Juen 13, 2012


"Retro" is all the political rage on Chicago's North Lakefront, which is home to scads of "politically correct" voters.

More than a generation ago, back in the late 1960s and 1970s, being slated by the insiders -- the fading Chicago Democratic machine -- was the kiss of death in the Lakefront wards. Battling then-Mayor Richard Daley and his minions was the liberals' and independents' raison d'etre.

Now, nearly 50 years later, a new political machine has arisen - the "P.C. Machine," as in politically correct. Along the Lakefront, only Democrats get elected. Republicans are irrelevant. Since every Democratic aspirant for congressional, state legislative or aldermanic office, and all incumbents, utter identical "progressive" political platitudes, issues are eclipsed by alliances and credentials are overshadowed by gender and sexual orientation. Diversity of personage, not thought, dominates. Political correctness rules.

In yesteryear, the Daley machine used ethnicity to allocate elected jobs. The city clerk's office was Polish; the city treasurer's was Jewish. Since the mayor controlled the committeemen and all the patronage jobs, he could decree that there be certain "Polish wards," "Italian wards," "Jewish wards," "black wards," et cetera, and that the alderman be of that ethnic or racial group. Likewise for legislative and congressional seats.

Until the 1970s, the Northwest and Southwest Sides had three "Polish" congressional districts (held by Roman Pucinski, Dan Rostenkowski and John Kluczynski), the Lakefront had a "Jewish" district (held by Sid Yates), and the West Side had an "Italian" district (held by Frank Annunzio). Until significant demographic change manifested itself, such as black in-migration, that white ethnic group kept the seat.

The same mindset prevails on the Lakefront circa 2012. There are two "gay" wards, the 44th Ward (around Wrigley field) and the 46th Ward (Uptown). Both have gay aldermen: Tom Tunney and James Cappleman, respectively. It would be unthinkable, meaning politically incorrect, for either of those wards to "regress" in the future and elect a non-gay alderman. Likewise, there is the "gay" 13th Illinois House district, which elected Larry McKeon in 1996 as the first openly gay state representative; when McKeon retired in 2006, he was replaced by Greg Harris, who also is gay. The 13th District, east of Lincoln Avenue to Marine Drive, between Devon Avenue and Irving Park Road, has become a permanent "gay" seat.

And now there's a "lesbian" seat, in the 14th District, the area along the Lake between Foster Avenue and Touhy Avenue, east of Ridge Avenue. So powerful are gay rights groups, particularly Equality Illinois, that the only two aspirants for the seat were lesbians: Kelly Cassidy and Paula Basta. No others need apply. In fact, the Chicago Sun-Times headlined its analysis of the contest as "House race sign of LGBT progress." The LGBT term stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

The "P.C. Machine" decrees gender parity. The goal: Not too many men. If a man is the alderman, then a woman must be the Democratic committeeman or one of the area's state legislators, or vice versa if a woman is the alderman. The 48th Ward (Edgewater) is a prime example: When 20-year alderman Mary Ann Smith retired in 2011, state Representative Harry Osterman, whose mother was Smith's predecessor, ran for the City Council. To replace him the district's Democratic committeemen, including the 48th Ward's Carol Ronen, picked Cassidy, who just happened to be a legislative aide to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. Cullerton is a tight ally of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who can easily dump $200,000 into any House primary for the "right" candidate -- meaning the one who will vote as told by Madigan. His political base is in the 44th Ward, which gives him a pipeline to the gay community.

And then there's Ronen, a former state senator (2000 to 2008) and state representative (1993 to 2000) who conveniently quit in 2008 so she could briefly go on the state payroll as chief of staff to Governor Rod Blagojevich, thereby increasing her state pension. Ronen is close to both Madigan and Cullerton. To replace Ronen, and at Ronen's behest, the committeemen picked Heather Steans, who along with her husband, Leo Smith, had been a very generous donor to Blagojevich.

Remember, I said "Politically Correct Machine," which does not necessarily mean "Ethically Correct Machine." There is no overlap. P.C. beats E.C. every time.

So how does one progress and prosper in the "P.C. Machine"?

First, there is loyalty. In the Daley years, loyalty was measured by deeds, not words, i.e., working a precinct and delivering votes for every Machine-endorsed Democratic candidate. Do it long enough and you got rewarded by being made an alderman or going to Springfield.

