April 10, 2019


There is a significant difference between rejection and repudiation. In a political context, voters will reject a candidate because of what they perceive that candidate represents, or they will repudiate a candidate because of what they have done.

A rejection can be either personal or symbolic. Toni Preckwinkle's monstrous 384,775-137,236 mayoral runoff defeat, with 73.7 percent for Lori Lightfoot, was a symbolic rejection. Turnout was 524,981. Preckwinkle was simply the wrong candidate running for the wrong office at the wrong time.

Voters wanted to show their disgust with politics-as-usual, and voting against Preckwinkle for mayor was their long-awaited opportunity to do so. Chicago has 2,069 precincts, and Preckwinkle got a majority in 20 - or 0.9 percent. Preckwinkle lost every ward, topped 30 percent in 13 and 40 percent in two. That's just humiliating.

Only a year ago, in the March 2018 primary for county board president, where voters had a chance to repudiate "Toni Taxwinkle" and her policies, which included repeal and then re-imposition of the one-cent sales tax hike, and imposition of a soda tax, Preckwinkle easily beat Bob Fioretti in Chicago 258,783-155,496, or 62.5 percent in a 414,279 turnout.

Given her name recognition from 9 years tenure as board president and 19 years as alderman, plus her financial backing by the public sector (SEIU) and teachers' (CTU) unions, plus her base in the African American community, Preckwinkle should have finished first on Feb. 26 with at least 25 percent.

Instead, she got 89,343 votes, or 16.1 percent, to Lightfoot's 97,667, or 17.5 percent in a turnout of 560,701. She finished second in the black wards. Preckwinkle, in the runoff, grew her vote by 47,798, while Lightfoot's grew by 286,728. But lest anybody conclude that April 2 was some sort of a mandate, remember that Chicago has 1,592,658 registered voters, and 1,071,122 did not vote, which was 67.1 percent. So Lightfoot's 384,395 is just 24.1 percent of registered voters and Preckwinkle's 137.141 is just 8.6 percent.

Lightfoot enters City Hall with low expectations and no political IOUs, or high expectations if "change" was a big part of your vote. She is not a giant-killer, because Preckwinkle proved herself no giant. Lightfoot will have one year to prove herself as mayor. If she fails, and perceptible change does not occur, the 2023 mayoral race will begin in 2020.

40TH WARD: As Alderman Pat O'Connor discovered to his chagrin, you can't grow more votes when the terrain is infertile - even by spending close to $1.5 million. On Feb. 26, O'Connor led a 5-candidate field with 33.3 percent, or 4,446 votes in a 13,353 turnout. That was abysmal. It meant that 8,907 voters wanted a new alderman. The runner-up was Andre Vasquez, with 20.1 percent and 2,683 votes.

Where would the 6,224 non-O'Connor and non-Vasquez voters go in the runoff? The target was 6,750, so O'Connor needed to grow another 2,300 votes, and Vasquez another 4,000. O'Connor thought he discovered a silver bullet when the lyrics of Vasquez, a recreational former rapper, were uncovered and were clearly homophobic and misogynistic. Vasquez apologized, but O'Connor was all over broadcast and cable TV with anti-Vasquez ads. The challenger had raised about $150,000, so he was outspent 10-1.

The runoff turnout was 13,878, and Vasquez won 7,480-6,407, getting 53.86 percent. Voters had decided that, after 36 years, it was time for O'Connor to go - even though Vasquez was not the ideal alternative. O'Connor grew his vote by 1,961, but Vasquez grew his by 4,797. Vasquez was also aided by Lightfoot's 9,9148-3,937 blowout (71.58 percent) in the ward, and by demographic and generational change. The ward's east end, especially Bowmanville and Andersonville, and south along Clark Street, is filled with singles who rent, and they now out-number and dominate the west end's homeowners. Vasquez won 23 of 39 precincts.

Expect O'Connor to retire as committeeman in 2020.

33RD WARD: It ain't over 'til it's over. But the 44-year Mell Dynasty is officially over in the 33rd Ward, a racially and demographically changing area that extends south from Albany Park. Affordable housing has disappeared in the gentrifying east side, along the Chicago River, but Hispanic growth on the west side was evident in Alderman Deb Mell's 5,736-5,724 runoff defeat, a margin of 12 votes in a turnout of 11,460, as of April 9. The winner, as it stands, is Democratic socialist Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez, who was outspent 8-1.

Mell was appointed to her father's seat in 2013, and thereafter tried mightily to be non-political, to distance herself from Dick Mell, and to concentrate on constituent services. She never really succeeded. She won 4,103-2,779-1,289 in 2015, getting just 17 more votes than the 50 percent-plus-one threshold needed to avoid a runoff in a turnout of 8,171. Dick Mell was defeated for Democratic committeeman in 2016.

