February 29, 2012


For most people, friends and family are a source of love, comfort, reaffirmation and companionship. Their value is inestimable.

Not in the 19th Illinois House District, taking in the Northwest Side and the close-in suburbs. There the value of "friends and family" is quite estimable. For Rob Martwick, it's $121,625. For Sandra Stoppa, it's $3,095.

Martwick, age 46, the son of a clout-heavy real estate tax appeals lawyer and a two-time loser for other offices, and Stoppa, age 39, a 14-year Chicago police officer making her first run for office, hope to win the nomination in the March 20 Democratic primary in the race to succeed retiring state Representative Joe Lyons. Martwick, of Norridge, is the slated party candidate, and he is endorsed by Lyons and by everybody who's anybody in the Democratic establishment.

According to campaign disclosure forms filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections, Martwick raised an average of $1,250 per day in the 97 days from Oct. 29 to Feb. 2 versus Stoppa's daily average of $31.90. Martwick, whom I dubbed "Silver Spoon Rob" in a Dec. 6 column, has evolved into the "Gravy Train Kid."

Through Feb. 2, Martwick, his spouse and his immediate family have donated $27,000 to Friends of Martwick; Stoppa and her brother, Kenneth Stoppa, the law partner of defeated 2011 45th Ward aldermanic candidate John Garrido, have donated $2,000 to her campaign. Martwick, who works for his father's seven-member law firm, Finkel, Martwick & Colson, got donations amounting to $14,000 from that firm's partners; Stoppa got $1,000 from a fellow police officer.

And then there are "friends." Assessor and county Democratic Party chairman Joe Berrios gave $4,500, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle gave $2,500, a number of attorneys gave $20,625, gave Lyons $1,000, real estate appraisers and consultants gave $12,050, political action committees and unions gave $3,300, former assessor Tom Tully gave $2,500, and a gaggle of politicians (including Dan Kotowski, Lou Lang, Jim DeLeo, Ralph Capparelli, Terry Gabinski, Mike Alvarez, Al Ronan and Brendan Reilly) gave $4,900. Stoppa's only "friend" is Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant who acknowledged that he is helping her by encouraging his network of supporters to vote for her.

So why does Martwick have a Midas Touch? First, he is the son of Robert Martwick, the senior partner in the Finkel firm, who has been the Norwood Park Township Democratic committeeman since 1969 and who currently is the secretary of the county Democratic Party. Despite his obscurity, the elder Martwick, age 65, wields enormous clout in both the township, which contains Norridge and Harwood Heights, and among county Democratic politicians.

Second, according to a Jan. 29, 2010, investigative article in the New York Times, the tax appeal clients of Finkel, Martwick & Colson, primarily commercial property owners, got $177.9 million "shaved from the assessed valuations" of their properties from 2006 to 2008. Tax appeal lawyers typically charge their clients one-third of the amount of the tax reduction over the previous year. Hypothetically, that means hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in tax savings, which means the lawyers practicing before the assessor and Board of Review get . . . Well, you do the math.

According to the Times article, Finkel, Martwick & Colson was the "seventh most successful" firm during that period, right behind law offices headed by Mike Madigan and Ed Burke. In the past 3 years, when then-Board of Review commissioner Joe Berrios was running for assessor, the Finkel partners donated $10,000 to Berrios and $1,050 to his daughter, state Representative Toni Berrios.

"I am running my campaign entirely independent of the Democratic House leadership," meaning Madigan, Martwick proclaims in the Chicago Tribune questionnaire on his Web site. "I have not accepted and will not accept any assistance or involvement by the speaker in my race. I want to preserve and maintain my right to vote independently." What a hypocrite. Madigan and Berrios and Martwick's law firm are all joined at the hip. They're all milking the system. Martwick doesn't need Madigan's money. He has plenty from his own (and his father's) sources. Is Martwick going to defy Madigan in Springfield? How about N-E-V-E-R?

Getting back to the 19th District, in an interview Stoppa seemed to be spunky, feisty and energetic, and with nary a clue as to what she is doing politically. She works plain clothes for the Organized Crime Division, often on the streets as a decoy. She is a booster of all things military, as her husband is a former U.S. marine. She expresses utter disdain for the criminal class and contempt for a society which coddles them.  She is enraged that arrested drug dealers, dopers and streetwalkers are getting social security disability and state cash and supplemental food assistance. But she still thinks America is a great country.

