October 4, 2017



Call it the "Dud Watch." In sports you're a dud if you don't win games. In politics you're a dud if you don't win re-election.

In the 44 years that I've written this political column, a lot of duds have come and gone, and the underlying reason why incumbents get bounced is that they have not fulfilled expectations. Officeholders who make grandiose promises, and fail to fulfill them, get booted out of office. Those who come into office with low or no expectations get voted back in. Of course, a lot depends on the office.

Those at the top of the food chain, like the president, governor and U.S. senators, are held to the highest level of accountability as to the fulfillment of promises and self-created expectations. Character and competence are paramount. And those at the bottom, such as Chicago mayor and aldermen, and suburban municipal mayors, whose competence or lack thereof affects one's daily quality of life, are also held to a high standard of performance.

Deterrence of crime, educational enhancement, infrastructure improvements and a better "quality of life" determine whether an alderman or mayor is a dud...whether he or she is a keeper.

Let's start at the top, with such glaring duds as Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Carol Moseley Braun, Dick Phelan, Dan Walker, George Ryan, Mike Bilandic, Todd Stroger and Jim O'Grady. All had been given the potential to have an impact, but their unfulfilled expectations sealed their doom. To be sure, demographics also played a part.

Voters want and expect competence and continuity. And those who do not meet that expectation are discarded.

President Jimmy Carter: Amid the stench of Watergate, and the resignation of Richard Nixon, Carter, Georgia's one-term governor ran as an outsider who would not succumb to Washington's politics-as-usual. After beating a bunch of insider Democrats in the primaries, and then the Nixon-appointed vice-president - now president - Gerald Ford in the election, Carter entered office with high expectations. "Change" was afoot. But he and his Georgia advisors thought their mandate was not to co-operate with the Democratic-controlled Congress, and to be contrarian. When inflation and a recession persisted, an energy crisis erupted with long gas lines at the pump, and then the Iranians took American hostages, neither congressional Democrats nor voters were forgiving. Carter was a total dud, and lost to Ronald Reagan 43,901,812-35,481,820 in 1980.

President George Bush: The first Bush won primarily because he was Reagan's vice-president, and Reagan was popular in 1988. He promised not to co-operate with Democrats and not to raise taxes - but then he did. The Gulf War repulsed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but Saddam Hussein was not toppled. By 1991, economic doldrums persisted, and Bill Clinton won because of Bush's unfulfilled expectations - he was not Reagan, Part II.

Governor Dan Walker: Taking a page from Florida's Lawton Chiles, who pioneered walking as a tool of political visibility, the wealthy corporate attorney trudged from Cairo to Waukegan during 1971, got reams of publicity as a "man of the people," upset the slated Paul Simon in the Democratic primary, and beat Dick Ogilvie (R) by77, 494 votes in the election. He was a non-political fresh face, and Ogilvie had imposed a state income tax. Voters expected Walker to be "independent," but instead he was endlessly confrontational, first against the Republican legislature, and then, after 1975, against Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, attempting to build an anti-Daley statewide organization with an eye to a presidential bid. Daley responded by beating Walker in the 1976 with Mike Howlett by a 811,721-696,380 margin. Walker was a dud because he refused to comprehend that there is a difference between posturing and performance. Ogilvie, too, was a dud, as he imposed the income tax in the expectation that Illinois voters would be appreciative of his courage, re-elect him, and then he could run for president in 1976.

Senator Carol Moseley Braun: After 1991's Clarence Thomas/ Anita Hill hearings, women were energized politically. In March 1992, Braun launched the "Year of the Woman" by upsetting incumbent Alan Dixon, and rode a wave of adulation and notoriety to a 504,396-vote election win. But she thought she was beyond scrutiny. Trips to Africa with her lobbyist boyfriend, fabricating documents to get her mother on Medicaid for a nursing home, flying around in an SST, thinking that her celebrity status meant that she didn't need to perform - she failed to fulfill her glorious expectations. In 1998, against an uninspiring Republican, she proved a dud and lost by 98,545 votes.

County Board President Dick Phelan: He was Dan Walker, Part II. A wealthy trial attorney, Phelan saturated TV with ads proclaiming his "independence," and topped Stanley Kusper, Ted Lechowicz and Gene Pincham in the primary with 39 percent. From Day One, his eye was on the governorship in 1994, and his priority was generating headlines, not governing. Voters quickly soured. When Phelan ran statewide in 1994, he got 36.5 percent, losing to Dawn Clark Netsch.