Turnout on Feb. 26 was 10,935, with Rodriguez Sanchez topping Mell 4,598-4,515, a margin of 83 votes, or 42.1-41.3 percent. The remainder went to Katie Sieracki. The results showed that 2015's pro-Mell vote grew by 412, while the anti-Mell vote grew by 2,352. Clearly, 4 added years of incumbency was not reaping expected rewards.

Lightfoot trounced Preckwinkle 8,094-3,309, getting 70.9 percent in the ward. Her pro-change voter base helped Rodriguez Sanchez win 15 of 28 precincts. Ongoing population loss means the ward will be cannibalized in the 2021 remap to create a new Hispanic-majority ward. Rodriguez Sanchez could be around for a while, if she holds on to her lead.

39TH WARD: Most politicians do not formulate an exit strategy. Alderman Marge Laurino did, and she did not suffer the same 2019 fate as colleagues O'Connor and Mell. She voluntarily got out before voters threw her out, which was smart.

Laurino won 5,981-4,815-446 in 2015, getting 53.2 percent and avoiding a runoff. The runner-up was Robert Murphy, who ran as a "progressive" and "reformer," attacked the 50-year Laurino Dynasty, which dated back to 1965, and got 42.8 percent. Murphy then beat the Dynasty's candidate for Democratic committeeman in 2016 6,075-5,034. Clearly, he was growing his vote - up 1,260 from 2015 to 2016. The presumption was that Laurino had become tiresome after 25 years as alderman, and the expectation was that Murphy would deliver the coup de grace in 2019.

Unfortunately for Murphy, Laurino in August 2018 announced she would not run again, and the still-existent Laurino Machine, led by her nephew, state Representative John D'Amico (D-15), got behind Samantha Nugent. She proved herself to be a fresh, qualified, relentlessly hard-working and appealing candidate, campaigning door-to-door, and raising well over $200,000. She and Casey Smagala changed the ward landscape. Murphy, the self-proclaimed 2019 "frontrunner," suddenly had nobody to run against. He had to sell himself, and he did a poor job.

The Feb. 26 turnout was 13,241, and the vote was, respectively, 4,396, 3,914, 3,644 and 1,287 for Nugent, Murphy, Smagala and cop Joe Duplechin. The percentages were 33.2, 29.6, 27.5 and 9.7. Murphy's vote actually UN-grew by 2,161 from 2016. Smagala and Duplechin endorsed Nugent.

The Nugent-Murphy runoff turnout was 13,328, and the result 7,461-5,867, a 55.9 percent Nugent win and a 1,594-vote margin. Nugent won 28 of 45 precincts, and did especially well in Sauganash and Gladstone Park. She grew her vote by 3,065, getting two-thirds of the combined 4,931 Smagala-Duplechin vote, while Murphy grew his vote by 1,953, getting a third of the aforesaid vote. Essentially, Murphy rebounded and hit a ceiling - what he got in 2016 (6,075).

Lightfoot obliterated Preckwinkle 10,502-2,790, getting 79 percent. Murphy tried to piggyback, putting up Lightfoot-Murphy yard signs, but Lightfoot made no endorsement. Ironically, like in the mayoral election, it was Murphy - who had been around since only 2015 - who was viewed as the retread. Looking ahead, Murphy faces the two (losses) and out rule. In fact, Murphy will probably be opposed by and defeated by Smagala in 2020 for committeeman. Nugent will be around for a while.

47TH WARD: Paul Rosenfeld thinks he is the clout-heavy Democratic committeeman in a ward where both Rahm Emanuel and Lisa Madigan reside, where Lightfoot won 14,246-4,798, or 74.8 percent, and where voters are liberal - but also where he was too timid to make an aldermanic endorsement. In the 9-candidate primary, the top finishers were Matt Martin (7,586) and Michael Negron (4,126). Martin was an assistant attorney general in Madigan's office, and Negron policy chief in Emanuel's.

Turnout spiked from 14,230 to 18,849 in the runoff. Martin grew his vote by 4,199, and Negron by 2,938, with an 11,785-7,064 (62.5 percent) result for the seat held by Ameya Pawar, who ran for city treasurer. Martin won 44 of 48 precincts.

The president of Rosenfeld's organization is county Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who wants to run for Preckwinkle's job in 2022. The 2020 committeeman race will be interesting. Martin may run, or he may run for state's attorney against Kim Foxx.

30TH AND 31ST WARDS: Luis Arroyo, the 36th Ward Democratic committeeman and state representative, is the self-proclaimed leader of the Northwest Side Hispanic/ Puerto Rican 36th, 26th, 30th, 35th and 31st wards. On April 2, Arroyo was "Number Two." He endorsed Jessica Gutierrez in the 30th Ward against erstwhile ally Alderman Ariel Reboyras. She lost 4,094-3,791. And he flooded the 31st Ward with his workers to save Alderman Millie Santiago. She lost 3,575-3,009.