January 9, 2019


Cook County assessor Joe Berrios and Alderman Ray Suarez (31st) are gone. Luis Gutierrez is off to meddle in Puerto Rico's politics, leaving behind his daughter to carry on his legacy. And the never-ending battle between Chicago's numerous Hispanic fiefdoms rages into 2019. It's all about ground, as in "stay off my political turf, but I want a piece of your political turf."

The current protagonists in the battle to be number one are U.S. Representative Chuy Garcia (D-4) and state Representative Luis Arroyo (D-3), with multiple subtexts of Mexican-American (Garcia) versus Puerto Rican (Arroyo), South Side (Garcia) versus North Side (Arroyo), "progressive" (Garcia) versus machine-building (Arroyo), Bernie Sanders (Garcia) versus Hillary Clinton (Arroyo) and with multiple sub-subtexts relating to 2019 candidates' gender, sexual orientation, race and ideology.

There will be some nasty aldermanic contests, fought amid a 17-candidate mayoral field in which Hispanic Susana Mendoza, has a very viable prospect of finishing in the top two, and moving on to the April 3 runoff.

"(Hispanic) turnout will be huge," said Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the council's Latino Caucus, who has not yet endorsed a candidate for mayor. Mendoza, the state comptroller, and Gery Chico, the 2011 mayoral loser, are the two Hispanic options.

Chicago's population is 2,717,534, of which 29.1 is Hispanic. That should equate to 15 of 50 aldermanic seats. At present, there are 15 Hispanic-majority wards, of which three - the 13th, 14th and 33rd - have white aldermen. Of those 15, eight are on the far South or Southwest Side (10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 22, 23, 25), all mostly Mexican-American, and seven are on the North or near Northwest Side (1, 26, 30, 31, 33, 35, 36), all mostly Puerto Rican, with the 1st Ward being mixed, and whites being a growing, gentrifying factor.

Each city ward has an approximate population of 54,000, but voter turnout in Hispanic wards is especially anemic, due to both political disinterest and non-citizenship. Turnout in those 15 wards in the Feb. 2015 primary was 98,780, about 6,865 per ward, but it rose to 251,667 in the Nov. 2016 presidential election, about 16,777 per ward. If it hits the 200,000 mark on Feb. 26, predictions are meaningless and upsets can happen.

However, it won't be 1983. That year a bunch of African-American and pro-Jane Byrne aldermen fell to the Harold Washington tide. Expect the 10 Hispanic aldermen on the ballot to endorse Mendoza soon, before their pro-Mendoza opponents make it an issue.

31ST WARD: Joe Berrios went from "Numero Uno" to "nada" in just a few weeks in 2018, first losing the Democratic primary for re-nomination as assessor, and then getting dumped as county party chairman. But he saw it coming. An unending succession of scandals, coupled with Arroyo's meddling in the 31st Ward, resulting in the defeat of Alderman Ray Suarez by Millie Santiago by 79 votes in the 2015 runoff, further compounded by Berrios's backing of Rahm Emanuel over Chuy Garcia for mayor, spelled his doom. Garcia won the ward 5,265-3,192, and Santiago won 4,218-4,139.

Berrios goes back a long way, to his youthful days in the 1970s as a precinct captain in the 31st Ward machine of Alderman Tom Keane, the council's finance committee chairman and renowned fixer. Keane was convicted on federal corruption charges in 1974. It may be dŽjˆ vu all over with Ed Burke, who was indicted for extortion on Jan. 2 and resigned as finance committee chairman on Jan. 5.

Berrios was anointed a state representative in 1982, just as the ward's Puerto Rican population was exploding. He became a Board of Tax Appeals (now Board of Review) commissioner in 1988, turning the post into a cash cow, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from the lawyers who got their clients' taxes reduced. He became committeeman in 1987, and got his buddy Suarez elected alderman 1991. Together they amassed - and continued to amass over the next 25 years - over $500,000 annually in campaign donations, intimidating all ward opposition. Suarez, when he lost, had $1.2 million in his war chest.

Berrios was elected assessor in 2010, another cash cow job, and became county chairman in 2007, forging an alliance with African-American committeemen, the key being Toni Preckwinkle. His demise began in 2013 after the council created a new Hispanic-majority 36th Ward, just west of the 31st Ward, effective in 2015. A deal was supposedly cut with Arroyo allowing Arroyo to be the new ward's committeeman, and making son Luis Arroyo Jr. county commissioner. Berrios got to pick the alderman, which was to be Omar Aquino, son of Suarez's best pal. It was the "Son Swap."

