October 12, 2011


Remember the old recruitment slogan: "The Marines are looking for a few good men"?

In 2012, at least among Democratic candidates for Cook County office, the Marines would find barely a Y chromosome. Democratic slatemakers met in early October, and a DNA test of their handiwork reveals X chromosomes aplenty: Women were slated for five of six offices. "Not looking for any men" was their mantra.

The token Y chromosome man on their "No Man's Land" slate is none other than Patrick Daley Thompson of Bridgeport, a scion of the "Daley Dynasty," the grandson and nephew of Mayors Daley. Thompson was slated for one of three Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner slots. His candidacy was vigorously boosted by his uncle, County Commissioner and 11th Ward Democratic Committeeman John Daley, who wheeled and dealed to get him slated.

The women slated are incumbent State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, state Representative Karen Yarbrough of Maywood for recorder of deeds, appointed Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis, and Kari Steele and incumbent Debra Shore for the other two water district posts. Brown, Yarbrough and Steele are black, Alvarez is Hispanic, and Shore and Theis are white.

Women also were slated for two of the five available Appellate Court justiceships elected in Cook County.

In 2008, 1,091,008 ballots were cast in the Democratic primary in Cook County, of which just more than half were in Chicago. Turnout was heightened by the Obama-Clinton presidential contest, which energized the vote, especially in black-majority wards and townships. Turnout in Chicago's 20 black-majority wards was 302,000, and Obama got more than 80 percent of the vote; turnout in the five black-majority suburban townships about 250,000.

In the 2010 county Democratic primary, featuring a tempestuous race for Cook County Board president, with three black candidates (Brown, Todd Stroger and Toni Preckwinkle) against one white candidate (Terry O'Brien), turnout plunged to 596,147 -- a decline of almost 500,000. Turnout was 184,000 in the city black wards and 56,000 in the suburban black townships. In the contest for county assessor, with two Hispanic candidates against one black candidate, the black candidate got just 34 percent of the vote.

The primaries this year will not replicate 2008. Turnout will drop to around 600,000, at best. There are several dynamics, among which are shelf life, tolerability, credibility and viability.

Relative to tolerability and viability, Alvarez was nominated in 2008, in a field of six candidates, with just 25.8 percent of the vote, topping Alderman Tom Allen by 9,946 votes. Since then she has made no effort to ingratiate herself to the Democratic bosses. At slatemaking, black committeemen made an abortive effort to endorse Alderman Howard Brookins (21st), who ran in 2008 for the post and got just 18 percent of the vote. Responding to charges that she exerted insufficient effort on behalf of the Democratic machine, Alvarez' spokesman concedes that she "doesn't attend political events and (party) fundraisers. She's a proud Democrat but not a political insider."

Within the party, to be sure, nobody likes Alvarez, but you can't beat somebody with nobody. To date, nobody has surfaced to challenge Alvarez in the primary.

There is a definite geographic South Side versus West Side rivalry among black politicians. That was evident in slating for clerk and water reclamation district.

Brown, a South Sider, is a seriously flawed candidate. First elected in 2000, Brown's quest for higher office has ended in abysmal failure: She ran for mayor in 2007 and got 91,878 votes (20.1 percent of the total cast), and she ran for county board president in 2010 and got 83,150 votes (14.4 percent of the total), just 4,618 more than the reviled Stroger. Besides being arrogant and pompous, Brown's stewardship of the clerk's office leaves much to be desired. She faces a primary challenge from Alderman Ric Munoz (22nd), who will run as a reformer.

Nevertheless, black committeemen now view the 1,822-job clerk's job as a "black office." They're not going to relinquish that gold mine to a Hispanic politician or allow it to revert to a white politician, so Brown was reslated.

For the water district, a low-profile, high-paying post, the South Side black female "Fearsome Fivesome" demonstrated their clout. The group includes Aldermen Michelle Harris (8th), Sandi Jackson (7th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Pat Dowell (3rd) and former alderman Freddrenna Lyle (6th), all of whom are Democratic committeemen. They supported Kari Steele, the daughter of former 6th Ward alderman (and now Appellate Court judge) John Steele, who was slated. The black incumbent, Pat Horton, a West Sider and a protege of former state senator Rickey Hendon, was dumped. O'Brien, after his disastrous 2010 drubbing for board president, retired.

