March 2, 2011


"Stick a fork in it" is contemporary slang for saying that something is a dead critter.

On the Northwest Side, the Feb. 22 municipal election left a multitude of dead and writhingly wounded fork-stuck political critters scattered about the landscape. Aldermanic runoffs will occur on April 5 in the 36th, 38th, 41st, 45th and 50th wards.

Appointed incumbents John Rice (36th) and Tim Cullerton (38th) barely missed outright election. Had Rice garnered 267 more votes and Cullerton 291 more votes, they would have won. Rice got 48.1 percent of the vote and Cullerton got 47.6 percent. In the 50th Ward, 28-year incumbent Berny Stone got 4,295 votes (37.5 percent), falling a substantial 1,435 votes short of a majority.

In the open 41st and 45th wards, where Aldermen Brian Doherty and Pat Levar, respectively, retired, voters were not enthralled by the incumbents' candidates. Doherty's anointed choice, Maurita Gavin, got 25 percent of the vote but made the runoff, while Levar's pick, Marina Faz-Huppert, finished a humiliating third in the seven-candidate race with just 19.5 percent of the vote. The "Lyons-Levar Machine," which has been dominant in the 45th Ward since 1968, is now a dead critter.

The "Rules of the Runoff" are as follows:

First, an aldermanic race is a referendum on the incumbent. A multitude of candidates indicates serious disenchantment. If the incumbent gets less than half the vote and is forced into a runoff, the anti-incumbent majority usually coalesces behind the number two finisher, who wins.

There are two exceptions: (1) An incumbent who finishes just under 50 percent in a large field, needing just a few hundred votes to prevail in the runoff, wins. (2) A flawed runner-up, attacked and isolated by the incumbent and unable to unite the anti-incumbent field, loses.

Second, if there is no incumbent, a well defined frontrunner who finishes well under 50 percent rarely wins. In effect, there is no room to grow. Those who didn't back the frontrunner are inclined to support the alternate candidate in the runoff.

In a non-incumbent runoff, it's all about coalitions. The ancient proverb "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," is applicable. Political calculation and opportunism prevails. Losers, calculating whom they want to run against in 4 years, decide what is in their best interest, and those with a large campaign debt often try to barter their endorsement for cash.

Here's an analysis:

45th Ward (Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Gladstone Park): There is defeat, and there is repudiation. Faz-Huppert was defeated, amassing an anemic 3,092 votes, despite spending more than $200,000, about $65 per vote. In 2007 Levar got 7,380 votes, 4,288 more than his 2011 endorsee. Levar, who was first elected in 1987, retired and embraced union lobbyist Faz-Huppert. He was soundly repudiated.

With six contenders fractionalizing the anti-Levar vote, it was presumed that Faz-Huppert would get a plurality in at least half of the ward's 53 precincts, but she carried just seven precincts, and she even lost the 3rd Precinct, where state Representative Joe Lyons is the longtime captain. John Garrido finished first in 33 precincts, and John Arena was first in 13. In the mayoral race, Levar's organization backed Rahm Emanuel, who won the ward by 8,212-6,033 over Gery Chico.

In hindsight, Faz-Huppert, the unions' "sweetheart," was patently unelectable. She started late, in December. She voted in River Forest as recently as 2009. She lacked a basic familiarity with the voters, although she tried valiantly to establish a connection with 15 mailers over 5 weeks. She did not develop a theme. All the mailers were alike, and voters resented the bombardment. Her positioning was erratic, if not laughable. She entered the race at Levar's behest, with her nominating petitions passed by Levar's precinct captains, who were none too happy. Levar's captains squired her around their precincts. Then she claimed she was not "a member of any political organization" and touted her endorsement by Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle and other "independents."

The old saying, "you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear," is applicable. Levar demonstrated abysmal judgment, presuming that union money could buy the seat and alienating his captains and his loyal voters by choosing an outsider. Levar's term as the ward's Democratic committeeman expires in 2012. Expect Lyons to take the post.

The returns gave Garrido, a police lieutenant from Gladstone Park, 5,138 votes (32.4 percent of the total), to 3,595 (22.7 percent) for Arena, a Portage Park community activist. The two will meet in the runoff -- the "tough cop" versus the "independent voice." The turnout in the ward was 15,864, just 2,739 more than in 2007. It will be around 14,000 on April 5.

