July 19, 2017



If, as now looks likely, Rahm Emanuel wins a third term as Chicago's mayor in 2019, he can attribute his triumph to two unlikely people - Pat Quinn and James "Pate" Philip.

The ubiquitous Quinn, Illinois' governor from 2009 to 2015, was a longtime political gadfly, and will go into posterity as the man who reduced the size of the Illinois House of Representatives from 177 to 118 members, thereby wiping out the Republican Party in Chicago, wiping out the Democratic bench in Chicago, and making it possible for Mike Madigan to remain as speaker now and forevermore. Quinn's "Legislative Cutback Amendment" to change the state's Constitution passed overwhelmingly in 1980, but eliminating 59 state representatives, effective in 1982, didn't realize any appreciable savings.

Philip was the Republican Senate president in the mid-1990s, when Republicans dominated the legislature. Until that time, Chicago had a bifurcated election system, with a partisan election for the citywide offices of mayor, clerk and treasurer, entailing a primary and subsequent election, but non-partisan elections for the 50 aldermen, with runoffs if no candidate received a majority, as was the case since the 1930s. At that time, every ward had two aldermen.

Effective in 1999, Chicago had non-partisan primary/runoff system, with no party designation, no party primary, and a runoff if no candidate received a primary majority.

The result of these so-called "reforms" was pernicious and counter-productive. The multi-member district system, which was unique in America, and incorporated in the Illinois Constitution dating back to 1877, mandated that a state senator was elected in each of the 59 districts, along with three state representatives. Each party could field not more than two candidates for the House, which meant that every area of the state, including Chicago's black wards, had one member who was not from the majority party. That was the essence of "diversity" before diversity was even coined. Now there are 118 single-member districts.

All the Republican-leaning suburbs had a Democratic legislator, and there were 12 to 15 Republicans in Chicago from overwhelmingly Democratic districts, all whites, including the black areas of the South and West sides. As of 1981, there was one black Chicago Republican in the Illinois House. There have been none since.

Under the multi-member system, the two-party system thrived. There was at least one office that the out-party could win. It was worth the effort to be a ward or township committeeman or a county chairman. There was a job for the taking, which had a pay rate and a pension, and there was some semblance of competition, since the state representative had to build some semblance of an organization in order to stay in office.

Under the rules then in place, voters could cast one vote for two candidates in the primary, and the top two finishers from each party would compete in the general election; in that election, voters could cast three votes (called a "bullet") for one candidate, one each for three candidates, or 1.5 for two candidates. There was minimal competition in most districts, and, once elected, incumbents served for decades. The job was part-time, just a few of months per year. And the minority-party members elected tended to rise in leadership. Downstate Democrat Paul Powell, of money-in-the-shoebox fame, was speaker for 6 years, and Republican David Shanahan, from Bridgeport, was speaker for 12 years.

By the 1970s, independents in Chicago got the hang of it, and would run a single primary candidate, giving the "anti-Machine" aspirant all their vote, which the "Machine" would divide its controlled vote between two candidates. Hyde Park, then the Lakefront, and then the Northwest Side began sending liberal Democrats to Springfield. The most interesting contests in my memory were in the old 17th District, the heavily Polish area south of Portage Park to Logan Square, where the Democratic political boss was Ted Lechowicz. In 1974, Lechowicz was a state representative, along with John Leon, and also a county jobholder. Independent Mike Holewinski ran, and Lechowicz expended his energy getting enough votes for Leon so as to keep Holewinski in third place. At that time, voting machines were still used, and Lechowicz was on the second line. When the results came in, Leon was first and Lechowicz third.

Undeterred, the wily Lechowicz then got himself on the election ballot as an "independent," mobilized his organization to bullet for him, got more votes than either of the two Republican candidates, and went back to Springfield. After that stunt, the legislature passed a "sore losers" law, which prohibited any primary loser from running in the subsequent election.

Another interesting primary was in the Northwest Side 16th District in 1972, when the forces allied with then-governor Dick Ogilvie and conspired to defeat Henry Hyde, then the House majority leader, and a virulent opponent of Ogilvie's income tax. Their candidate was Roger McAuliffe, who ran the Elston Avenue Secretary of State's office. Like Lechowicz in 1974, Hyde had the bad luck to be on the second line of the voting machine, and finished third behind McAuliffe and Helmut Stolle, who were on the top line.

So intense was anti-Ogilvie sentiment among some Republicans that Peter Miller, who represented the adjoining 18th District, encompassing the 36th Ward, Elmwood Park, and some western suburbs, resigned his nomination so that Hyde could take his place and stay in the House. It was all for naught. Hyde won, Ogilvie lost to Dan Walker, Bob Blair became speaker and dumped Hyde, and then Democrats won the House in 1974.

Under the old multi-member system, it was much easier than now for an outsider or independent to win a House nomination. Back in the 1970s there were more than 30 senate districts in Cook County, each with three state representatives, with about 12 of them in Chicago's black wards, meaning 20-plus black Democratic state representatives and ten black state senators. " Harold Washington got his start running for the House, then moved up to senator and congressmen, and then mayor.

Some state representatives are chosen by the local bosses, funded by Madigan, and they go to Springfield to vote as he or she is told. If one has the temerity to dissent, like Ken Dunkin in 2016, they are purged with alacrity.

If Illinois' government is dysfunctional, and if Madigan remains as speaker - as he has for all but two years since 1982, when the cutback took effect - much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Quinn and his idea.

Philip's idea, which had the avid support of then-Mayor Rich Daley, took the competitive gauntlet out of the Chicago mayoral election, and totally eviscerated the possibility of any "Harold Washington Party"-type candidacies. Up through 1995, there was a mandated Democratic and Republican primary, with no runoff, as a plurality was all that was required. It will be remembered that in the iconic 1983 Democratic primary for mayor, Washington topped Jane Byrne by 35,887 votes, getting 36.3 percent. The total for Byrne and Daley was 63.5 percent. Had there been a Washington-Byrne runoff, Washington would have lost.

So the law was changed, for two reasons. First, Republicans didn't want to be embarrassed, with some David Duke-like crackpot winning their mayoral nomination. Republicans were getting 8 to 10 percent in mayoral elections, so why even bother? And second, Daley didn't want to fight two elections. In 1989, Daley had to defeat acting Mayor Gene Sawyer in the Democratic primary and then Tim Evans as the "Washington Party" nominee in the election.

In 1999, 2003 and 2007 Daley sailed to easy re-elections. The law change essentially guarantees that there will be a white candidate in the runoff, if necessary, which was Emanuel in 2011 and 2015. There won't be any Jesus "Chuy" Garcia winning with 36 percent, and then facing a Republican. And, when the white candidate faces a black or Hispanic, then the minority which doesn't have a horse in the race will vote for the white candidate - as blacks did in 2015 - on the premise that they want the mayoralty for a member of their race, and would rather keep a white in the job for a while.

Another reason is that aldermen can't run for run for mayor and keep their job. Under the old system, an alderman could run for re-election, since ward races are non-partisan, while running for mayor in a partisan Democratic primary. No longer. Pick your non-partisan primary, and give up your seat to take on Emanuel. That basically eliminates white aldermen Scott Waguespack and John Arena, who won't give up their jobs, although it is presumed that 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar is running for governor in 2018 in order to elevate his name recognition for a 2019 bid for mayor.

The 2019 field will include 2015 losers Garcia, a county commissioner, and Willie Wilson, a black businessman. As long as Toni Preckwinkle, the county board president, sticks with the mayor, and Emanuel raises $25 million-plus, he can't be beaten.

Send e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.