August 9, 2017



For field goal kickers and punters in football, as well as for astute politicians, distance is the difference between winning and losing.

In 2018, Republican candidates will be busily putting distance between themselves and President Donald Trump. And in 2019, those Northwest Side Chicago aldermen who don't distance themselves from Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be at serious political risk.

In recent years, Emanuel has imposed a phone tax, jacked-up water rates to cover one city pension shortfall, increased property taxes to cover teachers' pensions, and brought in a budget higher every year than the last, with a multitude of fee and tax hikes. About the only guys that Emanuel can beat in 2019 are the two that are likely running: Chuy Garcia and Willie Wilson.

There are some Northwest Side aldermen whose separation from Emanuel is infinitesimal, and they will pay a price in 2019, when the mayor and all 50 aldermen are on the ballot. Professor Dick Simpson at the University of Illinois, a former alderman, does regular studies of city council voting, his most recent being the 32 roll-call votes from 2015 to 2016. There will be another study by 2018.

Aldermen Margaret Laurino (39th), Ed Burke (14th) Pat O'Connor and Ariel Reboyras (30th) voted with the mayor's council majority all 32 times, on procedural and substantive roll-calls. One can visualize mailers castigating them as "Emanuel stooges" who vote as they are told, not as the ward desires.

Alderman Joe "Proco" Moreno (1st) voted 91 percent with Emanuel, the supposedly "independent" Ameya Pawar (47th), who is running for governor, 87 percent of the time, and Nicholas Sposato (38th), and Deb Mell (33rd), 81 percent of the time.

Aldermen Milly Santiago (31st) voted with Emanuel 81 percent of the time, Gilbert Villegas (36th), 79 percent, and Debra Silverstein (50th), 75 percent.

At the bottom of the list, as the least compliant and malleable, are Alderman John Arena (45th), who voted with Emanuel 72 percent of the time, followed by Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), with 69 percent, Scott Waguespack (32nd) with 53 percent and Anthony Napolitano (41st), with 44 percent. Napolitano is opposing the mayor on all key spending and taxing issues.

In the good old days of Richard J. Daley up through Richard M. Daley, aldermen didn't dare cross the mayor, as he could block the provision of ward services and order precinct captains with patronage jobs to work for somebody else. Not anymore. The Shakman decrees curtailed patronage abuses. Residents now call 311 to get city services, by-passing the alderman. Money is the medium, as those with big bucks, like public sector unions, can spend millions to get their people elected. And the unions, especially the SEIU and the CTU, who do not trust Emanuel, want at least a few aldermen not under his thumb.

On the Northwest Side, there is no monolithic "Democratic Organization" loyal to the mayor. There are spotty pockets of infrastructure, such as the Laurino/D'Amico machine in the 39th Ward, Pat O'Connor's crew in the 40th Ward, and Luis Arroyo's operation in the Puerto Rican 31st and 36th wards. Elsewhere, every alderman is on his or her own. In the 45th Ward, for example, Arena survives because of an amalgamation of leftist ideology, social issues, social media, and union money; unions spent close to $700,000 to re-elect Arena in 2015. Arena voted with the mayor 43 percent of the time between 2011 and 2014, according to Simpson.

For aldermen like Laurino and O'Connor, there is no upside to being an Emanuel toady. Emanuel doesn't have precinct workers, and he will spend his $25 million solely on TV for himself. For the anti-Emanuel bunch, that positioning is innoculative. Nobody with any political smarts is going to run as the pro-Emanuel candidate for alderman in 2019. "Separation" will be obligatory. And for incumbents like Arena, Sposato, Villegas, Santiago, Waguespack and Napolitano, they will be impervious to attack, although Arena's relentless advocacy of affordable housing in the 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. project has polarized his ward, and guarantees him serious 2019 opposition.

Sept. 5 begins the 2018 political cycle, as candidates commence circulating nominating petitions, which must be filed 90 days later. What happens now in various wards and legislative districts will foretell what occurs in 2019.

45th Ward: The once vibrant Lyons-Levar machine has vanished, with Pat Levar's anointed aldermanic successor getting just 19.5 percent of the vote in 2011. Arena, who won by 30 votes in 2011 and 1,225 votes in 2015, is a "Bernie Sanders Democrat," having run for delegate in the 5th District in the 2016 primary pledged to the socialist senator. Arena got lost, but in the 45th Ward he got 6.042 votes, finishing first. Sanders won the 45th Ward 7,457-5,989 over Clinton. Emanuel got 59.2 percent in 2015.

