April 4, 2018



The late baseball icon Yogi Berra once said that "It ain't over till it's over," and while the Northwest Side 45th Ward aldermanic election is still less than 11 months away, the March 20 Democratic primary results do not bode well for those who fervently want to eradicate Alderman John Arena.

In the 19th Illinois House District, where Arena ally Rob Martwick sought renomination as state representative, Martwick won in the city and county 9,294-4,540 and crushed Jeff La Porte 4,049-2,108, 65.8 percent in the 45th Ward, carrying 37 of the 37 precincts which are mostly within Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park, with La Porte's best results in the ward's far north end. The ward's remaining 11 precincts, located in Portage Park and Old Irving, are in state Representative Will Guzzardi's 39th District. Guzzardi is an Arena ally.

In the 12th District of Cook County, where incumbent Commissioner John Fritchey was seeking renomination, the Arena-Martwick Combine, along with the public sector unions, backed Bridget Degnen, who won 23,591-19,026 and, in the 32 45th Ward precincts in the district, won 3,065-2,494, carrying 27 precincts.

In the 10th judicial subcircuit, where two Circuit Court judges were to be chosen, the Arena-Martwick Combine backed appointed Judge Stephanie Saltouros, who resides in the 45th Ward, for the Burke vacancy, against Lorraine Murphy and Gwyn Ward Brown. Saltouros won district wide 25,248-12,800-6,165, and won in the 47 45th Ward precincts 3,830-2,237-841, getting a plurality in all but one precinct.

The ward's anti-Arena forces, led by Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido, who lost to Arena in the 2011 and 2015 runoffs, profess not to be discouraged. Anti-Arena forces are allied with Northwest Side Unite, a group opposing the 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. project, a 100-unit affordable housing edifice which is the first step in Arena's plans to "desegregate" the 45th Ward. The anti-Arena alliance backed La Porte, Fritchey and Murphy. It's strategy was not necessarily to win but rather to identify and get anti-Arena voters "organized," with the next step being the campaign of Ammie Kessem, a Chicago cop recruited by Garrido and Northwest Side GOP chairman Matt Podgorski to run as a Republican against Martwick. It seems, that ultimately, one of the goals is to have a precinct organizations in place to take on Arena in 2019.

Without question, a number of voters in the 45th Ward have a negative opinion about the alderman. They want to get him out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and out of the Chicago City Council in 2019. The March 20 results are not auspicious.

Arena was elected by 6,083-6,053, a margin of 30 votes in 2011, and re-elected by 8,488-7,263, a margin of 1,225 votes in 2015, both times in a runoff with Garrido, and both times with massive infusions of public sector union money, like more than $700,000 per election. Arena is the most "progressive" of the council's Progressive Caucus, has been generally critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and his personal philosophy can be succinctly summarized as follows: I'm right, you're wrong if you disagree with me, and if you do then you're intellectually-challenged. On social media he calls those "racist, classist, knuckle-dragging and generally subhuman puddle of DNA that makes up the base of Trump supporters."

Now that the 2018 primary is over, Democrats can focus on the main event in Chicago politics: the mayoral and aldermanic elections in February and April 2019. And there are a number of people in the 45th Ward who take umbrage with Arena's polarizing policies and rhetoric. City workers are especially enraged that Arena has turned over their social media postings in opposition to that project to the city Inspector General. A police report was recently filed against Arena for "cyberstalking" a police officer. The 45th Ward has become a "Non-Free Speech Zone." "Just Say No" to the First Amendment. And "Just Say Yes" to the alderman.

The ward runs roughly from Peterson to Addison, between Cicero and Nagle, with some parts past Pulaski. It comprises three distinct politically and economically divergent neighborhoods: The affluent and ideologically liberal Portage Park, in the south end, which is Arena's base, extends from Montrose south to Addison, and contains 14 precincts. The more middle-class and conservative Gladstone Park in the north end, where Donald Trump received 35 to 40 percent vote in 2016 and where a lot of cops and firefighters reside, extends from Foster along Elston to Peterson, and west of Central to beyond Nagle, and contains 24 precincts. And Jefferson Park, sandwiched between Foster and Montrose, east of Central, with a sizeable number of rental units, contains 10 precincts. Arena twice beat Garrido because he won his Portage Park base by a greater margin (55 to 60 percent) than Garrido won his Gladstone Park base (about 55 percent), and Jefferson Park went for Arena by a slight margin. In the 2015 runoff, Arena won all 20 precincts south of Lawrence and 10 precincts in Gladstone Park. Of the ward's 48 precincts, Arena won 31 and tied one.

