August 2, 2017



To farce or not to farce, that is the question. Cook County Democrats are engaged in their usual slate-making charade, with a handful of powerful insiders like Ed Burke, Mike Madigan, Toni Preckwinkle and Joe Berrios dictating who gets slated for what on the 2018 ballot.

Democrats had a farcical "pre-slating" in June, at which a few select people were allowed to "present" their credentials for the nine countywide offices of county board president, sheriff, assessor, clerk, treasurer and four Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) commissioners, with three commissioners being elected to 6-year terms and one to a 2-year term. A number of countywide Circuit and Appellate Court nominees will also be slated, but a separate committee headed by Burke does that.

The pre-slating was held informally, with only elected Democratic committeemen allowed entrance, and they sat around listening to the invited candidates speak. No votes were taken, but there will be a "recommendation" made by the pre-slaters to the full slate-making committee, which will meet from Aug. 10 to 11 to formally endorse a party slate.

"It's a farce," said Alderman Nick Sposato, the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman.

In 2015, a similar pre-slating was held to assemble the 2016 ticket. At the actual slate-making session, when the 50 ward and 30 township committeemen appeared, a motion was made for a voice vote to accept the pre-slatemakers' recommendation, and the "ayes" carried unanimously. What committeeman is going to be dumb enough to yell "nay"?

That will happen again this month, predicted Sposato. "Why even bother to attend?" asked Sposato rhetorically. "I was elected as committeeman by the Democratic voters in my ward," he said, and part of his job is to have input into the choosing of party candidates, and to work to nominate and elect them.

In the 2016 primary, 1,197,073 voters took a Democratic ballot, 720,812 in Chicago and 476,261 in the suburbs. The number of Democratic ballots cast in each ward or township gives the respective committeeman a "weighted vote." Sposato, for example, had 8,497 Democratic primary ballots cast in his ward in 2016, giving him a weighted-vote of 8,497. To be slated for 2018, he explained, each aspirant for each office needs at least 598,537 votes, which is one-half-plus-one of the 2016 turnout. "But there was no roll-call vote in 2015," said Sposato, "and there will be none in 2017. It will be another voice vote."

Sposato said that the excuse of party leaders is that there must be a "balance" on the slate, which means racial and gender diversity. If a vote were taken on each office, the ticket might be "unbalanced," he added, which could irritate some particular constituency - which would be politically incorrect.

The rules of Democratic slate-making - and this is my opinion, not Sposato's - are simple: First, blacks constitute the core Democratic vote, and white guys like Burke and Madigan intuitively know that that voter bloc cannot be alienated. In 2016 there were seven countywide offices - state's attorney, recorder, clerk of court, and 4 MWRD spots. A black candidate was slated for four of the seven. Second, you can never go wrong by slating a woman. In 2016, a woman was slated for six of the seven openings. Third, Hispanics need to be accommodated. There was an Asian woman on the 2016 slate, but no Hispanic. The 2018 slate will include Joe Berrios, who is the assessor and county chairman, which satisfies the Hispanic requirement. And fourth, white males are deemed totally expendable, and utterly without political value as candidates. In judicial races, males invariably lose to females.

In 2016, the only slated male was Tom Greenhaw, who was out of the North Shore liberal Schakowsky-Quigley-Shore machine, but unions heavily backed Marty Durkan, who won the primary for the 2-year term with 40.1 percent. Now that he's an incumbent, Durkan will be one of the "token" males on the 2018 slate. There are 9 MWRD commissioners, with three elected every 2 years. Eight are Democrats, with five women and three black candidates.

Much of the intrigue surrounding the 2018 slating was occasioned by the appointment of 21-year MWRD commissioner Cynthia Santos in December to the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB), a quasi-legislative agency which promulgates rules and a quasi-judicial agency which enforces federal standards and hears cases, as mandated by the 1970 Environmental Protection Act. The job pays $117,043 plus expenses, a nice uptick from Santos's $70,000 at the MWRD. She was appointed by the governor, as state law mandates that the 5-member board have two Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent.

