April 17, 2013


Like inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke, being a "secondary loser" is hazardous to one's political health.

In any election, there are victors and vanquished. Actual losers suffer humiliation, loss of self-esteem and endless recriminations from I-told-you-so second guessers. Defeat also has significant repercussions for prominent backers of the loser, including loss of both credibility and the perception of invincibility. The Feb. 26 and April 9 suburban elections demonstrated this maxim anew.

In Norridge, such luminaries as Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party chairman Mike Madigan, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, former state senator Jim DeLeo, longtime Norwood Park Township Democratic Committeeman Robert Martwick, state Representative Rob Martwick (D-19) and state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) weighed in on behalf of Tom Benigno, White's deputy secretary of state and chief of staff. Benigno decided he wanted an after-hours job as Norridge's village president, and his backers decided that Benigno's election meant there was something in it for them. Voters resoundingly resisted their hostile takeover, and all were smeared with gobs of political egg on their collective face.

Norridge's population is 14,572, of whom 7,400 are registered voters. No problem, said the "luminaries." Just spend and flood. Benigno spent close to $100,000, had 18 mailings to 4,900 households, had a phalanx of out-of-village workers stumbling over themselves in the precincts, and still lost, getting 1,208 votes, just 37.9 percent of the total cast in a turnout of 3,213. "We did well," said Benigno, who spent about $83 for every vote received. He said that it's too early to determine if he will run again in 2017.

 The winner was James Chmura, the village chief financial officer, who ran as the candidate of the Village Improvement Party, which once was Martwick's wholly owned subsidiary. Chmura won all nine precincts, getting 1,722 votes (54.1 percent of the total), with 254 votes for Riccardo Mora.

"Virtually all of his money and workers were from outside," Chmura said. "Voters understood that and resented it." Chmura is especially bitter about the Martwicks, whom he has long supported. Rumors surfaced that if he were elected, Benigno would attempt to have Chicago annex Norridge. Chmura said that the committeeman put out a mailer endorsing Benigno and vouching for the fact that Benigno would keep Norridge "independent."

Both Martwicks must run for re-election in 2014. Chmura said he has no plans to run for Democratic committeeman but that he would "not be surprised" if the father and son have opposition.

In Park Ridge, "rooters for losers" had a banner day on April 9.  How about 33 losers in the mayoral race? That's a defeatist's -- or perhaps a psychoanalyst's -- dream. The actual loser was Larry Ryles, but 32 others also bit the dust. A total of 26 former Park Ridge aldermen, three former mayors, one former city treasurer and two chamber of commerce business honorees endorsed Ryles. Howard Frimark, who was ousted as mayor in 2009, was Ryles' chief strategist and cheerleader. Ryles' mailings hyped the fact that "100-plus years of service" endorsed him.

One would think that each of those Park Ridge worthies would be able to deliver 25 to 50 votes to Ryles from their family, friends, neighbors and past supporters, and that their aggregate renown and prestige would have some weight with voters. They didn't and it didn't. The winner was the polarizing incumbent, "Mayor No," Republican Dave Schmidt.

"I'm a lone wolf," said Schmidt, who has had 47 of his 51 vetoes overridden by the City Council since 2009. Ryles called that "grandstanding, not leadership." Schmidt has no illusions about his mission, or about the implacable enemies he has made. His philosophy can be summarized in eight words: If you don't have it, don't spend it. That meant opposing "nonessential" expenditures, including such untouchables as Meals on Wheels, firefighter and police officer salary hikes, a new $50 million police station, community group and social service funding, the city manager contract and Christmas decorations. The choice was clear: A vote for Schmidt meant no new taxes, no new debt, no new spending, and no sweetheart business deals. It was Schmidt's retrenchment versus Ryles' "progress."

"I wanted a mandate," Schmidt said. He got it. "Progress" lost big.

In 2009 Schmidt beat Frimark 4.616-3,615, getting 56.1 percent of the vote, winning by a margin of 1,001 votes, and winning 32 of 45 precincts. In 2013 he beat Ryles 5,297-3,252 (with 61.9 percent of the vote), a margin of 2,045 votes, taking 29 of 30 precincts and 681 more votes. Obviously, Schmidt's contrarian, obstreperous governing style resonates.

In Cicero, with a Hispanic population of 87 percent, U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-4) had a truckload of eggs dumped on his head. In the Feb. 26 election, Gutierrez and an army of Hispanic politicians backed Juan Ochoa against controversial two-term incumbent Larry Dominick. Their strategy: Ochoa wins if turnout is 12,000 or more and he gets 65 percent of the Hispanic voters. Dominick wins if turnout is under 10,000. It wasn't even close. Despite a third candidate, Dominick romped to an easy 5,845-3,152-930 (58.7 percent) victory, in a turnout of 10,020.