According to party insiders, the "Fearsome Fivesome" made a deal with John Daley: They threw their weighted votes at slatemaking to Daley's nephew, and Daley's South Side allies voted for Steele. Lyle, who lost her aldermanic seat in 2011 to Roderick Sawyer, the son of former mayor Eugene Sawyer, covets an Appellate Court seat. According to party sources, she will soon be appointed to the Circuit Court, and she will be promoted at the first vacancy. Lyle is currently representing all the sitting black aldermen in the City Council's remap squabble.

An interesting subtext to the water district battle was the position of Shore, of Evanston, who is openly gay, who has ties to the machine run by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9), and who has statewide ambitions in 2014 -- as does Yarbrough, who was slated for recorder.

Barbara Moore, the wife of Rogers Park Alderman Joe Moore (49th), sought water reclamation district slating as a "green" advocate and a soul mate of Shore, but slating two white, liberal, North Side/North Shore women was an impossibility, and Shore's strategists viewed Moore as a threat. In the primary, voters can cast a vote for each of three candidates. Shore wants "bullet" votes, meaning one vote for her and none for anybody else; that would ensure that she will run first, burnishing her credibility for 2014 and positioning her to replace O'Brien as water district president, which requires the vote of five of nine commissioners.

In the 2006 primary, Shore, as a non-slated independent, ran first, topping the slated O'Brien by more than 3,000 votes. Horton was a distant third, edging the fourth-placer by fewer than 1,000 votes. If Shore succeeds O'Brien, she'll be well positioned to run for state treasurer, comptroller or even lieutenant governor in 2014. She'll have a fund-raising base, a 6-year term, and plenty of visibility.

The outlook: Horton and Moore likely will run, but the Shore-Thompson-Steele slate surely will win.

Here's an early analysis of the other contests:

State's Attorney: Alvarez, contrary to expectations, has not been a paragon of "change." Her focus has been on criminal prosecution, not official corruption -- a task usually absorbed by the U.S. attorney. Nevertheless, Alvarez has not ingratiated herself to the Democratic establishment. David Hoffman, the city's former inspector general, was contemplating a primary challenge, but that has died aborning. Issues such as wrongful convictions, police brutality and the Vanecko case, involving the former mayor's nephew, raise competency questions. Outlook: Alvarez is favored, but only because she has no credible opposition.

Recorder: As a launching pad, the office has catapulted Carol Moseley Braun (1988 to 1992) and Jesse White (1992 to 1998) to higher office -- to U.S. senator and Illinois secretary of state, respectively. Moore has been a place holder. Yarbrough, who ousted Moore in 2006 as west suburban Proviso Township Democratic committeeman, has a phalanx of Democratic powerhouses behind her, most especially Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Alderman Ed Burke.

Darlena Williams-Burnett, the wife of 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, who works for White, sought slating. If she runs against Yarbrough, she will lose.

Clerk of Court: "It's about reform, not ethnicity," insists Munoz. "This is the most exciting race" in 2012 said Munoz, who predicts a turnout of 575,000.

"It's not a Hispanic versus a black," said Munoz, who has been endorsed by Preckwinkle, the county board president. "It's not a racial vote. It's transcends race. It's about reforming the office."

Munoz is "a lightweight," said one Northwest Side Democratic committeeman, who predicted that white committeemen would hold their nose and back Brown. In effect, they'd rather have a eunuch like Brown than a nonconformist like Munoz, and if Munoz wins, he would be a legitimate future mayoral contender.

The outlook: In the 2010 primary for assessor, the slated Joe Berrios got 39.2 percent of the vote, the black contender got 34.0 percent, and the Hispanic "reformer" got 26.8 percent. According to Munoz, the "reform" plus Hispanic plus anti-Brown black vote will give him an upset. My early prediction: Munoz will win. Brown's political shelf live has since expired.