. To his chagrin, Doherty's efforts were woefully inadequate.

Seventh, abortion was an issue. Doherty called Mulroe a "baby killer," which energized Personal PAC and other pro-choice groups. Mulroe says he is "personally opposed" to abortion but that he supports abortion rights. Personal PAC has a huge mailing list, and it deluged the Northwest Side with anti-Doherty pieces targeted to pro-choice households. Doherty amassed 21,004 votes in the 36th, 38th 41st and 45th wards, while the anti-abortion Brady got 23,225 votes, and the pro-abortion rights Kirk and Topinka got, 26,361 votes and 33,849 votes, respectively.

In a year when Republicans eschewed social issues and focused on the economy, the Democrats' selective use of the abortion issue paid big dividends.

Eighth, Mulroe will be a John Cullerton stooge in Springfield. "I don't know how much they (Springfield Democrats) spent," he said. Well, John, "they" spent $800,000 to elect you, which means your vote is owned lock, stock and barrel by Cullerton. When "they" tell you to vote to increase the state income tax, you'll say,  "Yes, sir."

But Mulroe can look on the bright side: Quinn promised to raise taxes, and he got 34,693 votes in those four wards, to 27,260 for Mulroe. If voters wanted to stall a tax hike, they should have embraced Brady. Quinn won every area ward with close to 60 percent of the vote except the 41st Ward, where he got 47.5 percent. If taxes go up, Northwest Siders can blame themselves, not Mulroe.