July 1, 2015



I remember a George Carlin comedy skit about "pre-boarding." How does one pre-board an airplane? You either get on, or you don't, he joked. You can't pre-eat, pre-vote, pre-drive, pre-plan or pre-sleep, but you can, however, pre-pay at the gas pump.

In Cook County, the Democrats have pioneered "pre-slating." That means getting slated before you're slated. Almost magical. That occurred June 25-26, when the 50 Chicago and 30 suburban township committeemen convened a dog-and-pony show, wherein prospective 2016 candidates for countywide and judicial office demonstrated their capacity to grovel and impress. Thus, in August, when the slate makers formally meet to "slate," there will be no fuss. The best grovelers, the most presentable and articulate, who have the most money, will be slated. The decision will be pre-ordained.

On June 25-26, the committeemen - or, more accurately, the "insider" committeemen, like Ed Burke, Mike Madigan, John Daley, Joe Berrios and Toni Preckwinkle - made their decisions, and will dictate to the 80 committeemen as to whom to support. The "pre-slating" was designed to vet the aspirants. First, they wanted to make sure that potential candidates were credible. They want no Todd Stroger replay. Second, they wanted to know that the candidate was "serious" - i.e., how much money can he or she raise and spend. And third, they wanted to know if the candidate was a "team player." If not slated, would they run anyway? A "yes" was the kiss of death.

Until the 1980s, Democratic precinct captains spread the gospel. Now it's the post office. There are 300,000 "Democratic-friendly" households in Cook County, with one occupant voting in a Democratic primary in 2010, 2012 and/or 2014. Every household gets two mailings of the Democrats' "sample ballot," with all slated/endorsed candidates featured. The cost per piece for design, printing and mailing is 50 cents. Two party mailings cost upwards of $300,000; another 600,000 flyers for precinct distribution cost $100,000; add to that radio, TV, cable and print advertising, and the county Democratic Party will spend $500,000 before March 15, 2016. Somebody's got to pay.

Hence, every "pre-slating" aspirant is asked this question: Can you give us $35,000? If not, take a hike. There are 6 countywide offices (state's attorney, recorder, clerk of court and 4 Metropolitan Water Reclamation commissioners), plus 12-15 judicial vacancies. That's 16-19 candidate donors, and a potential reap of $560,000, maybe $650,000. That's how the game is played: no pay, no slate. The committeemen want to insure that the money is ready and available.

Here's a look at specific races:

State's Attorney: Incumbent Anita Alvarez, elected in 2008, is detested by Democratic committeemen. First, they cannot get entry-level ASA (assistant state's attorney) jobs for the children of their donors or constituents. Under the reigns of Dan Ward, Ed Hanrahan, Rich Daley and Dick Devine, "clouted" law grads got ASAs. Second, many of the male ASAs hired under Daley and Devine are gone, often replaced by a female straight out of law school, a defense attorney who practices in the 2nd (Skokie) and 3rd (Rolling Meadows) districts claimed.

And third, Alvarez has imposed a system of micro-management. Her policy is high bonds and no deals. The high bonds mean minorities are kept in Cook County Jail, which costs the taxpayers $142 per day per inmate; the "no deals" means that any ASA cannot plea bargain any case, misdemeanor or felony, but must get approval of their supervisor, which means multiple continuances, keeping the jail clogged. That was not the case under her predecessors. Unhappy defense attorneys are disinclined to donate to the Democrats.

Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle wants to reinstate the half-cent sales tax reduction, largely because of jail costs. She blames Alvarez, and her chief-of-staff, Kim Foxx, appeared before slate makers for state's attorney. "There won't be any endorsement," predicted one Northwest Side committeeman. That would mean (1) Alvarez won't be on the sample ballot, (2) each committeeman can endorse at will (and it won't be Alvarez), (3) Preckwinkle will pressure black committeemen, in the city and suburbs, to make Foxx a priority, and put her atop their slate and (4) Preckwinkle, with $280,376 on-hand as of March 31, will spread her cash on Foxx's behalf. If Foxx beats Alvarez, Preckwinkle's 2019 candidacy for Chicago mayor evolves from possible to likely.