In the "P.C. Machine," conformity of thought is obligatory. The litmus test is lengthy: You must support Barack Obama, gay marriage, abortion rights, gun control, affirmative action, collective bargaining for public employees, more taxes on "millionaires and billionaires," a broadened safety net for poor people, and a ban on energy drilling in "ecologically risky" areas.

You also must oppose the death penalty, nuclear reactors, charter schools, school vouchers, Medicare or social security cuts, and foreign wars or U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (which is blamed on Bush, not Obama).

If you score 100 percent, no deviations allowed, then you are candidate material.

Second, you need to get some "clout." That's not done the old-fashioned way, by delivering 200 votes. It's done through DNA, which means a parent or relative is a political insider and takes care of you, or by donating big bucks to major Democrats, with a trickle-down effect. Steans, for example, essentially bought herself a state Senate seat. Or by schmoozing, getting close to a powerful politician or special interest group, and developing the capacity to deliver money or endorsements for other P.C. Democrats.

Third, getting slated. It's the right time for the right office and having access to money and enough "clout" to counteract somebody else's "clout."

The 2012 Cassidy-Basta primary is a microcosm of P.C. at work. Both were LGBT-certified, as both had worked for or were active in Equality Illinois. Basta, a social worker, is a regional director of a huge Rogers Park senior community center, and she had a network that could deliver votes. However, Cassidy, Cullerton's aide, had a network that could deliver money. Money won.

Cassidy cruised to an easy 5,941-3,632 victory in the March 20 primary, getting 62.1 percent of the vote. The two key wards in the 14th District are the 48th, dominated by Osterman and Ronen, and 49th (Rogers Park), run by Alderman Joe Moore and Committeeman David Fagus -- insiders all. Cassidy won 43 of the 44 precincts in the 48th Ward, taking the ward 2,758-1,782 and getting 61.1 percent of the vote, and she won all 38 of the precincts in the 49th Ward, taking the ward 2,692-1,559 and getting 63.3 percent of the vote.

Cassidy raised $207,744, the bulk from unions, gay rights groups and politicians like Osterman. Basta raised $129,310. However, according to Basta, it was union money channeled by Cullerton which was fatal. "She had four mailings paid for by the unions, which cost at least $250,000," Basta said. "I had one mailing."

In a district filled with condominiums and apartments, door-knockers are irrelevant. Mail is the key, and Cassidy's appointed incumbency (she replaced Osterman in April of 2011), coupled with her Cullerton "clout," enabled her to be the P.C. candidate.

Basta had a bitter postmortem: "The (Democratic) party bosses pick the candidates, and the only election that counts is the primary," she said. Does this not sound like a retro trip to the 1960s?

  Basta ran the P.C. gauntlet and failed. "I was the independent candidate," she said. "I was the ethical candidate." But it was scripted just like she predicted. Cullerton's clout bespoke money behind Cassidy. The specter of big bucks got Ronen and Fagus into line, and Cassidy was slated. Being a lesbian, slated and the incumbent, Cassidy got all the LGBT players in line, and Cullerton got the unions in line. Then, following an avalanche of mailings hyping her P.C. endorsements, all the civically motivated P.C. voters opted for Cassidy over Basta. The "P.C. Machine" triumphed.

Another Lakefront development:

49th Ward (Rogers Park): Before the 2006-onward real estate bust, almost 8,000 apartments in the ward were converted to condominiums, and a huge number of younger buyers (and a lot of gays) flooded the area. With transient renters who had no stake in the community, Moore, who was first elected in 1991, had a low-maintenance job. Renters rarely vote. Now, with condo owners whose property values have collapsed, who cannot sell, and who are economically marooned in the ward, Moore has a high-maintenance job. He's now on call 24/7, and every unsatisfied condo owner is a potential anti-Moore vote in 2015.

The "progressive" Moore wants to bail, preferably to a state job, such as director of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Natural Resources, but he wants to hand off the aldermanic job to his wife, Barbara Moore. If Moore resigns before the end of 2012, there will be a special February 2013 election. If he resigns in 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel can appoint his wife, who would serve until 2015 and have 2 years to entrench herself.

My prediction: Never confuse P.C. with Me-Me. Moore will quit in 2013.