The dynamic may be different in 2019. Garrido will not be running, so the unions will not spend another $700,000 to give voters a reason not to vote against Arena. The alderman's intransigence on the 5150 Northwest Hwy. project has alienated a number of north end voters, who find Arena's "desegregation" push both economically threatening and personally offensive. They fear, crime and school over-crowding. The plethora of new city taxes and fees, including doubled water bills, plus city's high crime and murder rate, has put voters in a sour mood. 2019 will be a "change" election. It will be a referendum on the incumbent (Emanuel) and on all the aldermen. It won't be pretty.

Emanuel won the 45th Ward 9,341-6,427 in the 2015 runoff against Chuy Garcia, with most of Garcia's votes coming from the South End. In 2019, kiss that goodbye. Arena is in a very dicey situation. He will likely be facing a large field of aldermanic opponents, and the mayor will be up against former police superintendent Garry McCarthy, former schools chief executive officer Paul Vallas, and at least three or four black candidates. That means a large turnout, and that means both the primary and runoff will be a referendum on all incumbents. Arena likely will not be supporting McCarthy, and his past history - backing Garcia and Bernie Sanders - likely rules out an Emanuel endorsement, unless it's a McCarthy-Emanuel face-off.

The filing deadline for 2019 aldermanic candidates is early December, and the 90-day circulatory period for nominating petitions begins in late August. Garrido is the behind-the-scenes maestro, and his goal is to flood the field - to have enough aldermanic candidates, each with their own base, so as to aggregate more than 50 percent of the vote, and force Arena into an April 2019 runoff. That would be a referendum on Arena, and whoever opposes him, presumably, would get all the anti- and non-Arena votes.

Likely candidates thus far include firefighter Jim Gardiner; attorney Kevin Cahill, whose father developed many condominiums in the ward during the 1980s and 1990s; former Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association president Bob Bank, an outspoken foe of the 5150 project; attorney Bart Goldberg, who lost the March primary for state senator in the 20th District and has a base in the Old Irving Park neighborhood, getting 1,132 votes in the 11 45th Ward precincts in the district.

The whole premise of the McCarthy campaign is to field a "pro-law enforcement" team, which means cops running for alderman in every ward. The outlook: Arena's base is strong and solid, but it's not much over 50 percent. Somebody new, fresh and less obnoxious could beat him in a runoff.

19TH HOUSE DISTRICT: La Porte's mailers, which numbered more than 11, focused on Martwick's support of an income tax hike, his refusal to take a position on the 5150 project, his father's law firm's ties to Assessor Joe Berrios, and a problem with his ethics' statement filing. Martwick multi-tasks as a legislator, tax appeal attorney, and campaign consultant. As of Dec. 31, Martwick had $590,136 on-hand in his campaign account, and La Porte had nothing. Martwick's mailers were mostly positive, hyping his sponsorship of an elected school board, and had an anti-Rauner theme - as if all of Springfield's problems were attributable to the governor, not the speaker, whom Martwick follows.

The Martwick-La Porte result may be a template for 2019. Martwick won all 37 45th Ward precincts, each by 60 percent or more. La Porte got slightly over 35 percent in 3 precincts, 30 to 35 percent in 12 precincts, and in the 20s in the rest. In the five precincts surrounding the 5150 project, Martwick won 509-286, the closest being 80-73 in the 38th precinct. In 2015, Arena won two of those five precincts. That results does not indicate any "massive resistance."
The 5150 proposals could be fully approved by the end of the year. If it's under construction by February, Arena may suffer some political consequences. But his runoff opponent would have to win ALL of the Gladstone Park and half of the Jefferson Park precincts to beat him. That is not self-evident from March 20.