December 7, 2011


Illinois' very own "Wizard of Oz" -- Democratic Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan -- has a quaint idea: Democratic nominees for state representative should be chosen by him, not by the voters.

"It's an appoint and anoint mentality," acidly observed Jeff Smith, a Democratic candidate in the north suburban 17th Illinois House District. "Madigan picks the candidates, Madigan funds the candidates, and when they make it to Springfield, Madigan tells them how to vote," Smith said.

"I'm running to democratize the Illinois House," said Smith, who will make Madigan's thumb the central issue in the March 20 primary. In Shakespearian terms, to be under the thumb, or not to be under the thumb, that is the question. "I want my race to be a referendum on Madigan," Smith said.

Secluded behind his curtain, just like the Wizard, maestro Madigan pulls all the gears and levers, furiously blowing smoke, thunder and torrents of cash into selected districts.

In 2012, the Wizard is focusing on three area contests: The Northwest Side 19th House District, where 16-year Democratic incumbent Joe Lyons is retiring and where Madigan has anointed Rob Martwick, the west suburban 78th House District, where pro-Madigan incumbent Camille Lilly, who voted for the income tax hike and who is black and running in a majority-white area, needs a huge Oak Park vote to prevail, and the 17th House District, where incumbent Democrat Dan Biss, who was the beneficiary of tons of Madigan money in 2010, is running for state senator and Madigan has anointed Northfield Township Clerk Laura Fine.

The developing Fine-Smith contest is the most egregious example of Madigan's meddling. After 10-year Evanston state Senator Jeff Schoenberg (D-9) unexpectedly announced his retirement in early November, Biss, of Evanston, who won 14-year Republican Beth Coulson's House seat in 2010 by 4,038 votes (with 54.8 percent of the vote), promptly shifted from a reelection bid to the Senate race and cleared the field. New Trier Township Democratic Committeeman Dean Maragos, who could have self-funded a campaign, deferred to Biss.

Then the state Democratic Party, of which Madigan is chairman, issued an edict: There would be a "screening session" to anoint Biss's successor. The anointed candidate would have the "Madigan Machine" behind him or her in the 2012 primary. But there was a significant caveat: Those who appeared had to promise not to run if not chosen. "I was the only one who refused to do so," Smith said.

The so-called "committee" consisted of four 20-something state party staffers before whom the applicants had to grovel. Those appearing were Fine of Glenview; Smith of Evanston; Skokie Trustee Edie Sue Sutker, the daughter of former state representative and county commissioner Cal Sutker; Mary Rita Luecke of Skokie, the former president of the District 65 School Board who is married to former Skokie trustee Mike Gelder; Glenview Trustee Deborah Karton; and Patrick Keenan-Devlin of Evanston, who finished a close second in the 2010 Democratic primary in the adjacent open 18th House District, losing by 384 votes to Robyn Gabel.

The anointed candidate was Fine, who was backed by Northfield Township Democratic Committeeman Mike Kreloff. Madigan's money, staffers and clout will now coalesce behind Fine and against Smith. The other spineless supplicants have faded away.

"It's an insult to the district and every Democratic voter," fumed Smith, who also lost a House bid in the 18th District in 2010. "This was not a slatemaking meeting of local township committeemen or of precinct workers within a township organization. This was the state Democratic Party -- meaning Madigan -- picking our next state representative. It's outrageous and obnoxious."

A similar situation has arisen in the 19th District, where Lyons, an assistant majority leader and part of Madigan's team, retired after voting for the income tax hike. Madigan tasked Lyons with the job of anointing a replacement. Upon Lyons' recommendation, the slatemaking committee, consisting of Democratic committeemen from the 45th (Pat Levar), 38th (Patti Jo Cullerton) and 36th (Bill Banks) wards, plus Norwood Park Township Committeeman Bob Martwick, anointed Rob Martwick of Norridge, Bob Martwick's son, as the nominee. Only a sliver of the district is in the suburbs. Rob Martwick lost races for state senator in 1996 and for county commissioner in 2002.

However, Martwick has an opponent: Sandra Stoppa, a 14-year Chicago police officer assigned to the Organized Crime division. "I represent working-class Democrats, who have been sold out in Springfield," Stoppa said. Will she be under Madigan's thumb if she wins? "Absolutely not." Will she support any further income tax hike? "Absolutely not."

