December 12, 2018


He's not quite ready to be dubbed "The Mighty Martwick," but the fact that he withstood a blistering $440,000, 2-week media and mail onslaught and managed to get comfortably re-elected was a notable accomplishment.

In the 19th Illinois House District, incumbent Democratic state Representative Rob Martwick defeated aggressive Republican challenger Ammie Kessem 21,389-13,852, a margin of 7,537 votes, with Martwick getting 60.6 percent.

Conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft runs the well-funded Liberty Principles PAC, and his modus operandi is to bury his liberal targets in an avalanche of negativity over a very short period of time. According to Matt Podgorski, organizer of the NW Side GOP Club that was active in Kessem's campaign, more than $300,000 was spent in late October on cable TV and media ads, another $80,000 on direct mail and the remainder on miscellaneous marketing and signage. Kessem also raised and spent $34,071 during 2018, pushing her close to $475,000 overall.

Kessem, a Chicago police sergeant and first-time candidate, packaged herself as a "pro-union, pro-police, pro-family, pro-neighborhood and pro-property tax cap" - all subliminal hot-button issues in the district, and on which Martwick consistently dissembled and fudged, especially on the 5150 N. Northwest Highway mixed-income apartment project, which he said was a city "zoning issue." Proft's five mailings ripped Martwick for his support of a graduated state income tax, rising from 4.95 to 5.84 percent after $15,000, his connections to House Speaker Mike Madigan, both in the legislature and as an attorney for his father's lucrative property tax appeal practice, his failure to disclose income from his political consulting business on his ethics statement, and his lockstep support for Madigan and his Springfield majority. Regarding Martwick, "there was a lot to criticize," said Podgorski

But money didn't matter. "It was all about turnout," Podgorski said, which was 35,241 on Nov. 6. "Our models projected that (Ammie) would win if 2018 turnout was at 2014 levels," which was 18,537, but not at 2016's levels at 30,527, which was a presidential year. Turnout was up 14 percent over 2016 and nearly 50 percent over 2014.

"J.B. (Pritzker) had his paid workers in the district every day, getting voter registration cards signed, or passing bogus petitions, like 'reduce property taxes,' which would be signed and then absentee ballots mailed to that address." It is estimated that Pritzker spent $35-45 million statewide on "party-building" - which means get-out-the-vote - activities. "Almost all the new registrants voted Democratic and anti-Trump," said Podgorski. "The whole (Martwick) campaign was anti-Trump," but unlike the 2016 McAuliffe-Marwig contest in the neighboring 20th District where $5 million was spent ($2 million from Madigan sources and $3 million from Rauner sources), Martwick was on his own. No Madigan to the rescue. During 2018, Martwick raised $831,711 through Nov. 6.

Also, Podgorski added, Rauner really tanked, getting just 32 percent in the district. Kessem ran eight points ahead of the governor, but still lost by 20 points. A 2020 rematch does not bode well for Kessem, primarily because Trump will be on the ballot and Proft will be spending his dough elsewhere. Martwick, age 52 and the 38th Ward Democratic committeeman, may be around for a long time, and is positioning himself to run for alderman in 2023, when incumbent Nick Sposato has said he would retire.

THE 19TH DISTRICT covers 78 Northwest Side precincts, of which 37 are in the 45th Ward and 28 in the 38th Ward, 13 scattered in three other wards, plus eight in the suburbs around Norridge, where Republican Kessem performed quite respectably.

Considering the fact that Martwick was unopposed in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and that the district was designed in 2011 by then-incumbent Joe Lyons (D) and the Madigan majority to be 60-percent plus Democratic based on the 2010 Quinn-Giannoulias vote, Kessem's showing demonstrated that the Republicans are not yet "Dead on Arrival."

In Martwick's home 38th Ward, the incumbent won 26 of 28 precincts, and 18 of those by more than 60 percent, for a final vote of 7,155-4,257. In the 45th Ward, where ally John Arena is alderman and the Democratic committeeman, Martwick won 33 of 37 precincts, 24 by more than 60 percent, and ten of those, primarily in the liberal south end (Portage Park), by 70 and 80 percent, for a final vote of 9,405-5,484. Kessem did win three of five 41st Ward precincts. Rauner lost the 38th Ward 10,869-5,651 and the 45th Ward 13,829-5,679. Not unexpectedly, Kessem took a pass on challenging Arena, which some said was her initial game plan.

Incumbent John D'Amico's 15TH DISTRICT includes 52 precincts in Chicago, with 39 precincts in D'Amico's base of the 39th Ward, and 42 precincts in Niles stretching northwest to Golf Mill. Democrat D'Amico easily beat Republican teacher Amanda Biela 21,889-13,714, a margin of 8,175 votes, or 61.4 percent. Podgorski initially recruited Biela, but the candidate chose a different path for her campaign, aligning herself with the HRO, an acronym for the House Republican Organization, instead of Podgorski and Proft. The HRO poured in at least $90,000 in funding for 12 mailings, and Biela raised $12,857 during 2018.

The HRO's mailings, according to D'Amico, just dredged up the same old, same old. "They criticized my family's history, my 'machine' connections, my city water department job, my income tax vote, my ties to Madigan. But I won because of my 14-year record," D'Amico said. And also because he turned out a solid vote in his 39th Ward base, where his aunt Margaret Laurino is retiring after 25 years as alderman in 2019, and his grandfather was alderman from 1965-1994. In the ward's 39 precincts, D'Amico won 37, and won 28 with more than 60 percent. Only in the 41st Ward's seven precincts, around Milwaukee-Devon, did Biela do well, losing 1,798-1,730.

At one point it was thought that D'Amico would make a bid for alderman, but re-election was the wise and safe choice. He raised $407,216 during 2018, and had $333,810 on-hand as of Sept. 1. D'Amico's future risk would be Democratic ward committeeman Robert Murphy's election as alderman. In that case, Murphy would definitely field a 15th District candidate against D'Amico in 2020.

D'Amico is on the leadership track in the House, where Madigan, age 76, has to retire sometime. His two putative successors were deputy majority leaders Lou Lang and Barbara Flynn Currie, who has retired. Lang stepped aside in May because of sexual harassment charges, but may step back in, especially since he has $1,344,809 in his campaign account, which he cannot convert to personal income. If Lang gets back into leadership, it would be somewhat of a vindication, and he could use his money to help other House Democrats. The frontrunner to replace Currie is Greg Harris. If Lang does not reclaim his former post, Sara Feigenholtz is the likely choice, and D'Amico would get her post as an assistant majority leader.

Good fortune rarely strikes in politics, but Republican state Representative Michael McAuliffe was unopposed in 2018 after 2016 foe Merry Marwig (D) abruptly withdrew. McAuliffe got 13,758 Chicago votes on Nov. 6, and 13,295 in the suburbs, for a total of 27,503, which is about 18,000 less than the 2016 vote cast. Expect McAuliffe to have serious Democratic opposition in 2020. Had the McAuliffe-Marwig race been re-run in 2018, he could have lost.

One missed opportunity for the Republicans was in the near west suburban 55th District, which includes half of Park Ridge and most of Des Plaines. Democrat Marty Moylan won an upset in 2012 and was re-elected in 2014 and 2016. Moylan had $683,699 on-hand as of Jan. 1, 2018, but beat Republican Marilyn Smolenski 20,730-16,308. The seat will be in play in 2020, as Republicans need to eroded Madigan's 74-44 House super-majority.