August 23, 2017



To understand the political dynamics, ideological permutations and racial undercurrents of the 45th Ward on the city's Northwest Side, one must have a customized, multi-directional compass: It must indicate both "North/South" and "Left/Right."

Right now, due to the polarizing leadership of Alderman John Arena, the directional is definitely pointed South/Left. Arena is an uncomplicated kind of guy: Anybody who disagrees with him is deemed wrong, and compromise is out of the question, and those people have been described in some circumstances on his social media Web sites as a "knuckle-dragger" with "generally subhuman puddle of DNA."

The ward stretches from Nagle-Peterson in the northwest, then moves southeast to Addison-Central Park, in the Independence Park-Old Irving area, following Milwaukee Avenue, and encompassing 48 precincts on either side. The ward is divided into thirds, with Portage Park, Arena's liberal political base, south of Montrose to Addison, west of Cicero; Jefferson Park, between Montrose and Foster; and Gladstone Park, north of Foster to Peterson.

For Arena and his supporters, many of whom supported socialist Bernie Sanders for president in the 2016 primary, the area north of Montrose, in my opinion, they think is derided as "Neanderthal Park," and Arena has pledged to "desegregate" it by 2019 by bringing Chicago Housing Authority-sponsored apartments to the ward, with the 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. project being the starting point. As currently conceptualized, the project is supposed to have 30 CHA units, 50 below market rate units and 20 market-rate units. In effect, Arena wants to colonize Jefferson Park, where several large development projects are planned and where Arena supports say that NIMBY -Not In My Back Yard - rules, but not Portage Park.

There has been some serious pushback from what I again will call "Neanderthal Park," by a group called Northwest Side Unite gathering more than 6,000 signatures in opposition to the project, and hiring an attorney. It is doubtful that "5150" will be built and occupied by Arena's target date of February of 2019 for brining 50 new CHA units to the ward, when he is on the ballot for re-election. Lawsuits and bureaucratic inertia will delay it, and it seems that Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not want to be for or against it, as it could cost him votes in 2019. What is not doubtful is that opposition to and contempt for Arena is reaching a crescendo, at least north of Foster, and Arena allies like state Representative Rob Martwick (D-19) might suffer at the polls in 2018.

Nadig Newspapers recently obtained copies of hundreds of e-mails generated by the city that feature communications between Arena, his staff and the developer (see, Aug. 16). In an e-mail dated Feb. 9, Arena discusses whether state Representative Will Guzzardi (D-39), an Arena ally and liberal who is pro-5150, should speak out on the project. Guzzardi represents 4 precincts in the south end of the 45th Ward, in east Portage Park. Arena said that, if he did so, it would "beg the question" of where Martwick and State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) "stand."

"I do not want them to have to answer that direct question," Arena wrote, and that "they have to go before the voters in north precincts before I do." Actually, Mulroe's term runs through 2020.

Mulroe and Martwick, both Democrats, jointly represent 37 45th Ward precincts, all in Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park. Mulroe, when contacted, said that "a lot of people are upset with (Alderman) Arena's 'deal,'" that he fully understands their desire "to keep the neighborhood" around the project "the way it is" and "not increase density," but that he "is not going to get involved" in city zoning matters. Obviously, the senator is prevaricating, trying to sound like he is anti-5150 without specifically saying so.

Martwick is "missing in action," as his 2018 Republican opponent, Ammie Kessem, said. "He (Martwick) won't stand up for our community," she added. "Instead he stands with Arena against our community." Martwick's position is essentially no vote/no voice. He takes no position on "5150" because, he said, "I was not elected to handle zoning issues. That is not my responsibility. I have no authority, and it is wrong to try to influence the alderman." Martwick said that he has not taken a public stance on other zoning controversies.

Arena's Portage Park base, consisting of 14 precincts south of Montrose, adores him, as do the voters in Jefferson Park south of Lawrence. In 2015, Arena won all 20 precincts south of Lawrence to Addison, and all six precincts north of Lawrence between Milwaukee and Elston to Central. He beat John Garrido by 1,225 votes in 2015 and by 30 votes in 2011. Arena believes that his South/Left base can outvote any "Neanderthal Park" insurrection. After all, in the 2016 presidential vote, Hillary Clinton carried the ward 16,082-6,587, with Donald Trump getting more than 40 percent in just six precincts, all in the north end. In the Sanders-Clinton primary, the Vermont senator won the ward 7,454-5,989, or 54.9 percent, with 13,817 Democrats voting, as compared to 3,836 Republicans.