The Martwick campaign, which is managed by Scott Cisek, who ran Marina Faz-Huppert's abysmal 45th Ward aldermanic race in 2011, already has a Web site. It attacks Stoppa for the sin of having voted Republican in past primaries. The question is: Will voters be gullible enough to believe that "Silver Spoon Rob," who works for his dad's law firm, which specializes in property tax appeals and which contributed heavily to Joe Berrios when he was a Board of Review commissioner, will not be a Madigan flunky in Springfield?

As an aside, when I asked Rob Martwick whether, as reported, he drives a Porsche, he issued a denial. "It's a BMW," he said.

 In the west suburbs, Madigan rearranged a district which is now about 50 percent white, 30 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic. The old 78th District, which was occupied by Deborah Graham for 8 years until she was appointed 29th Ward alderman in 2010, was 39 percent black, and it contained hefty portions of the black-majority 29th and 37th wards. But liberal Oak Park, particularly the affluent predominantly white areas north of the Eisenhower Expressway, was unresistant to a black legislator, and Graham was safe.

When Graham quit, Camille Lilly, the black "political liaison" of Loretto Hospital, who lives in the 36th Ward, was named to her job. Lilly has never faced a primary. Under Madigan's remap, the new 78th District is less black, and it stretches west into Elmwood Park, Franklin Park and River Grove, losing predominantly black areas in Maywood and Berkeley and adding Hispanic voters. Mike Nardello, a director of administration in the city Department of Family and Support Services, who lives in the 36th Ward, is mounting a serious primary challenge.

Madigan has tasked state Senator Don Harmon, the Oak Park Democratic committeeman and the Senate's president pro tempore, with salvaging Lilly, who has near zero name recognition. Because Lilly's new district absorbed about a third of Republican Skip Saviano's old 77th District, the Chicago black vote is offset by the Leyden Township suburban white vote, centered in Elmwood Park, Franklin Park and River Grove. "Oak Park is the key," said Nardello, who promises to be an "independent voice" in the House. "Unlike Lilly, I will represent my constituents."

Here's an early look at the contests:

17th District: The dynamics of this contest include gender, geography and Madigan's money. Women vote more heavily than men in Democratic primaries, giving an edge to Fine. There is an enduring rivalry between Skokie and Evanston. About 19 percent of the Democratic primary vote will be cast in Evanston, in the northwest section; about a third in Niles Township, including north Skokie, parts of Morton Grove and Golf; another third in Northfield Township, including Glenview and Northbrook; and about 16 percent in New Trier Township, including west Wilmette and part of Glenview.

State Representative Lou Lang (D-16), the Niles Township Democratic committeeman, is backing Fine. In Evanston, the "Jan/Bob Machine," the political operation of U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and her husband, Bob Creamer, is neutral, as are Schoenberg and Biss. Only county Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston is foursquare for Smith.

The outlook: Fine's gender, coupled with her political base in Northfield Township, support of Lang and Madigan's money, make her the favorite.

19th District: It ain't what it used to be. The ward organizations of Levar and Banks have evaporated and Martwick will have no precinct presence outside Cullerton's 38th Ward, but it doesn't matter. In the "World of Madigan," a deluge of mail supersedes door-knockers. By March 20, mailboxes will be inundated with negative pieces about Stoppa. Her brother is the law partner of John Garrido, who was excoriated as a Republican in this year's 45th Ward aldermanic contest. It will be deja vu in 2012.

The outlook: Martwick is only marginally electable, but Stoppa is defeatable. Expect a nasty, negative campaign.

78th District: Oak Park casts at least 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote, and Harmon will exert every effort on Lilly's behalf. Nardello's base is in the 36th Ward, which has only 10 precincts in the district. Roughly 28 percent of the primary vote is in the suburbs, 10 percent is in the 36th Ward, and a quarter is in the black wards. To win, Nardello needs 90 percent of the non-Oak Park white vote and half the Oak Park vote.

The outlook: If Lilly wins, it will be because Madigan dumps $250,000-plus into the contest. Even then, it will be close.