The IPCB has long been a comfy dumping ground for retired and/or rejected politicians, as it gives them an opportunity to generate state pension credits while getting top pay with minimal work. Since the pay is greater than a state legislator, a plethora of ex-legislators have used a brief stay on the IPCB to increase their pension. Prior IPCB members include former MWRD president Nick Melas, who served 10 years, and former MWRD commissioner Joan Anderson, who served 13 years. Both, as will Santos, added a state pension to their MWRD pension.

Santos's departure created a vacancy, which, by state law, is filled by the governor. Governor Bruce Rauner named David Walsh, a well-connected Republican from the western suburbs whose brother was a state senator and who served briefly as an appointed MWRD commissioner. Santos's term ends in 2020, so a special election will be held in 2018 for the remainder. Walsh is not running. The last Republican to win a MWRD seat was Anderson in 1972.

So there is only one MWRD plum, as incumbents Debra Shore, Kari Steele and Durkan will be slated. Shore is openly gay, and has strong support among liberals and gays. Steele is black, and her father was once the Hyde Park alderman and is now on the Appellate Court. An intense battle is underway between Preckwinkle, whose pals are aldermen and committeemen in the South Shore and South Side wards, and who is the most powerful black elected official in Chicago, and Luis Arroyo, a state representative and Northwest Side 36th Ward Democratic committeeman, who is pushing attorney Marcelino Garcia for the slot.

Preckwinkle is touting Kim DuClet, a south side black woman. Arroyo is a bitter rival of Berrios in the city's north Puerto Rican wards, and backed Milly Santiago for alderman in Berrios's 31st Ward in 2015; she won. Arroyo wants to expend his political empire, while Berrios desperately needs Preckwinkle's backing in the black community to get re-nominated. Expect DuClet to be slated.

Also in the MWRD mix is the ubiquitous Todd Stroger, who is less of a pariah now that Preckwinkle has re-imposed the 1-cent sales tax hike that he championed, and has enraged many county residents, including the county's 700,000 LINK cardholders, with a proposed 1-cent-an-ounce soft drink tax. Preckwinkle is now known as "Taxwinkle."

Stroger may run in either the 6-year or 2-year primary. Also in the race are Cynthia Soto, a state representative from the Mexican-American Southwest Side; Brian Bernardoni, senior director of government affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors, longtime Democratic donors; and Joe Cook, a military veteran who got 15.5 percent in a 2016 bid. Rumored candidates include Renee Avila, Andrew Pucinski and Alisa Joyce. Since voters rarely know for whom they are voting in MWRD races, having a familiar surname is enormously helpful, as is ballot position and gender.

It takes a minimum of 5,000 nominating petition signatures to get on the ballot, which means 10,000 to 12,000 are required to survive any challenge. The circulatory period begins in mid-September. Expect the non-slatees to group themselves on a single petition, which means they would have to run for the 6-year slots.

Arroyo is co-sponsoring a bill in the Illinois House to establish single-member MWRD districts, similar to those of the county board. Under recent federal court decisions, an at-large election "dilutes" minority voting and violates the Voting Rights Act. The bill is going nowhere.

Assessor: The embattled Berrios is busily rebuffing charges that his office has insufficient outreach to minority communities to enable homeowners to appeal their tax assessments. Added to widespread nepotism, Berrios has real problems in 2018. Pressure from "progressive" committeemen allowed Fritz Kaegi, an Oak Park investment analyst to appear at pre-slating. Kaegi has self-funded $100,000, promises not to accept any donations from lawyers who file appeals, and has a fair base of support, as his company gives money to non-profits to "fight poverty." Kaegi will run as the "reform" candidate, and will certainly get many media endorsements. According to sources, Alderman "Proco" Joe Moreno (1st) is not running.

In 2010, Berrios won a three-man race with 35.9 percent and in 2014 was unopposed. He has $ 1,638,683 on-hand.

Sheriff: Tom Dart's fundraising has been anemic. He has raised only $1,640 in 2017. Eddie Acevedo, son of a former Southwest Side state representative, appeared. The Old Switcheroo may be imminent. Dart may file, quit at the last moment and have Acevedo take his place.

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