March 14, 2017



The good news is that the March 20 primary is imminent. It's an opportunity to throw some rascals out. The bad news is that voters also have to vote some other rascals in.

Were Illinois more creative, like Nevada, there would be a ballot line for "None of the above," which customarily draws 5 to 10 percent in that state. This year, in Illinois' and Cook County's primary contests, "None of the above" would draw upwards of 30 percent.

"It's really hostile out there," said Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, whom I saw at a March 3 fund-raiser. "People are not just angry" with the political status quo, she said. "They are absolutely disgusted." The least-liked officeholders, she said, are Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Speaker Mike Madigan, and County Board president Toni Preckwinkle. Surprisingly, hostility toward President Donald Trump and Governor Bruce Rauner is less intense, she said.

Pappas has been treasurer since 1998, and her office collects county property taxes, which were due starting on March 1 for tax year 2017. Her office encourages property owners to pay on-line or at Chase Bank. But there are those recalcitrants who still come to her county building office to pay in person. "This year," she said, "they are especially unhappy."

At the same event, I encountered state Senator Don Harmon, the Illinois Senate Pro Tem, the Oak Park Township Democratic committeeman, and outspoken an "progressive."

"We need a governor we can work with," said Harmon, pointing a finger at Rauner. Wait a minute, I said, didn't the Democrats have legislative majorities from 2002 onward, and weren't there Democratic governors - Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn - for 12 years from 2002 to 2014? Why weren't many of the state's problems today - like underfunded pensions, unpaid vendors, and unbalanced budget - solved when those guys were in control? This is exactly the kind of inanity that, as Pappas says, thoroughly disgusts voters. Nobody takes responsibility for their actions, or, most frequently, for their inactions. Just blame it on somebody else - and get re-elected.

But the Democratic establishment remains optimistic. Their putative solution can be summed up in to words: Vote suppression. The lower the turnout, the better the chances of their candidates, especially in judicial contests and the Berrios-Kaegi and Preckwinkle-Fioretti contests for assessor and county board president. There are 2.5 million registered voters in Cook County. In 2010, turnout in the Democratic primary was 24.7 percent in Chicago and 7.3 percent in the suburbs; and in 2014, it was much less. The key to winning in 2018 is to stay under-the-radar, working under the premise that if nobody knows you, then they have no reason to vote against you. A couple of Northwest Side Chicago contests will test that theory.

19TH HOUSE DISTRICT: Democrat Rob Martwick inherited Joe Lyons' sinecure as state representative in 2012, at a time when the 45th Ward Lyons "machine" had collapsed. After the first primary, in which Martwick won with 56.9 percent, he has skated to unopposed re-nominations and re-elections. 23-year Chicago police patrol officer Jeff La Porte is challenging Martwick on March 20, and is blasting the incumbent on several fronts, portraying himself as a "normal middle-class" person who is "not a politician." He rips Martwick as a "tax attorney" with ties to Joe Berrios, inasmuch as his dad's law firm (which employs Martwick) engages in property tax appeal work, and has donated heavily to Berrios over the years. La Pore said that Martwick "voted for the Madigan state income tax increase" and "votes like Madigan tells him." He also notes that Martwick has "over a half-million (dollars) in his campaign account. Why and from where is he getting that kind of money?" A check of Martwick's D-2s from the state Board of Elections showed that he raised $573,458 during 2017 and had $590,136 on-hand as of Dec. 31.

But La Porte is most emphatic about Martwick's refusal to take a stand on the 5150 N. Northwest Highway rezoning and proposal to build low-income housing, which facilitates the ambitions of Martwick's ally, Alderman John Arena (45th), to - as he himself said - "desegregate" his ward.

"Over 6,000 people signed petitions in opposition" to the project, La Porte said. If elected, he promised to "be in touch with" his constituents and to "vote in a way that best serves the community." Martwick, he said, "is not a good fit" for the district. Echoing Pappas, La Porte concurred that voters "are really disgusted with their officeholders."

La Porte has had four district-wide mailings to what are called "hard D's," meaning households that regularly vote in Democratic primaries, amounting to 16,500 mailers plus another 5,000 pieces distributed door-to-door. Thus far, he has raised and spent $11,000, which Martwick decries as "Rauner money."

