November 24, 2010


Here, crudely and succinctly, is aldermanic situation on the Northwest Side, with the Nov. 22 filing deadline having passed: There ain't no more piñatas. There ain't nobody to whack. The "Big Boys" have gone to ground.

A piñata is a papier-mache or clay receptacle filled with goodies and hung from the ceiling at Mexican festivals. Blindfolded children, using a stick, try to whack and break it.

Chicagoans are accorded a similar experience every 4 years: They get to take a whack at their alderman. Voters' pent-up anger, frustration or distaste can be satiated by throwing the bum out, or their bursting gratitude for a job well done can surface.

Any aldermanic contest featuring an incumbent is a referendum on that incumbent. If he or she can't get more than 50 percent of the vote in the February election, they usually lose the April runoff. Opponents focus their attack on the alderman, hoping to finish second and make the runoff. Absent an incumbent, the election is a choice. Candidates have to build an electoral base and give voters a reason to vote for them. That's a whole different dynamic.

But, to again put it crudely, voters in the 36th, 38th, 41st and 45th wards ain't going to have any satisfaction on Feb. 22, because there ain't going to be any alderman to whack, while those in the 50th Ward can get their stick ready.

Every Northwest Side Democratic organization is backing Rahm Emanuel for mayor. They will try to deliver a huge majority for him in their wards. If elected, Emanuel will be Chicago's next boss, and every Emanuel-backing aldermanic candidate will be his stooge.

In the 36th Ward (Galewood, Montclare, Cumberland corridor), 26-year Alderman Bill Banks, the City Council Zoning Committee chairman, resigned in August of 2009 and passed off the job to his driver and "chief of staff," John Rice. The federal "Operation Crooked Code" investigation had been looking into city zoning chicanery, but Banks was never charged with any offense. Rice is seeking a full term, and he faces seven opponents. But now Banks, the ward's Democratic committeeman, won't be around to whack.

Given his "clout" with developers, Banks had $784,113 in his campaign accounts as of Oct. 3. Rice had just $21,160. Will Banks exert the effort and spend his money to rescue Rice?

Banks was reelected in 2007 with 75.8 percent of the vote, getting 8,094 votes. The 2011 top-tier includes firefighter Nick Sposato, who got 24.2 percent of the vote in 2007, city water employee Bruce Randazzo, police officer Tom Motzny and 2006 county commissioner candidate Jodi Biancalana. Also in the race are Sandra Maldonado, Brian Matos and Brian Murphy.

The outlook: Turnout was 10,666 in 2007, but it will rise to over 15,000 in 2011. The Banks/Rice vote base is around 8,000. The multiplicity of candidates will depress Rice's vote to under 7,000. Expect Rice to finish with 45 percent of the vote and face a runoff against Sposato or Biancalana.

In the 38th Ward (west Portage Park, Old Irving Park, north of Belmont-Central), 17-year Alderman Tom Allen is resigning in December to become a Circuit Court judge. Allen's replacement will be his brother-in-law, Tim Cullerton, who is the brother of ward Democratic committeeman Patti Jo Cullerton, the son of the late Tom Cullerton, who served as alderman from 1973 to 1993, and the grandnephew of P.J. Cullerton (who served from 1935 to 1958) and Willie Cullerton (who served from 1959 to 1973). A Cullerton or a Cullerton relation has been in the City Council almost continuously since 1871. Cullerton is running in his first election, and he has 11 opponents, but it will be hard to whack somebody with a famous name and no negative baggage.

Allen was unopposed in 2007, and he got 7,331 votes. The most credible candidates are real estate agent Tom Caravette, attorney Bart Goldberg, karate instructor Mahmoud Bambouyani, community activist Helen Alex and military officer Carmen Hernandez. Also running are Jason Quaglia, Paul Knych, John Videckis, Ed Quartullo, Jim Osborne and Sheryl Morabito.

The outlook: The 38th Ward Democrats ain't what they used to be. There is a dearth of precinct workers. They got only 4,499 votes for Joe Berrios in the assessor's race. For the "Cullerton Clan," this is their last hurrah. The ward will be split up in the 2011 ward remap, effective in 2015, and the south half of the ward will be used to create a Hispanic-majority ward. The glut of contenders means that Cullerton will be in a runoff; he is favored, but only barely.

