May 15, 2019


The city's 40th Ward is not what it used to be. And Patrick O'Connor, as of May 20, won't be the ward's alderman, as he has been for the past 36 years. Also down the tubes are O'Connor's roles as Rahm Emanuel's council floor leader and as acting finance committee chairman. A whole lot of power just went poof.

O'Connor, despite a 5-1 edge in spending and an 8-1 edge in household mailings, lost the April 2 runoff 7,509-6,431 to Andre Vasquez, an avowed democratic socialist who O'Connor attacked relentlessly as being "not who we are" in both a personal and ideological sense. Vasquez, in a turnout of 13,940, won with 53.9 percent, carrying 23 of 39 precincts, three by over 70 percent and eight by more than 60 percent.

Turns out that the Vasquez win pinpoints exactly where the ward is now at generationally, demographically, geographically and economically. The O'Connor-Vasquez contest was essentially a clash between the haves and the have-nots - and is a nearly exact replication of the 2016 Sanders-Clinton presidential primary in the ward, which the socialist Sanders won 8,090-6,602, getting 54.8 percent and carrying 30 of 39 precincts in a 14,776 turnout. In 2019, the have-nots turned out and emerged triumphant.

O'Connor, age 64, should have seen this coming, and quit like some aldermen did. But hubris would not let him.

The haves' "Quality of Life" issues have been clearly eclipsed by the have-nots' "Quality of Lifestyle" issues. Less than half of the ward, or the voters west of Western and north of Foster to the Chicago River, and north of Peterson to Devon, east of Ravenswood, were diehard O'Connor/Clinton supporters. They live in Hollywood Park, West Ridge, Budlong Woods and Ravenswood Gardens and Ravenswood Manor, where $1 million-plus riverfront homes have boat docks. They care about the quality of their life -­low property taxes, good schools, public safety and neighborhood amenities.

Of the 16 western precincts in Ravenswood Manor, Ravenswood Gardens and West Ridge, O'Connor won 14. Of the 23 precincts in the remainder of the ward, O'Connor won two. And the alderman's defeat was made all the more embarrassing by the fact that Vasquez, a phone company manager with meager political experience, had oodles of baggage. He got just 2,863 votes, or 20.1 percent, in the Feb. 26 primary, to O'Connor's 4,446, or 33.3 percent, in a turnout of 13,353.

What baggage? Vasquez, age 37, was a recreational "battle rapper" in the past. Say what? If you've seen the film "8 Mile" starring Eminem, then you know what I'm talking about. To enlighten those of us over a certain age, it means a rap musician who writes his own lyrics and also performs in verbal battles at clubs against other rappers, each trying to be the most insulting, creative and obnoxious. Vasquez did not disappoint. He was taped uttering homophobic and misogynist lyrics, for which he apologized. "People accepted it," meaning his apology, said Maggie O'Keefe, who got 2,058 votes in the primary, or 15.4 percent.

The "Quality of Lifestyle" adherents are the ward's burgeoning gay and singles population, mostly renters, now a voting majority. They care about rent control, the "Green New Deal," police reforms, affordable housing and equality issues. They were the voters who embraced Lori Lightfoot early on, giving her 4,027 votes, or 29.9 percent, in the ward in the Feb. 26 primary, and who gave O'Connor's four primary opponents a combined 66.7 percent. They live in the northeast (West Edgewater), east (Andersonville), southeast (parts of Lincoln Square and Ravenswood), and south and southwest (Bowmanville and east Albany Park).

Smack in the ward's middle is the massive 350-acre Rosehill Cemetery, which stretches from Peterson to Foster, east of Western, and can boast of having graves of Civil War veterans. It is a line of demarcation. Those to the east and south have a Lakefront mentality and those to the west have a Northwest Side mentality. They all live in different social worlds, exist in different generations, and, apparently, embrace different economic systems.