In the 2015 mayoral runoff, Emanuel won the ward 9,341-6,427, carrying 45 of the 48 precincts, even though the Arena-Guzzardi crowd was backing Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. It's likely that Arena won't be endorsing the mayor in 2019. During his first term, Arena had the lowest mayoral support score of any alderman. Arena voted with the mayor more often in his second term.
Garrido, a 16th District police lieutenant who lives in Gladstone Park, is not apparently running for alderman again. His vote increased from 6,053 in 2011 to 7,263 in 2015. His problem was twofold: First, Arena had massive support from public sector unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which, during the 2014-15 cycle, spent $407,239 in independent expenditures or direct donations, with another $218,853 donated by other unions, for a total of $625,772. Garrido and his dad loaned his campaign $58,430, which remains unpaid. Garrido doesn't have the money for a third shot.

Second, Arena's base turned out in greater numbers than Garrido's base. Arena won wardwide 8,488-7,283, or 53.9 percent, a turnout of 15,751 in a ward with 34,262 registered voters. That means 25,774 people didn't vote or didn't vote for Arena. In 2019, there's going to be a lot of people who will make sure they don't vote for Arena.

In 2015, Arena won 31 of 48 precincts, with one a tie. He was victorious because he won his South/Left base by a greater margin than Garrido won his North/Right base. The 20 southern precincts all went for Arena. Overall, Arena won four precincts with more than 70 percent, 11 with more than 60 percent, and 16 with about 50 to 60 percent. Conversely, in the north, Garrido won 9 precincts. Overall, Garrido won two precincts with more than 70 percent, three with more than 60 percent, and 11 with 50 to 60 percent. There are simply more South/ Lefties than North/Righties.

With Garrido out, there is no credible or visible Arena opponent, but that could change by September of 2018, when petition-passing starts for 2019. According to sources close to Northwest Side Unite, its strategy is to delay "5150" until 2019, and to field a plethora of aldermanic candidates, hoping that five to eight candidates could amass more than 50 percent, and force a runoff, at which time they would all unite behind Arena's opponent. It worked in the 36th Ward in 2011.

The immediate task is to smoke out Martwick, pummel him on the issues, and keep his 2018 margin minuscule enough to encourage a torrent of outside money in 2019. Petition circulation for the March 2018 primary begins Sept. 5, but Martwick to date has no apparent Democratic foe. The Northwest Side Republican Club, founded by 39th Ward Republican committeeman Matt Podgorski, recruited Kessem, an 18-year Chicago police officer currently assigned to the 16th (Jefferson Park) District.

Kessem ripped Martwick for his support of Senate Bill 1, which allocates education money to Chicago, but without strings. "They (Chicago) can use the money any way they want," she said. "The money should be used in the classroom." She also knocked Martwick for voting to defer until 2055 Chicago's requirement to fully-fund all city and teacher pensions. "It's totally irresponsible." Martwick also voted for the state income tax hike. "On every (House) roll-call, he votes like Madigan tells him," she added. But the major issue, Kessem stressed, will be "5150."

"The goal is equity," Martwick said. "Chicago pays for its own pensions, while the state pays for every other school district's pension. Per-pupil funding must be equal, and the state needs to equalize it." As for Chicago pensions, Martwick said the "ramp" for full-funding was merely extended. Martwick said he voted for the state income tax hike because "the math" dictated it. "There was a $400 million budget hole."

Martwick lost bids for state senator in 1996 and county commissioner in 2002 to Republican incumbents, who unearthed a lot of township baggage. In 2012, when former state Representative Joseph Lyons retired, Madigan providentially included a slice of the Village of Norridge in the 19th District, and Martwick was slated. He won the 2012 primary, and was unopposed in the 2014 and 2016 elections. His name ID is not high, and "5150" will not go away soon. Martwick might lose a lot of votes.

In other developments, Jac Charlier, who lost the 2016 15th District state representative primary to incumbent John D'Amico by 3,774 votes, is not running again. 39th Ward Democratic committeeman Robert Murphy, who is running for alderman in 2019, said he has yet to find somebody to take on D'Amico next March.