The governor, Martwick said, is "trying to buy" my (House) "seat," citing money "going to La Porte" from Dan Proft's Liberty PAC and the Illinois Opportunity Project. In November, the Republican candidate will be Ammie Kessem, a Chicago police officer.

In rebuttal, Martwick said, "it took 40 years to get here," meaning the current Springfield impasse. "There is no easy way out." Under Rauner, he said, the "train is off the tracks. We are spending $16 billion more than we have. We need to balance the budget. We need to pay our vendors. We need to reduce our debt. We need to make property taxes lower" and not use those revenues to "fund the pension systems."

The solution, Martwick said, is to have a constitutional amendment that will impose a graduated income tax, ranging from 3 to 7.5 percent, beginning on those whose incomes are $250,000 and range higher.

"We can use that revenue to restructure our debt, reduce property taxes, and fund education and pensions," Martwick said. As for the state's $117 billion unfunded pension shortfall, that can be cured, Martwick said, by "discounted pension debt buyouts." Martwick is also the sponsor of a bill to impose an elected school board in Chicago, which passed both chambers in different forms.

The 19th District contains 95 precincts in 6 wards and 2 suburban townships, the bulk being in the 45th Ward (38) and the 38th Ward (28), where Martwick is now Democratic committeeman.
Outlook: La Porte is tapping into former 45th Ward aldermanic candidate John Garrido's network, the police vote, and the anti-5150 crowd. "Martwick's been out there," said Casey Smagala, a 2019 39th Ward aldermanic candidate. "He is a presence at block parties and local events. People know him." Prediction: Martwick will win 60-40.

12TH COUNTY BOARD DISTRICT: Incumbent commissioner John Fritchey has had a comfy political career. 2018 will be Fritchey's first non-comfy electoral contest, and he may well lose to Bridget Degnen, who is hyping herself as an environmental engineer. Martwick and Arena have endorsed her.

Fritchey's predecessors in the Chicago 12th District, which contains 263 Chicago precincts in 13 wards and runs roughly from Wicker Park through Portage Park to Edgebrook and Sauganash, were Ted Lechowicz and Forrest Claypool, whom Fritchey succeeded in 2010.

Fritchey's political rise is wholly attributable to marrying well, much like Blagojevich. In 1992, when a new Illinois House district was created around Alderman Dick Mell's 33rd Ward, son-in-law Blagojevich got slated and elected. In 1996, after a Republican won Dan Rostenkowski's U.S. House seat in 1994, Mell pushed "The Kid" for the job, and allegedly made a deal with Alderman William Banks and the 36th Ward Banks-DeLeo "machine." They would back Blagojevich in the primary in exchange for Mell inserting Fritchey, a lawyer who was then married to the daughter of Sam Banks, Bill's brother, into Blagojevich's House seat. Rod went to Washington and John to Springfield. That's how Chicago politics works - or did work.

Now that the Mell and the Banks machines are history, Fritchey is no longer an in-law, and he is on his own. Fritchey was elected the 32nd Ward Democratic committeeman in 2008, which gives him some base. As commissioner, Fritchey has been a consistent and persistent critic of Preckwinkle, especially on the soda penny-per-ounce tax issue. In prior years, Fritchey's fund-raising has been anemic. But he stepped it up, raising $123,175 during 2017, and had $86,701 on-hand as of Dec. 31. The question, going into 2018, is whether he can reintroduce himself?

Fritchey was an early and adamant opponent of Preckwinkle's sales tax hike and soda tax imposition. But, like Martwick, he has never really defined himself - which, of course, makes him definable by his opponent, and Degnen is characterizing him as a lobbyist and part-timer, claiming that she would be a full-timer.

With 57 precincts in the 45th and 39th wards, and only 62 in his 32nd and 47th ward base, Fritchey is in jeopardy. He has to spend money to introduce himself, which he is doing. Prediction: The Fritchey name is not familiar in the West End, and Fritchey has churned out a bunch of mailers emphasizing his anti-Preckwinkle stances. He will win, albeit narrowly.

8TH SENATE DISTRICT: Buffeted by allegations of alleged sexual harassment, state Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8) was found by the legislative Inspector General to have engaged in "unbecoming conduct" through his e-mails to a lobbyist. His principal opponent, Ram Villavalam, has been using the particularly "unbecoming" quotes from the transcripts in his direct mail. Silverstein has been going positive in his mailers trying to re-introduce himself. It may be too late.