Clerk of Court: Dorothy Brown is always underestimated - oftentimes justifiably. Critics say her stewardship of the office, which manages the county's court infrastructure, ranges from dismal to inept. She was elected in 2000, and has lost bids for mayor and county board president.
Jacob Meister and Mary Kay Hegarty are ready to run against her in the primary election. Both reportedly appeared at "pre-slating." Attorney Meister is definitely running. Brown will use the primary to ramp up her black base, and she will be on the sample ballot in the white wards and townships. That guarantees Brown an easy victory, probably more than 65 percent.

The contest has implications for 2018, when Secretary of State Jesse White is retiring. Brown wants his job; so does Recorder Karen Yarbrough, an ally of Madigan, as well as Alderman Walter Burnett, from the west side 27th Ward, where White is committeeman. A big Brown win in 2016 would give her a big edge in 2018. If both Brown and Yarbrough ran, splitting the black, female and Cook County vote, a Downstate white male would win. Expect Democrats to cut some deals, giving Yarbrough Brown's job, and Burnett Yarbrough's.

Recorder: Only Yarbrough appeared at "pre-slating." White was once Recorder (1992-98), succeeding Carol Moseley Braun (1988-92). Yarbrough, of Maywood, was elected in 2012, and is the Proviso Township committeeman; she was a state representative for 12 years, and is unquestionably Madigan's choice for White's post. But she won't be opposed in the 2016 primary, thereby getting no name elevation, and she is a suburbanite, meaning that Chicago black committeemen have no incentive to back her over Brown.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD): In Chicago's sports world, "loveable losers" exist at only one place: Wrigley Field. In the political realm, losers end up at one of two places: Oblivion or 100 E. Erie St., the site of the MWRD, where nine do-nothing Democratic commissioners pull down $60,000 annually, show up for twice-monthly 3-hour meetings, and get an office, staff, car, credit-card and a spiffy pension over a 6-year term. And if one commissioner can persuade four other commissioners to elect him or her as president, vice-president or Finance Committee chairman, then the salary is $80,000, with more staffers. If there is an afterlife, the MWRD is it.

With four 2016 nominations available - the usual three, plus the 2-year vacancy - a bunch of losers are seeking resurrection. There's infamous Todd Stroger, who as county board president got a hefty 14 percent in the 2010 primary. He needs a job, and is seeking the trifecta: A city, county and MWRD pension. The Toddster knows how to game the system.

There were more at "pre-slating": Ray Suarez, a 24-year alderman from chairman Berrios's 31st Ward, had $1,307,009 (including $850,000 invested) on-hand as of Jan. 1. He still lost. He had $1,014,200 on-hand as of March 31, so $35,000 from him is paltry. He needs a job. Suarez's "clout" is Berrios. Deborah Graham was, like Yarbrough, a Madigan favorite, but she got bounced from her black-majority 29th Ward after one term; she was a state representative for 8 years. Graham's "clout" is white State Senator Don Harmon, Oak Park's committeeman. And Josina Morita, a Japanese-American slated in 2014, finished fourth. Asians are a growing donor base and demand a seat at the table. Morita's "clout" is State Representative Lou Lang, Niles Township committeeman.

And then there's the "greens." The MWRD's task is to process and treat liquid and solid wastes, from humans or manufacturers. The solids become fertilizer; the liquids get sent to the Mississippi River. The "environmentalists," led by MWRD Commissioner Debra Shore, are booming Tom Greenhaw, whose "clout" is U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9).
Of the four nominations, two will go to incumbents: President Mariyana Spyropoulos, is wired into the Greek community, a huge Democratic donor base; and Vice-President Barbara McGowan. Scratch Graham. Two spots remain. Slated will be 3 for the 6-year, and one for the 2-year term, in separate primaries. Those slated will be Spyropoulos/McGowan/ Suarez/Morita. Greenhaw will run anyway, in whichever primary Suarez is slated, and win.

There is a subtext here. Spyropoulos is angling to run for Chicago mayor in 2019. She needs to be MWRD president then. Shore wants Spyropoulos's job as president, and will get it if Greenhaw wins. Spyropoulos's somewhat farfetched mayoral dreams may die on March 15, 2016.

E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.