December 15, 2010


They ain't what they used to be. In the days of yore, Chicago Democratic ward committeemen ruled their domain like czars, commanded legions of precinct workers, doled out a plethora of city and county jobs, and either dictated the occupant of the alderman's job or took it themselves.

No more. Most are now eunuchs, completely impotent in the harem of Chicago politics. The committeeman's post has barely more prestige than a notary public, and a lot more aggravation. Here's why:

First, committeemen can't get their minions onto the payroll or get promotions for those already hired. The Shakman decree and federal investigations into clout-influenced hiring have rendered insider "clout" obsolete. Hence, those seeking city jobs ignore their committeeman, and those on the job need not repay the debt by working precincts or contributing to their sponsoring committeeman.

Second, with Mayor Rich Daley's departure, and with 16 aspirants contending for the succession, the magic elixir is money, not manpower. Face time on television, not at a voter's front door, is the route to victory.

And third, many white Democratic committeemen were allied with Daley since the 1980s, and those who are aldermen have backed him in the City Council. Their "clout" has evaporated. The new mayor will have no such indebtedness. New people will occupy key positions, and dispensing city contracts, not city jobs, will be the new coin of the realm.

In a number of 2011 aldermanic races, the committeemen will be toast if they or their ally fail to win. Any alderman elected over a committeeman's opposition in 2011 will take on and take out that committeeman in February of 2012, when all 50 committeemen are elected. Here's an analysis:

45th Ward: Alderman Pat Levar is retiring and backing obscure union official Marina Faz-Huppert for his job. Levar has been the ward committeeman since 2007, when Tom Lyons died. Lyons backed Daley in the 1983 mayoral primary, and he carried his ward over Jane Byrne. When Daley was elected, he made Lyons the county party chairman, and the flow of patronage jobs never ebbed in the 45th Ward. Levar was a Daley toady as alderman.

According to ward sources, Levar has just 38 captains in 53 precincts, and many longtime captains are incensed that Levar, who quit the race abruptly for "health reasons," didn't let the captains pick his replacement. They dutifully circulated petitions for Faz-Huppert, after having done so for Levar, but they're not going to bust their humps to get her elected.

Levar was unopposed for committeeman in 2008, and he got 9,259 votes. Faz-Huppert faces seven opponents, and she will benefit from union money and some workers. But she is Levar's creature, and she is totally dependent on Levar's organization. The alderman is looking to move onto a county payroll (to pad his pension) or a union payroll after his term expires in May of 2011. If Faz-Huppert loses, Levar will be blamed, and there will be no "soft landing."

38th Ward: A Cullerton was first elected an alderman in 1871, before the Chicago Fire. Since the 38th Ward was created in 1931, a Cullerton or a Cullerton relation has been the alderman for 75 of 79 years.

Patti Jo Cullerton, who spent her entire career on the public payroll, retiring in 2007, has been the Democratic committeeman since 1993, succeeding her late father, Tom Cullerton. When Cullerton died, he was replaced as alderman by Tom Allen, an in-law of Cullerton's children, Patti Jo and Tim Cullerton.

Allen resigned to become a judge, and Tim Cullerton, age 61, who spent his adult life on the city payroll, retiring in 2003, is now the "Next Cullerton."  Cullerton faces 11 opponents. A runoff is assured. It is possible that there will be no Cullerton in the next City Council. If so, Patti Jo Cullerton will be toast as committeeman in 2012.

36th Ward: Longtime Alderman Bill Banks (1983 to 2009) quit the aldermanic post but kept the committeeman's job, which he has held since 1981. John Rice, Banks' chief of staff and driver, is the new alderman, and he faces a field of seven opponents.

The ward contains 56 precincts, and in the Nov. 2 election the Banks organization proved its mettle, carrying the ward for Democrat John Mulroe over Republican Brian Doherty in the Illinois Senate race by 5,526-4,011, with Mulroe getting 57.9 percent of the vote in a turnout of 9,537. In 2007, against firefighter Nick Sposato, Banks was reelected by 8,094-2,572, getting 75.8 percent of the vote in a turnout of 10,666. Banks can deliver about 6,500 to 7,000 votes for Rice.