In the 41st Ward (Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park), 19-year Alderman Brian Doherty, the council's only Republican, has already been whacked. Doherty sought the Illinois Senate seat vacated by Jim DeLeo, an ally of Banks, and he fully expected to win in November. After ousting Alderman Roman Pucinski in 1991, Doherty was reelected four times with more than 70 percent of the vote, and he got 72.4 percent in 2007. But, against appointed state Senator John Mulroe, and despite the 2010 Republican "wave," Doherty lost by 29,962-24,122, and he carried the 41st Ward by just 950 votes, with 53.0 percent of the vote. Doherty is not running for reelection, and 12 candidates are seeking his job.

In the state Senate campaign, Springfield Democrats spent $800,000 and relentlessly attacked Doherty for his support of Democratic Mayor Rich Daley. Doherty backed the parking meter lease, most Daley budgets, and an array of tax and fee hikes, although not property tax hikes. His defeat is testament to the fact that any close tie to Daley is now the kiss of death.

The candidates in the race are Doherty aide Maurita Gavin, ward Democratic Committeeman Mary O'Connor, police officers Rich Gonzalez, Jim Mullin and Brock Merck, who got 2,563 votes in the ward on Nov. 2 as the Green Party candidate for county commissioner, firefighters Dan Lapinski and Tom Murphey, former chief city zoning inspector and real estate agent John Quinn, 2007 loser Mike Hannon, civil engineer George Banna, Barbara Ateca and Jim Schamne.

The outlook: A runoff is a certainty. The victory of Mulroe, O'Connor's ally, has deflated and disheartened Doherty's once-potent organization. O'Connor will get 25 to 28 percent of the vote (approximately 5,000 votes), making her a lock for the runoff. The battle for runner-up will rage among Gavin, Gonzalez and Merck. Turnout will be over 18,000. Whoever gets 20 percent of the vote (3,600 votes) will finish second and make the runoff.

In the 45th Ward (Portage Park, Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park), 23-year Alderman Pat Levar, who has prostate cancer, abruptly pulled the plug on Nov. 15. Levar is the ward's Democratic committeeman, and his precinct captains passed his nominating petitions for February, but he didn't file on Nov. 15. Instead, he called a snap captains' meeting, announced his retirement, anointed Marina Faz-Huppert as his successor, and ordered his minions to get signatures on her petitions.

Needless to say, there is monumental disgruntlement. In the 45th Ward Democratic Organization, the captains always had a vote in the choice for alderman when a vacancy arose. That occurred in 1979 and 1987, when the captains picked a fellow captain -- Dick Clewis and Levar, respectively.

"Who the hell is she?" said one precinct captain. "What's she ever done for our organization?" The answer: Absolutely, positively nothing. Faz-Huppert is the political director of Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and her signal accomplishment was blocking zoning approval of Wal-Mart stores in Chicago until they raised their minimum wage. Will Levar's precinct captains deliver for her?

Levar got just 56.2 percent of the vote in 2007, and his political career was at an end going into 2011. Economically, the ward is viewed as a wasteland, with a plethora of vacant storefronts along major thoroughfares and a palpable sense of decrepitude. Had Levar run again, he surely would have been forced into a runoff and lost. But Levar has a huge personal incentive to facilitate Faz-Huppert's election. If she doesn't win, the next alderman will oppose him for committeeman in 2012 and beat him.

There are eight candidates running to replace Levar. The top tier includes economist Don Blair, police lieutenant John Garrido, graphics company owner John Arena and commodities broker Michael Fitzgerald Ward. Blair and Ward have deep pockets, and they will spend liberally. Faz-Huppert, a total unknown, can count on union money, but she will be a factor only if Levar's captains exert themselves. Also running are Anna Klocek, Bruno Bellissimo and Jose Rivera. The outlook: Without Levar around to whack, the 2011 contest is shaping up as the "Battle of the Pygmies." Expect plenty of innuendo and negativity. The candidate who is the least demonized and disreputable by April 5 will win.

In the 50th Ward (West Rogers Park), 37-year Alderman Berny Stone, age 83, like those posters in a bar, doesn't know when to say when. But he knows when to get even. Two erstwhile proteges, Ira Silverstein and Mike Moses, are the focus of Stone's ire. Silverstein, a state senator, ousted Stone as the ward's Democratic committeeman in 2008. Now Moses and Silverstein's wife, Debra, are running for alderman, along with Greg Brewer and Ahmed Khan. The anti-Stone vote is split, so Stone will make the runoff and lose.