December 14, 2011


Remember that classic scene in the "Animal House" movie where the demoralized frat boys, having been expelled by the evil Dean Wormer, boisterously decide that it's time for one last "stupid and futile gesture"?

Now that Illinois' political filing period has closed and the candidate field is set, here is this column's "stupid and futile gesture" ranking of aspiring contenders, with the range traversing from "10," signifying a candidate who is utterly brain dead and awaiting embalming, to "0," indicating a candidate who is brilliantly astute, rational and not running.

Cook County contests: Let's give a big "0" to the Republicans. For the first time since the party was founded in 1854, no Republican was foolhardy enough to file for state's attorney, recorder or Circuit Court clerk in next year's election. How pathetic. But, then again, why bother with a stupid and futile gesture?

The former Democratic governor just got 14 years in the slammer, joining his Republican predecessor. Government spending is out of control. Taxes are soaring. But voters, at least in Cook County, don't view electing a Republican as a solution, and they are not going to punish the Democrats. The top vote-getting Republican in 2008, Tony Peraica, pulled 26.4 percent of the vote running for state's attorney. The top Republican in 2010, Roger Keats, also got 26.4 percent of the vote running for Cook County Board president.

Barack Obama won the Cook County by 1,141,288 votes in 2008, and he will do equally well in 2012. Virtually everybody who votes for Obama next November will vote for every other Democrat in the ballot. There's no feeling of "change we need."

It takes roughly 15,000 petition signatures to get on the county ballot, and the Republicans just don't have the manpower or infrastructure to obtain them. The only Republican who filed is Noonie Ward for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. However, under state law, parties can fill vacancies at a later date, so some hapless Republicans may be out on the ballot.

The same situation applies to the March 20 Democratic primary. Anita Alvarez won the 2008 primary with 25.8 percent of the vote, topping Tom Allen by 9,946 votes. Black politicians grouse that she hasn't hired more minorities in the state's attorney's office, and party regulars deem her insufficiently political. Alderman Howard Brookins (21st), who got 16.0 percent of the vote in the 2008 primary, was passing petitions, and he said he would run if he got $500,000 in campaign donation pledges. He didn't. It was no time for a stupid and futile gesture. Brookins didn't file. Give the man a "0."

Two other potential candidates, Christopher Cooper and James Koch, both criminal defense attorneys, and both strongly critical of Alvarez' prosecutorial record, failed to file, so Alvarez is unopposed. But she probably will not serve out her next term, as she is on Obama's short list for appointment as a federal judge. That means the county board will select her replacement -- most likely Sheriff Tom Dart.

Dorothy Brown, who has been the clerk of court since 2000, made two S&FGs -- a run for Chicago mayor in 2007 and a run for county board president in 2010. She performed ignominiously in both, completely forfeiting her credibility. Democratic slatemakers would have dumped her, but there was no viable alternative black candidate, and they now deem her harmless in her current job. She is on track to be the clerk for life. Alderman Rick Munoz (22nd), a self-proclaimed independent and a critic of Mayor Rich Daley, has filed for clerk, and he will run a "reform" campaign.

In the 2008 primary, Alvarez benefited from an outpouring of "change we need" Obama voters. To upset Brown, Munoz needs a similar phenomenon in 2012. That won't happen. Turnout on March 20 will decline precipitously, to around 900,000, down from 1.2 million in 2008. There are no contests to capture the voters' imagination, and Munoz doesn't have the money to advertise heavily. White committeemen will put Brown on their sample ballots. Rank Munoz an "8" on the S&FG scale. However, in defeat he still will keep his aldermanic post.

The biennial contests for the three $70,000-a-year jobs as a commissioner on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District are always an S&FG -- but somebody wins. Three Democrats are elected countywide for 6-year terms, voters know nothing about their credentials, so slating, gender, race, ethnicity and Irish surnames, or combinations thereof, dictate victory.