According to one Cicero observer, the outcome hinged on gangs. In the days of yore, mobster Al Capone made Cicero his headquarters, and a long succession of Cicero town presidents were alleged to have ties to the Chicago Mob. A Dominick predecessor, Betty Loren-Maltese, did prison time for financial chicanery, and her husband was under federal indictment when he died in the early 1990s. Ochoa, however, spectacularly failed to capitalize on Dominick's legion of shortcomings, which included profligate spending, crushing taxes, nepotism and favoritism.

"There may have been a few Latin street gang members working for Ochoa," the observer said, but Dominick's precinct machine shrewdly blew the issue out of proportion. "'If Ochoa wins, the gang bangers will take over Cicero.' That was the word on the street," the observer said.

It was effective. Voters concluded, better the gang that's in than the gang that's not. Dominick won 32 of Cicero's 33 precincts. The congressional district of Gutierrez, who is Puerto Rican and who lives in Chicago, includes Cicero, whose Hispanics are mostly Mexican American. Ochoa was a credible candidate, but the roly-poly gringo won, getting 35 percent of the Hispanic vote. As for Gutierrez, whose Chicago mayoral hopes spring ever eternal, the Ochoa defeat shows him for the paper tiger he's always been.

In some races, there were "secondary winners."

In Lincolnwood, Paul Eisterhold beat Larry Elster in a proxy war. In this upscale, decorous North Shore enclave, battles are not fought with feathers and Q-tips. Knives predominate. For 82 years, since 1931, the Administration (now Alliance) Party ran the village and won every election. In 2013 they almost bungled it.

Popular incumbent Jerry Turry announced his retirement in 2012; already in the race were Georgia Talaganis, Trustee Elster's candidate, and former mayor Peter Moy. Both were anathema to Alliance guru Eisterhold, who re-recruited Turry, but too late to run as the Alliance Party candidate. "Elster wants to be (village) president, and Talaganis is his place holder," Turry said.

The move of a gun shop, business development and the Purple Hotel were issues, with liberals coalescing around Talaganis. In a squeaker, it was 856-776-563 for Turry, Talaganis and Moy. Turry had 1,203 votes in 2005 and 730 in 2009. Turry's 39 percent share of the vote was not impressive. Eisterhold has 4 years to rebuild Alliance and find somebody to beat Elster, who was re-elected.

In Des Plaines, 26-year-old Alderman Matt Bogusz won the mayor's job with a solid 57.4 percent of the vote. The other winner was his predecessor, state Representative Marty Moylan (D-55), who eked out a 2,285-vote upset in 2012 and is the Illinois House Republicans' top 2014 target. Bogusz, a Moylan ally, ran a stellar campaign, defeating another alderman and a former mayor. The emerging Moylan/Bogusz machine will serve Moylan well in 2014. They are the area's Democratic Party.

In an interesting subtext, the beleaguered Maine Township Republicans scored a serious comeback. Not only did Schmidt sweep Park Ridge, but two of the three aldermanic candidates whom he endorsed won. Of contested township races, Clerk Gary Warner and the four trustees prevailed. Township road Commissioner Bob Provenzano, a Moylan buddy, will run for Republican township committeeman in 2014 -- and he won't lift a finger to beat Moylan.

In Niles, the voters' message was emphatic: no change. Andy Przybylo, part owner of his family's iconic White Eagle banquet hall, ran as the New Party candidate and won 2,768-1,599, with 63.4 percent of the vote. Przybylo, a 24-year trustee, was backed by Mayor Bob Callero, the remnants of Nick Blase's old political machine, and every Democratic politician of note. Trustee Chris Hanusiak tried to spin himself as the "reformer." No dice. He'll try again in 2017, when Przybylo will have to defend his record.

In Elmwood Park, after 24 years, voters were fatigued with incumbent Pete Silvestri. A 2013 defeat would have crippled his 2014 re-election race for county commissioner, so Silvestri retired and anointed his ally, defeated state representative Skip Saviano, as his successor. Saviano won a solid, but not spectacular, 2,554-2,042 victory over Silvestri critic Joe Ponzio, with 55.6 percent of the vote. "A lot of people voted for change," said Ponzio, who will try again in 2017. As for Silvestri, he's now in decent shape for 2014.