April 24, 2013


The greatest humiliation in politics is not necessarily losing, or even losing overwhelmingly; rather, it's losing when you're supposed to win.

Such events are called "mortification elections," and they occurred in 2013 in suburban Oak Park, Maywood, Schiller Park and Morton Grove. They are differentiated from three other types:

A "validation election," in which the incumbent or the incumbent's party is re-elected by a healthy percentage which exceeds the margin secured previously. That occurred in Park Ridge, Cicero, Arlington Heights, Harwood Heights, Roselle and Wheeling.

A "benediction election," in which the incumbent is unopposed. It's a Soviet Union-style situation in which the "people's choice" wins by acclamation, since there's nobody else on the ballot. That occurred in Rosemont, Berwyn, Skokie, Evanston, River Grove and Northlake.

A "temptation election," in which voters are tempted to effect change, but the incumbent, using all the power of office, plods and stumbles to an unimpressive victory. Voter dissonance is clearly demonstrated, foretelling defeat 4 years' hence. That occurred in Franklin Park and Elmwood Park.

Here's an analysis:

Oak Park: One truism of American politics is that liberals constantly grow ever more liberal and conservatives grow ever less conservative. This west suburban enclave is not only ahead of the curve, it actually creates the curve. Voters in Oak Park are beyond mere liberal; they inhabit a political netherworld where nonconformism is conformity, where outrageousness is normality, and where the leftist, politically correct denizens of Manhattan or San Francisco look positively tame by comparison. How about a Palestinian as the mayor of Tel Aviv? Never. But a Palestinian as the mayor of Oak Park? It's a done deal.

On April 9, in a predictably monumental upset, Anan Abu-Taleb, a local restaurateur, thrashed the vaunted political machine of state Senator Don Harmon, the Oak Park township Democratic committeeman, and breached the hegemony of the long-dominant Village Manager Association, the so-called "revolutionary peoples' commune" which every election cycle finds some bleeding hearts to run the town, who usually run unopposed. Their 2013 candidate, John Hedges, ran as the Oak Park Together Party candidate.

Back in the 1950s, during the Eisenhower years, Oak Park was an upscale, nearly all-white bastion of genteel Rockefeller Republicanism. Even in 1972, the year that George McGovern and the New Left captured the national Democratic Party, the Nixon-Agnew ticket won Oak Park 20,557-10,724 and the village had a Republican state representative, Vince Malloy. However, abetted by racial change, Oak Park's leftward lurch was well under way.

Consisting of a perfect rectangle, abutting Chicago to the north and east, Oak Park runs from North Avenue to Roosevelt Road between Harlem Avenue and Austin Avenue. Spacious 1920s-built homes on generous lots on leafy streets predominate north of Washington Street, but the south end of the town, along the Eisenhower Expressway, primarily with apartments and scruffy frame homes, was almost entirely black by the 1970s. So was the Austin neighborhood, just to the east in Chicago. Oak Park became an integrated community; minorities were much in evidence. Predictably, many affluent conservative whites bothered by this proximity and scenario, and fearful of crime, moved out -- or didn't move in, opting for Lombard, Hinsdale or Wheaton in DuPage County. Predictably, affluent unbothered liberals moved in.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan topped Jimmy Carter 11,645-10,860 in the village, but almost 10,000 1972 Republican votes had disappeared. In the race for Cook county state's attorney, the perceived independent candidate, Republican Bernard Carey, beat Democrat Rich Daley 17,592-9,182. Clearly, an anti-Chicago Machine bias had developed. By 2000 the transformation was complete. In the Bush-Gore presidential race, it was 18,008-5,783 for the Democrat. Another 5,000 1980 Republican votes had vanished.

The 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary was a seminal event. Would white liberals vote for a black candidate? You betcha. In Oak Park, it was a litmus test. If you didn't vote for Barack Obama, you were a shameful heretic, worthy of being exiled. Obama got an astounding 10,340 votes (87.6 percent of the total), to the rest of the field's 1,463. Obama won the 2008 presidential race in the village over John McCain 24,500-4,271, getting 84.3 percent of the vote, and he won the 2012 contest over Mitt Romney 23,267-4,405, with 82.5 percent of the vote. Blame Obama for poor economic growth? Not a chance. The Obama vote was down a minuscule 1,233.

In the 2012 78th District Democratic primary for state representative, Mike Nardello, a white man who lives in the adjacent Galewood-Montclare area, challenged appointed black incumbent Camille Lilly, whose political base is in Austin in the 29th Ward. Nardello, who campaigned heavily in Oak Park, got 22 percent of the vote.