Arena is an enthusiastic social engineer who wants to colonize the north end of his ward by building a 100-unit apartment building at 5150 Northwest Hwy., with 30 CHA subsidized units, and 50 affordable units below market price.

A group called Northwest Side Unite has been fighting the project. The project is dependent on receiving approval for low-income housing tax credits and $10.5 million in city financing. The number of CHA units reportedly has increased from 20 to 30 to help with obtaining the tax credits. A lawsuit against the project is pending, as residents have raised $40,000 to fight the project.

One or more of the Unite activists will run, as will a Republican, intending to cause a runoff. But Arena's solid support in Portage Park makes him tough to beat. Emanuel is moving left on such issues as sanctuary cities, but liberals, like unions, do not trust him.

38th Ward: the Cullerton Clan dominated from 1935 onward; now they have vanished, with their candidate getting 16.2 percent for alderman in 2015. Emanuel got 60.1 percent in 2015. Sposato is unbeatable.

41st Ward: Roman Pucinski used to call the ward a "suburb in the city." Nowadays, it's just "dysfunction in the city." The Democrats are totally fractionalized, factionalized and marginalized since Mary O'Connor's defeat for alderman in 2015 - and so are the Republicans in a ward which gave Donald Trump 42.6 percent of the vote in 2016. Emanuel got 63.9 percent of the vote in 2015.

Napolitano, a former Chicago police officer and firefighter, is a conservative and a closet Republican, and has not been reticent in criticizing Emanuel. State Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20) is the Republican committeemen, but did not back Napolitano over O'Connor in 2015. In 2016, Napolitano endorsed McAuliffe over Merry Marwig, whom he beat in the ward by 2,246 votes. Napolitano is favored over 41st Ward Democratic committeeman Tim Heneghan in 2019.

39th Ward: Laurino is the council president pro tempore, which means she presides in Emanuel's absence. She is joined at the hip to the mayor, who got 58.4 percent in 2015, with Laurino getting 1,690 fewer votes than him. Liberal Robert Murphy won the Democratic committeeman seat in 2016 with 54.7 percent, and got 42.8 percent in a 2015 aldermanic bid. Expect Laurino to retire. The succession is unclear, but Murphy is running, as is Casey Smagala, who is the director of development for the Albany Park Community Center.

50th Ward: While it has a huge and growing population, Orthodox Jews remain the dominant political force and keep Ira Silverstein and Debra Silverstein in office, respectively, as state senator and alderman. The ward's Asians, Muslims and Hispanics have yet to awaken politically, but it will happen in the next decade. Emanuel got 60.9 in 2015.

36th Ward: Once the lair of the Banks-DeLeo machine, which could field 6 to 8 workers in every precinct and raise $500,000 annually, the 2011 defeat of appointed alderman John Rice by Sposato sealed its doom. Banks quit as Democratic committeeman in 2012 and Jim DeLeo as state senator the same year, and the ward was dismembered to get rid of Sposato and create a Hispanic-majority ward. But Sposato ran for alderman in the 38th Ward, which contained part of the old 36th Ward, and the Cullertons ceded the seat without much of a fight. Emanuel got 42.2 percent in 2015.

33rd Ward: Totally dominated by Dick Mell since 1975, his legendary precinct operation has evaporated. Mell could once draw 800 people to his annual fund-raiser at the White Eagle, but he passed off his aldermanic job to daughter Deb Mell in 2013 and then got himself beat for re-election in 2016 for committeeman by Aaron Goldstein. Deb Mell will stay in office because of her hard work. Emanuel got 44.4 percent in 2015, but is vulnerable to an anti-Emanuel trend.

40th Ward: O'Connor's base has been eroding for some time. Emanuel got 53.4 percent in 2015, and O'Connor 58.4 percent. Expect him to retire and back his daughter for the seat.

31st and 36th wards: With heavy Puerto Rican majorities, a turf war rages between Joe Berrios, the county assessor and Democratic county chairman, and Luis Arroyo Sr., a state representative who took over the new 36th Ward in 2016. Arroyo is building a political empire, which includes a county commissioner (his son), both ward aldermen, and a sizeable army of precinct workers, from both the public and private sector. After Arroyo-backed Milly Santiago beat Berrios's alderman in 2015, it looked like Arroyo would take him out in 2016 as committeeman. But a deal was cut. If Berrios loses in 2018, Santiago will beat him in 2020.