"I'm going to vote for the average family," Stoppa said. That's not a slogan to set the world afire. She also voted Republican in four of the last six primaries. That and her lack of money are fatal.

Martwick refused to be interviewed, accusing this columnist of being "biased" and "a political hack." Taking umbrage at the "Silver Spoon Rob" appellation, Martwick said, "I will never talk to you again." Lest I prematurely conclude that Martwick is pompous and thin-skinned, I decided to recheck my facts.

First, Martwick was elected a Norwood Park Township trustee in 1993 at the age of 27, a post that pays $12,000 annually. The elder Martwick had a deal with the township's Republicans to divide the spoils. The trustees met for about 48 hours annually. That meant that Martwick (and the other five trustees) earned about $250 per hour. Not a bad gig. In 1996 Robert Martwick arranged for his son, then age 30, to run for state senator in the old 7th District against Republican incumbent Wally Dudycz. Martwick lost by a respectable 41,218-38,900, getting 48.6 percent of the vote, but one Dudycz mailer had a devastating impact: It alleged that Martwick, who was then in law school, was absent for many of his $1,000-a-month trustee meetings in 1994, and that in reality he earned "$1,324 an hour." Martwick retired from the job in 1997.

Second, in 1998, Martwick got a job as an assistant Cook County state's attorney, staying until 2004, when he joined the law firm.

Third, in 2002, while working as a prosecutor, he was the Democratic nominee for county commissioner in the 9th District, opposing incumbent Republican Peter Silvestri. He lost 50,291-43,382, getting 46.3 percent of the vote.

Fourth, in 1999, Martwick got himself elected -- meaning that he ran unopposed -- as a Norridge trustee, a $16,000-a-year, two-night-a-month gig which he kept until 2011. He also runs a political consulting firm, and he did the direct mail and design for Marina Faz-Huppert's 2011 aldermanic campaign.

And fifth, if Martwick wins Lyons' House seat, he'll earn $67,836, and he may still draw a salary from the law firm.

"He's got a Porsche in his garage," asserted Stoppa. "He has no concept as to what it means to be a working family."  Back last November, Martwick had a rejoinder: "It's a BMW, not a Porsche."

Lyons' old 19th District was significantly reconfigured by Madigan's mapmakers, adding one-third from Republican Mike McAuliffe's 20th District. The old district extended south to Belmont Avenue west of Harlem, and to Addison Street east to Cicero Avenue, taking in most of the 45th, 38th and 36th wards. The new district jettisons the area south of Irving Park Road, with Cicero as the east border. Of its roughly 110 precincts, 42 are in the 45th Ward, 19 are in the 38th Ward, 15 are in the 36th Ward, six are in the 41st Ward, and are 30 in Harwood Heights, Norridge, Elmwood Park and River Grove. East of Oak Park, Martwick is unknown.

There are two subtexts to this race.

One is the 45th Ward. Alderman John Arena, who beat Garrido by 30 votes, is seeking the post of Democratic ward committeeman and is running a joint campaign with Martwick. The incumbent, former alderman Pat Levar, resigned on Feb. 10. "I didn't want to interfere with Alderman Arena's election," Levar said through a spokesman. "I wish him the best." Say what? Are you endorsing Arena? What do your few remaining precinct captains do on March 20?

"I talked to chairman Berrios," Arena said. "He assured me that we will have Democratic precinct election judges. There is no activity, no (Levar) organization in the ward. That's why I'm running." According to Arena, a majority of the 45th Ward's precincts will have Arena-Martwick workers. Arena expects to raise $50,000 and to have four mailings. His opponents are Jacquelyn Hathaway and Jose Rivera.

Arena needs 75 percent of the vote to validate his 2011 squeaker. Garrido needs a 40 percent for Stoppa to re-verify his base and his 2015 credibility.

The second is Harwood Heights. Republican Arlene Jezierny was elected mayor in 2009. At that time four of six trustees, including Jimmy Mougolias and Les Szlendak, backed her. Now they're allied with the Martwick machine, and Mougolias will run for mayor in 2013.

My prediction: Martwick's going to win, and he's going to be the "Gravy Train Kid" for another decade.