Mayor Mike Bilandic: After Daley's 1976 death, Bilandic, the 11th Ward (Bridgeport) alderman and Daley's council floor leader, was chosen as the successor. There was little controversy. Chicagoans were spoiled by Daley, who was a competent mayor who made the city grow and delivered services, even with blips like the 1968 Democratic convention. In 1977 Bilandic beat Roman Pucinski with 51.6 percent in the special primary. But then the torrential snows fell in the winter of 1978-79, and despite mountainous resources failed to clear mountainous snow from city streets. Jane Byrne went from a nuisance candidate to a protest candidate, beating Bilandic by 397,129-382,544, a margin of 14,585 votes. Any Chicago mayor who can't win re-election is a super-dud, and that also applies to acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer, who couldn't beat Richard Daley in 1989.

Sheriff Jim O'Grady: Up until 1974, a county sheriff was term-limited. The racially polarizing Washington-Vrdolyak council wars pushed some Democrats into the Republican Party. O'Grady beat Dick Elrod in 1986, but when normalcy returned, O'Grady lost in 1990.

The same template applies to Chicago aldermen. At present, an incumbent has $6.2 million in resources to service his or her constituency, plus an unlimited amount of donations from city businesses and citizens. That includes $1.32 in "menu" funds, an annual appropriation for wardwide infrastructure improvements, including streets, sidewalks, alleys and trees; plus $80,000 annually for office expenses and rent, $190,000 annually in staff salaries, $468,000 in a direct aldermanic stipend over 4 years, plus the ability to raise $50-200,000 a year in campaign contributions. An alderman's job is that of a referral agency: To refer a constituent's problem to the appropriate city agency. But a lot of people have learned to dial 311 and going direct to the department in question. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. And aldermen can't dictate or control the delivery of the requested service.

Such matters as school over-crowding and police presence are beyond the alderrman's control. Nevertheless, given an alderman's resources, there is no excuse for any alderman to lose. Yet many have proven to be duds.

John Rice: He lives in infamy. The driver of Alderman Bill Banks, he got appointed to succeed his boss in 2009 in the 36th Ward, which was dominated by the Banks-DeLeo machine since the 1980s. As Zoning Committee chairman, Banks raised $500,000-plus annually, as did Jim DeLeo, the local state representative. Rice had two years to entrench himself, and $1 million to spend, but still managed to lose to Nick Sposato 5,651-4,423 in the 2011 runoff. With spot-zoning proliferating throughout the ward, anti-Banks sentiment made Rice the perfect dud.

Mary O'Connor: It takes a real effort to lose a re-election bid in the far Northwest Side 41st Ward, but O'Connor was up to the task. She won in 2011 by 250 votes but lost in 2015 by 615 votes to Anthony Napolitano. Going back to 1947, the only other 41st Ward alderman to lose was Harry Bell in 1959. Given her slavish support of the unions and Mayor Emanuel, O'Connor's loss made her another mega-dud.

Dick Clewis and Gerry McLaughlin: A Tom Lyons 45th Ward loyalist, Clewis was slated for state senator in 1976, won, got defeated for re-nomination in 1978, was Lyon's choice for alderman in 1979, won, and then lost for re-election in 1983. The 45th Ward went for Rich Daley in the 1983 Byrne-Daley-Washington primary, and Clewis then endorsed white Republican Bernard Epton over Washington. Chicago cop McLaughlin beat Clewis 16,893-14,573, even though Epton won the ward 31,737-2,376. That's a double-dud for Clewis.

The arrangement was that, after Byrne's re-election, Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Donovan would take out Lyons for Democratic committeeman in 1984. But Byrne lost, both Donovan and McLaughlin ran against Lyons, who won with 48 percent; in 1987, Lyons-backed Pat Levar beat McLaughlin for alderman 15,615-10,950. Lyons was back.

Sol Gutstein and Ivan Rittenberg: The 40th Ward was once a battleground between Jews, Greeks, Germans and Irish, with Jews ascendant until the 1960, with Seymour Simon as alderman. Chaos ensued when Simon departed to be county board president, got dumped in 1966, returned as alderman in 1967, and then got a judgeship in 1974. His aldermanic successor was Gutstein, who was defeated by cop Rittenberg in 1979, who was defeated by Pat O'Connor in 1983, who is still alderman.