Arroyo reneged, fielded Villegas for alderman, who beat Aquino 4,594-3,656, or 55.7 percent. Arroyo also sent his precinct workers into the 31st Ward and took out Suarez. Berrios won his ward for assessor by only 2,297-1,573, but is backing Felix Cardona in 2019 against Santiago, who has Arroyo's endorsement. "He (Berrios) has nothing," said Villegas, meaning no ground game. Santiago will win.

36TH WARD: Arroyo is now "Numero Uno" on the North Side. He is a throwback to old school politics, which can be argued if it still works. He just helped to get Marcelino Garcia elected Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. His army beat Berrios in his ward 1,805-1,693 in 2018. This year, Villegas is unopposed and it is a sure bet that Arroyo will do his utmost for Mendoza. If she becomes mayor, and with J.B. Pritzker as governor, Arroyo will have entered the political "Promised Land."

30TH WARD: 16-year incumbent Ariel Reboyras is under a lot of stress. As Public Safety Committee chairman, Reboyras was tasked with implementing police "reforms" and oversights in the wake of the McDonald shooting, working with the mayor to create the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA). For some, that's not enough. They want more stringent oversight and civilian micro-management. In his ward, he faces Jessica Gutierrez, daughter of the former congressman, and Edgar Esparza.

After 26 years in Congress, and before that for 9 years as an alderman, Luis Gutierrez's name is golden. Jessica Gutierrez will be well funded, as she received the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) endorsement, which is good for $100,000 in mailings, and will probably get teachers' union (CTU) backing. She must be careful not to be anti-police. Her dad backed Emanuel over Garcia in 2015, but endorsed Garcia for his seat in 2018. Whomever Garcia endorses will win.

26TH WARD: 11-year incumbent Roberto Maldonado should be safe, but faces a unique opponent in Theresa Siaw, an African-born entrepreneur whose family owns a chain of medical clinics. She has promised to self-fund. There is a growing black population in the ward's west end. If voters want somebody different, she's it. Edge goes to Maldonado.

35TH WARD: Carlos Ramirez-Rosa crushed incumbent Alderman Rey Colon 4,082-1,987 in 2015, getting 67.3 percent. On a superstar trajectory, Ramirez-Rosa was picked by Daniel Biss to be his 2018 lieutenant governor running mate...until a recording surfaced of the alderman proclaiming his support for Palestinian nationhood. Out the door in seconds. But Ramirez-Rosa, who is (and was) a "democratic socialist" before that term was even coined, is safe back in his ward, facing desultory opposition from Amanda Yu Dieterich.

33RD WARD: The ward has a Hispanic population majority, but a white voting majority, which is stable around 55 percent. Incumbent Deb Mell won with 50.2 percent in 2015, with her 4,103 votes exceeding 50 percent by 18 votes. Has she done enough in four years to win? Her opponents are Rossana Rodriguez, another "democratic socialist" who is endorsed by the CTU, and community activist Katie Sieracki, who has little money. Expect a Mell-Rodriguez runoff, which Mell will win.

To cement himself as the South Side's "Numero Uno," Garcia needs to demonstrate his clout in four aldermanic races.

14TH WARD: Burke has been alderman since 1968, when he succeeded his father, and when the ward was white and mostly Irish. The ward is now 85 percent Hispanic. Burke has kept his seat by raising obscene amounts of money - $9,539,736 on-hand as of Sept. 30 - and intimidating and/or buying-off his opposition. Burke, with his indictment, should be a goner - but maybe not. He has three opponents: Tanya Patino is backed by Garcia along with Jaime Guzman and Jose Torrez, who may be shills for Burke. If one gets into a runoff with Burke, and then resigns, Burke wins. This is a MUST WIN for Garcia.

15TH WARD: First-term incumbent Ray Lopez has five opponents, including police officer Rafael Yanez, backed by Garcia. Expect a Lopez-Yanez runoff. If Mendoza is in the mayoral runoff, an exceedingly high turnout could sink Lopez.

22ND WARD: Garcia was alderman here, before becoming state senator and then county commissioner. Retiring Ricardo Munoz became alderman in 1993 after Garcia's departure. Both Garcia and Munoz are backing Michael Rodriguez, who will win.

25TH WARD: Danny Solis is retiring. Five candidates are running. Garcia-backed Hilario Dominguez will likely face Alex Acevedo, son of a machine-type former state representative in the runoff, with Dominguez favored.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstewart.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.