If there are any non-liberals left in Oak Park, they're hiding under a rock.

According to the 2010 census, Oak Park's population of 51,878 is 22 percent black. There are 35,578 registered voters, of whom 8,112 voted on April 9. Oak Park has had a 45-year succession of nondescript and undistinguished white mayors: David Pope, Joanne Trapani, Barbara Furlong, Larry Christmas, John Philbin, Clifford Osborn, Sara Bode, Jim McClure and John Gearen. None had the talent to progress to a higher office. Hedges, the insiders' Village Manager Association candidate, was supposed to be a lock to win on April 9. Harmon did nothing to assist him. Both were humiliated and mortified.

Abu-Taleb who spent $40,000, won 32 of Oak Park's 38 precincts and topped Hedges, who spent $22,000, 4,674-3,324, getting 58.4 percent of the vote. Like "Star Trek," Oak Park is the final leftmost frontier. If an LGBT candidate had run to succeed Pope, he or she would have won, but electing a native of the Gaza Strip is the next best statement.

Schiller Park: Try, try again. For Barb Piltaver, a newspaper publisher with a reputation as a gadfly, the third time's the charm. If Hollywood scripted a sequel to the hit movie "Dumb and Dumber," the locale would have to be Schiller Park, circa 2013.

Piltaver, who lost in 2009 by 418 votes, is leading incumbent Anna Montana by 18 votes. A recount is under way. Schiller Park has a population of 11,793, and Montana, a Republican, has been the village president since 2001. According to state records, she had $198,065 in her campaign account as of Dec. 31, 2012, including an "investment" of $152,943. As of April 1, 2013, she had raised $23,380 and spent $21,502.

Leyden Township Republican bigwigs, especially Committeeman (and Rosemont Mayor) Brad Stephens, are understandably appalled. Spend it, don't sit on it. That's the purpose of campaign money. It's not a retirement account. Montana's electoral base has been evaporating for a decade. She got 1,380 votes in 2009 and 1,186 in 2013, and, despite that trend, she left more than $150,000 unspent in her account. I expect she will sue her campaign manager for malpractice -- or for mortification.

In a prior column, I disparaged Piltaver as a "goody-goody" candidate with nary a clue of how to win. I was wrong. She was well known, she had a following and she kept trying, and there was fatigue with Montana.

 Maywood: It's deja vu all over. Kiss it goodbye. The shadow of Gene Moore, rather than Carol Moseley Braun and Jesse White, has suffused west suburban, predominantly black, Proviso Township. Karen Yarbrough's blossoming career is likely over.

Yarbrough, a protege of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, was elected the Cook County recorder of deeds in 2012, becoming the fourth African American to occupy what is now deemed by Democratic insiders to be a "black office" - meaning no white candidate will ever win it. Braun, White and Moore were her predecessors. Yarbrough, whose base is Maywood, was a state representative from 2001 to 2012, and she ousted Moore as the Proviso Township Democratic committeeman in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. She was unopposed in the 2012 recorder primary, after Moore retired. Her husband, Henderson Yarbrough, was elected Maywood's mayor in 2005, thereby solidifying her Proviso base.

According to Democratic insiders, a titanic battle looms between Karen Yarbrough and Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) to succeed White as Illinois secretary of state in 2018. Burnett is White's protege.

However, on April 9 Yarbrough's 2018 road map hit a serious speed bump.  Proviso's politics of erosion, as typified by Moore, erupted again. In Maywood, Henderson Yarbrough lost to Edwina Perkins by 134 votes. In a field of five candidates, he got only 996 votes, just 33.3 percent of the total. An 8-year incumbent whose spouse is a countywide office holder getting barely a third of the vote? That's pathetic.

Expect the White/Burnett forces to make Proviso Township a 27th Ward adjunct. They will ally with Perkins, dispatch patronage, and build their own organization. They will field a black opponent to Karen Yarbrough in 2016 and oppose her for committeeman in 2018. She has shown mortifying weakness.

Franklin Park: The voters' temptation was there. The good news for Village President Barrett Pedersen is that he got 1,551 votes on April 9, 69 more than in 2009, and he wasn't ousted. The bad news is that, after 4 years in office, he got only 52.4 percent of the vote. His principal opponent, Juan Acevedo, got 41 percent, and he will run again.

Acevedo tapped into Franklin Park's growing Hispanic population and was aided by the remnants of former mayor Dan Pritchett's organization. In 2009, in a turnout of 3,824, Pedersen got 38.8 percent of the vote, to 34.5 percent for Pritchett. Turnout was down by 864. Bye-bye Barrett looks likely in 2017.