Banks' chairmanship of the zoning committee enabled him to raise $300,000 annually, and he still has $784,113 in his committees. He was a close Daley ally. Banks, like Levar and Cullerton, is supporting Rahm Emanuel for mayor. If Emanuel is not elected, Banks will be in the wilderness, and if Rice loses, Banks will be in Siberia.

19th Ward: Like Lyons, longtime Southwest Side powerhouse Tom Hynes, a former assessor and a current Democratic national committeeman, has guzzled at the trough of Daley patronage for 30 years. He backed Daley in 1983, and he ran for mayor in 1987. He got his 30-year-old son, Dan Hynes, elected state comptroller in 1998.

The 19th Ward's Daley connection resulted in a plenitude of jobs. The ward's Democrats have controlled the sheriff's office since 1987, and they raked in plenty of cash from the assessor's office, run by Hynes and Jim Houlihan from 1978 to 2010. The new assessor, Joe Berrios, who is from the North Side, will end those glory days.

Retiring Alderman Virginia Rugai, who was appointed in 1990, has been reelected easily five times. The ward's "Three Wise Men" -- Tom Hynes, Jeremiah Joyce and Mike Sheahan -- have ridden off into the sunset. Dan Hynes lost the primary for governor. Sheriff Tom Dart declined to run for mayor. Jeremiah Joyce's son Kevin, who was a state representative and Rugai's heir apparent, quit the General Assembly and will not seek the alderman's job.

The last man standing is Matt O'Shea, a veteran Rugai staffer who was elected committeeman in 2008. O'Shea is running for alderman, and he faces five foes.

This much is certain: In the post-Daley era, the 19th Ward won't be what it used to be. O'Shea will win, but the clout spigot will be dribbling, not flowing.

50th Ward: The "Man Show" used to be a popular cable TV show, featuring girls on trampolines. One of the show's truisms is memorable: If you want a job done well and done quick, let your wife do it.

That's what state Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8) is doing. Silverstein thrashed Alderman Berny Stone in the 2008 Democratic committeeman's race by 5,482-2,588, getting 61.9 percent of the vote. Now Silverstein is running his wife, Debra, against the 83-year-old Stone, who has been an alderman since 1973. There are four other candidates in the race, including Mike Moses.

Both Silverstein and Moses were proteges of Stone, but they've been estranged since the mid-2000s. The Democratic organization has evaporated. Stone's Jewish contemporaries, who worked precincts, are dead or retired. Stone's caustic criticisms of Daley didn't get him any rewards. Silverstein's base is among Orthodox Jews.

The ward has a Third World population majority, but Jews are still a majority of the registered voters. With Stone, Silverstein and Moses splitting the Jewish vote, and with none getting more than 30 percent of the vote, it is possible that a non-Jewish candidate such as Greg Brewer, Tom Morris or Ahmed Khan could make the runoff. The "Energizer Berny" is no more. It also is possible that Chicago will have no Jewish aldermen after 2011. If that occurs, many will blame Ira Silverstein for not running himself.

32nd Ward: John Fritchey married into the "Banks Clan" and was rewarded with Rod Blaogjevich's Illinois House seat in 1996. He lost a 2009 bid for Congress, but he won a Cook County Board seat in 2010. He was elected the ward's Democratic committeeman in 2008.

The alderman is Scott Waguespack, an anti-Daley independent who Fritchey helped elect in 2007 in the Bucktown-South Lakeview ward. Waguespack has no city patronage jobs, and the Daley Administration has done its best to sabotage ward services. Fritchey and Waguespack have been feuding, and Fritchey is backing Brian Gorman for alderman. Three others are running.

Waguespack won by 121 votes in 2007. Fritchey can't depend on his in-laws or ally Alderman Dick Mell to send troops to Gorman's rescue. If Fritchey can't get Gorman elected, his reputation as a paper tiger will be irrefutable.

48th Ward: Carol Ronen's reputation as a liberal reformer became laughably hypocritical after she resigned her state Senate seat in 2008, took a job on Blagojevich's staff to increase her pension, and then quit after 3 months. As the committeeman, she chose Heather Steans as her Senate successor. Steans and her husband had donated liberally to Ronen and Blagojevich.

Alderman Mary Ann Smith, who was appointed in 1989 and reelected since, is retiring. State Representative Harry Osterman, whose late mother was elected alderman in 1987, is the odds-on favorite to win Smith's seat. He faces four opponents. Ronen is toast. The next alderman will replace her as committeeman in 2012.