The 45th Ward "is a Democratic ward," said an Arena strategist. "We will make sure people know Garrido is a Republican." The "magic number" is 7,000 votes. Garrido needs another 2,000 votes to prevail, and Arena needs 3,400. The other candidates in the race -- Don Blair, Anna Klocek, Bruno Bellissimo and Michael Fitzgerald Ward -- aggregated 4,039 votes. Klocek and Ward are from Forest Glen, now an open battleground. Blair, from Portage Park, was trounced by Arena 684-231 in the six area precincts, and he will endorse Garrido.

The outlook: Faz-Huppert's 3,092 votes are the key. Some were gender voters, but the bulk were "controlled" voters, firmly in the palm of their precinct captain. Levar won't make an endorsement, and his captains will be scarce on April 5. Do they vote for a "tough cop," despite the fact that he's a Republican? Or do they vote for an anti-Levar Democrat who, if he wins, will run for Democratic committeeman in 2012? Early edge to Garrido.

41st Ward (Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park, Edgebrook): In a field of 11 candidates, Mary O'Connor, the ward's Democratic committeeman, was always the frontrunner. A restaurant owner and an Edison Park community activist, O'Connor has been running for alderman for 3 years. In 2008 she got 5,744 votes (45.5 percent of the total) for committeeman. In 2010 she was heavily involved in Democrat John Mulroe's winning Illinois Senate campaign. Mulroe lost to Doherty by 8,302-7,266 in the 41st Ward but was elected.

On Feb. 22 O'Connor got 6,126 votes (30.5 percent of the total) in a turnout of 20,069. Gavin, Doherty's aide, was second with 5,022 votes (25.0 percent). The rest of the field, which included three police officers and a firefighter, amassed 8,921 votes. Turnout in the runoff will be around 15,000.

No candidate received a majority in any of the ward's 57 precincts. O'Connor finished first in 35 precincts and second in 12. Gavin finished first in 18 precincts and second in 23. They tied in one. Rich Gonzalez, a Chicago police officer, spent more than $100,000 and got 1,953 votes (9.5 percent of the total).

O'Connor said she had workers in every precinct, and she had three wardwide mailings. If so, she underperformed. Gavin, a relative unknown, had one mailing, and she relied on the Doherty-McAuliffe precinct operation, which also underperformed. Of the two, O'Connor most underperformed.

The outlook: O'Connor will try to make the race partisan, ripping Doherty and asserting that a Democrat should be the alderman. Gavin will stress "service" and eschew her Republican affiliation. Gavin had 1,104 fewer votes than O'Connor. In the runoff, presuming O'Connor and Gavin duplicate their Feb. 22 vote, Gavin must win 65 percent of the remainder, which is doable. Slight edge to Gavin.

50th Ward (West Rogers Park): The cantankerous 83-year-old Stone, who was first elected in 1973, got 4,295 votes (37.5 percent of the total cast) in a turnout of 11,460. That's a death knell. He got 5,059 votes in the general election in 2007, and he won the runoff with 6,015 votes.

Stone ran first in 27 of the ward's 45 precincts, and runner-up Debra Silverstein ran first in 17, with one tied. Jewish voters make up about half the vote in the ward, and Silverstein, who is the wife of state Senator Ira Silverstein, the ward's Democratic committeeman, had strong support among Orthodox Jews. Stone topped Silverstein by 4,295-3,856, with 3,309 votes going to other candidates. The outlook: Stone needs to win almost half of those 3,309 votes on April 5. Edge to Silverstein.

38th Ward (Portage Park and areas west): Cullerton had 5,823 votes with a turnout of 12,228 in an eight-candidate field. The outcome is attributable more to name familiarity than to precinct success. Cullerton finished first in 51 of 53 precincts and won a majority in 21. Tom Caravette was the runner-up, with 2,705 votes (22.1 percent of the total). In the runoff, with a likely turnout of 11,000, Cullerton wins.

36th Ward (Galewood, Montclair, Cumberland corridor): Rice had 6,743 votes with a turnout of 14,020 in a six-candidate field. The outcome is attributable to the efforts of former alderman Bill Banks' 36th Ward Democratic organization. Rice, who was Banks' driver and chief of staff, finished first in 52 of 55 precincts and won a majority in 23. Runner-up Nick Sposato, a city firefighter, won two precincts and got 3,360 votes (24 percent of the total). In the runoff, with a likely turnout of 12,000, Sposato needs virtually all of the Feb. 22 anti-Rice vote and about 10 percent of the pro-Rice vote. The appointed incumbent is favored.