The slated candidates for 2012 are incumbent Debra Shore, along with Kari Steele, the daughter of former alderman and current Appellate Court judge John Steele, and Patrick Daley Thompson, the grandson and nephew of the former mayors Daley. A surprise filer was former commissioner Patty Young, the district's public affairs director who was elected commissioner in 1992 and reelected in 1998 and 2004, and who then resigned to return to her better-paying job in public affairs to boost her pension; she has since retired. That's not abnormal. Commissioner Frank Edward Gardner quit in 1999 to return to the water district's law department and boost his pension.

Also filing were Commissioner Patricia Horton of the 27th Ward, a protege of former state senator Rickey Hendon, who was dumped; Stella Black, whose daughter is married to former 44th Ward alderman Bernie Hansen's son and who finished eighth of nine the 2010 primary; and George Blakemore, a gadfly who regularly attends district meetings. Horton and Blakemore are black, and Black is white. Blakemore doesn't have the requisite 8,000 signatures, and he will be tossed off the ballot. With five of six candidates being women and two of six being black, the odds are that Thompson and Shore will win. But Young's candidacy is no S&FG. It's a smart and lucrative gamble. She's drawing her $70,000-plus pension, and she can add another $70,000 to her wallet is she wins. She has the perfect neutral female ballot name, and she has always run well on the Lakefront and in predominantly black wards.

Although there are three nominations, "bullet voting" -- meaning a single vote for one candidate -- will be epidemic. Every white Democratic committeeman with ties to the former mayor will be pushing a "bullet" for Thompson. Shore, of Evanston, who is gay and who will get most media endorsements, will get the Lakefront, the North Shore and the gay white liberal vote, and will seek "bullets." The "black ballot" in the predominantly black wards and townships will "bullet" for Steele, but some black committeemen might insert Thompson on their sample ballots, in the expectation that Thompson will be Chicago mayor one day and that he will remember.

Expect Shore to finish first, as she did in 2006, when she ran slightly ahead of second-place finisher Terry O'Brien, who is retiring as the water district president. Thompson, Steele and Young will be closely bunched for second and third place. "Bulleting" means that two of the three slated candidates will run poorly outside their base. Young, picking up votes in everyone else's base, could very well finish third.

The subtext to this story is the battle to replace O'Brien, who got an anemic 23.0 percent of the vote in his 2010 bid for county board president, as district president. With a $1.7 billion budget, the job is obscure but powerful. O'Brien raised $481,000 for his campaign in 2010, including a personal loan of $250,000, and he still owes himself $225,000. To win in 2012, with no future political prospects, he would have had to raise another $500,000. That just wasn't doable, and he retired after 24 years.

His successor will be either Shore or Mike Alvarez, who was elected commissioner in 2010. It takes the vote of five of nine commissioners to elect the president. Alvarez likely will prevail.

Recorder: Incumbent Gene Moore has been a dead man walking ever since he lost his Proviso Township committeeman's job to Karen Yarbrough in 2004. Yarbrough, a state representative, backed off a challenge to Moore for recorder in the 2008 primary, but she locked up slating for 2012, and Moore retired. Give him a "0."

Board of Review: The only county Republican office holder is Dan Patlak of Wheeling, who represents the board's 1st District, which encompasses one-third of the county, mostly suburban. Patlak beat incumbent Democrat Brendan Houlihan by 16,821 votes in 2010, getting 51.7 percent of the vote. The board hears property tax appeals, and former Commissioner Joe Berrios used the job as a steppingstone to assessor.

Patlak, of Wheeling, is opposed in the Republican primary by Sean Morrison of south suburban Palos Park, who lost the 2010 primary to Patlak by 4,493 votes. Republicans, while united ideologically, are split geographically, and the southern and northern committeemen compete with each other. Instead of uniting behind Patlak, a rare Republican winner, southerners want to tear him down. Patlak is a slight favorite.

The candidate for the Democrats will be Casey Griffin of Midlothian, who works for Moore. If 2012 is a huge pro-Obama Democratic year in Cook County, Griffin will prevail.

Next week, a look at stupid and futile gestures in the 45th, 47th, 32nd and 38th wards and local legislative contests.