August 22, 2018


The Democrats' "corporate wing" is under siege in Chicago and Illinois, and will play out in the 2019 Chicago non-partisan municipal election as a number of democratic socialists gear up to run for alderman.

The "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," as Howard Dean famously called it, is increasingly disgruntled with a party run by the likes of Bill Clinton, J.B. Pritzker, Mike Madigan, Rahm Emanuel and, in the 40th Ward, Pat O'Connor.

"They are the status quo. They are the problem. There will be no change as long as they are in control," said Dianne Daleiden, who is running against O'Connor for alderman. "They support such agreements as NAFTA and TPP, send jobs out of the country, and raise millions from corporations." She calls herself a "Bernie-crat," a reference to Bernie Sanders, who she supported for president in the 2016 primary.

Daleiden has been a CPS teacher for 20 years, presently teaching seventh and eighth grades at North River School. She ran for alderman in 2015 and got 41.6 percent, losing to O'Connor 5,601-3,989 carrying 9 of 39 precincts, and then ran for Democratic committeeman in 2016, getting 45.4 percent, losing to O'Connor 6,532-5,431 carrying 13 precincts. "I grew my base," she said. In that primary, Sanders beat Hillary Clinton 8,090-6,602 in the 40th Ward, winning a majority in 30 precincts. O'Connor endorsed Clinton, whom he called a "traditional Democrat."

In the 2016 Trump-Clinton contest, the 40th Ward went 19,719-2,791, or 83.2 percent, for Clinton, with Trump exceeding 20 percent in just four precincts. "There is a very large, very liberal base" in the ward, O'Connor said. If Daleiden can galvanize that base - meaning the non-corporate Democrats - she could force O'Connor into a runoff.

Daleiden intends to make the 2019 contest a referendum on O'Connor, who has been alderman since 1983, is the mayor' City Council floor leader, vice-chairman of the Finance Committee, and had $107,040 on-hand in his campaign account.

"He (O'Connor) is the mayor's candidate. Voters don't need the mayor as their alderman," she said. As of June 30, Daleiden had $18,811 on-hand, but expects serious funding from the Chicago Teachers Union.

Also running are (1) Maggie O'Keefe, who worked for a digital marketing company and most recently was involved in the campaigns of Fritz Kaegi and Ameya Pawar and promises to be an alderman who will "be of service to others"; she had $9,809 on-hand. (2) Andre Vasquez, a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), will have the support of Reclaim Chicago, a PAC dedicated to electing socialists to office. DSA members are also running in the 33rd and 35th wards. And (3) Ugo Okere, an undergraduate student at Loyola University.

O'Connor, age 64, freely acknowledges that he has supported the city budgets of not only Emanuel and Rich Daley, but also those dating back to Harold Washington. He supported Emanuel's hikes in water, plastic bag and garbage fees, as well as property and phone taxes, with the revenues used to fund pensions. He also backed Daley's, parking meter deal. O'Connor said that he "is part of the budget process," and that he is supporting Emanuel's reelection so as to "finish the stabilization" of Chicago's finances. Only he (Emanuel) has the acumen to do the job." Of course, if Pat Quinn's term-limits referendum gets on the November ballot - he has submitted 86,400 signatures, of which 40,000 are being challenged - and if it wins, then O'Connor won't need to make any endorsement.

Daleiden won't be endorsing Emanuel. "We have a nearly bankrupt city, are billions in debt, have closed schools, underfunded and undermanned police, and cuts in CTA service," she said, adding that she intends to tie O'Connor to the "failures" of the Emanuel Administration.

The 40th Ward runs roughly from Peterson to Lawrence west of Lincoln, and to Foster east of Western, with the Chicago River and Kedzie on the west and Clark and Ravenswood on the east. It contains gentrifying neighborhoods like Hollywood Park, North Park and Budlong Woods in the west, and Andersonville, Bowmanville, West Edgewater and Granville Ridge in the east. Over the past decade, explained Daleiden, two-flats have been converted to single-family homes, and three-flats for condo conversion, thereby forcing out renters. "Affordable housing is vanishing," she said. Her solution is to work with local residents in zoning matters, to lobby Springfield for a progressive income tax so as to lift the property tax burden through a "Progressive" funding means. O'Connor, an attorney, said he personally handles no zoning matters, and that every ward zoning change must be approved by a council committee.

O'Connor admits that housing prices are increasing, but are "stable" west of Western Avenue. Daleiden said that a lot of aging suburban couples are downsizing and moving into the ward, another factor driving up prices. "There are $1 million homes" in the ward, she said, especially along the river.

I asked O'Connor why he was running. Isn't 36 years enough? "I want to finish the job," he said, listing such projects as (1) the new Metra station at Ravenswood-Peterson, (2) the redevelopment of Edgewater Hospital, including construction of market-rate apartments and a one-acre park on the Ashland-Hollywood site, (3) streetscaping along Lawrence Avenue, and (4) new Astro-turf, a soccer field and two baseball diamonds at Winnemac Park, tennis courts at River Park, and bike lanes along Peterson, Devon and Clark. O'Connor's crown jewel is the 20-acre West Ridge Nature Center, just west of Rosehill Cemetery, a project began in 2002. "I still love the job," dismissing rumors that he will quit at the last moment and tap one of his daughters as a substitute.

Daleiden also asserted that a bunch of O'Connor kin are on the city payroll, including three nephews each at Streets and Sanitation and the Aviation Department, and that his two daughters have jobs with the corporation counsel and the park district. "That is absolutely untrue" responded O'Connor, noting that three of his five children are lawyers, and all work in the private sector. "I have one cousin who has a city job."

Daleiden also charged that Emanuel and his allies are using O'Hare Airport as "a profit center," using "pay-to-play schemes" and "awarding contracts to their buddies."

The O'Keefe campaign is still below the radar. She said she knocks on 80 to 100 doors a day, and that her base consists of "women and moms." She plans to use social media extensively, asserts that she can win without raising gobs of money and generating avalanches of direct mail, and said that being young and fresh resonates. O'Connor "sweeps the ward's problems under the rug and has not made a difference." She promises to "build the table together."

The early outlook: Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral runoff beat Chuy Garcia 6,528-5,688 in the ward, getting 53.4 percent, and winning 28 precincts. In the primary, Emanuel got 4,634 votes, which was 967 votes less than O'Connor. With a large mayoral field, it is a certainty that there will be another runoff in 2019.

O'Connor's task is to avoid a runoff in which he would be paired with Emanuel. Daleiden's task is to get 35 to 40 percent in the February primary, and hope the other three aggregate another 10 to 15 percent. O'Connor has been a competent alderman, and voters may view "change" as adverse to their self-interest. This make O'Connor a slight favorite.