Unlike in the 39th Ward, or other wards to the west, there is no conservative/Republican base, and very few law enforcement officers. Rauner (R) lost the 2018 governor race 16,896-2,765, getting 13.6 percent, and Trump (R) lost the 2016 presidential race 19,719-2,791, getting 16.3 percent there. Hence, 80-plus percent of the ward is either liberal-bordering-on-socialist flat out democratic socialist, with the latter a growth industry. O'Connor was DOA going into 2019.
O'Connor defeated teacher Dianne Daleiden 5,601-3,989 in the 2015 aldermanic race, getting 58.4 percent. Daleiden won 11 of 39 precincts, a clear signal of discontent, but O'Connor still won eight precincts with more than 70 percent and 12 with more than 60 percent. Turnout was 9,590. Daleiden then ran for committeeman in 2016. Turnout was 13,561 in the Democratic primary, and 11,963 in the committeeman contest. O'Connor won 6,532-5,431, getting 54.6 percent. This time, Daleiden won 15 precincts. O'Connor grew his vote by 931, and Daleiden by 1,442.

Daleiden bemoans the fact that her vote in 2015/16 was diluted and splintered in 2019 by four anti-O'Connor candidates: her, Vasquez, O'Keefe and Ugo Okere. But her vote was the anti-O'Connor vote, which grew from 3,989 to 5,431 to 8,907. That is a ward wide seismic shift in just 4 years. The alderman's base vote crumbled from 5,601 in 2015 to 4,446 on Feb. 26.

With the pro- versus anti-O'Connor vote at a 4,446-8,907 deficit going into the runoff, O'Connor needed to win the support of at least 2,400 non-O'Connor primary voters; or, in the alternative, spur turnout to over 14,000 by fear-mongering apathetic voters; or depress turnout among far leftist voters to under 12,000. The key was the 4,354 Daleiden-O'Keefe vote, which was more mainline than socialist. Neither woman made an endorsement, which was thought to be harmful to Vasquez.

As it turned out, it wasn't. O'Connor pounded out a negative mailing-a-day during the runoff, but "it had a negative effect," said Daleiden. O'Connor's dilemma was that he couldn't re-invent himself in a month, so he had to demagogue Vasquez, spending close to $500,000. Many perceived that stratagem as bullying and it hurt him rather than help him.

To be sure, O'Connor peeled off a chunk of the Daleiden-O'Keefe vote, upping his performance from 4,446 to 6,431, a gain of 1,985 votes, but Vasquez upped his vote from 2,863 to 7,509, a gain of 4,646 votes. In the primary, O'Connor finished first in 35 of 39 precincts with over 50 percent in five and over 60 percent in one, with Daleiden first in four. Vasquez in the runoff won 23 of 39 precincts, which means he got nearly three-quarters of the Feb. 26 anti-O'Connor vote, and won 19 of the 35 precincts in which O'Connor finished first on Feb. 26. That was the epitome of an ignominious defeat.

But all is not lost. O'Connor is still the Democratic committeeman, and democratic socialists like Vasquez are disinclined to become Democratic Party functionaries. Daughter Claire O'Connor was featured prominently in O'Connor's TV ads, and will likely run.

"I'm happy for the change" in aldermen, said Daleiden, who said she is "not inclined at this time" to run for the party post in 2020. The council's 2021 remap could attach the 40th Ward's west end to the 39th Ward, and stick Vasquez in the 50th Ward.

Politics is not static. In the pre-O'Connor era, prior to 1983, the 40th Ward had a string of Jewish aldermen dating back to the 1940s - Ben Becker, Seymour Simon, Nathan Kaplan, Solomon Gutstein, Ivan Rittenberg (who O'Connor beat in 1983), as well as committeemen of Greek ancestry, such as John Geocaris (who O'Connor beat in 1984). Had O'Connor been re-elected the 40th Ward would not be a target for dismantlement. Now it is. Vasquez may not be around for too long.

IN OTHER NEWS: Tom Allen, the former 38th Ward alderman, has resigned as a county judge, paving the way for the appointment of state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) to his 10th subcircuit vacancy. Mulroe said he has appeared before the Chicago Bar Association and other lawyer groups and has received a "qualified" rating. He and other applicants still need to be interviewed by the three 1st District (Cook County) state Supreme Court justices, who will make the decision. Mulroe said he "expects" to be on the bench by the "end of summer." Mulroe will have to win the 2020 Democratic primary and election to remain a judge.

Another 10th subcircuit judge, Gregory Wojkowski, is expected to retire, creating a second vacancy in the subcircuit, which covers Chicago's Northwest Side and parts of Park Ridge and Des Plaines. The senate district's Democratic committeemen will pick Mulroe's replacement that will serve through 2020.