August 7, 2019


To slate or not to slate? That is the question which the 80 ward and township Democratic committeemen will determine at their Aug. 15 and 16 Cook County slate making session. Are they going to pick somebody for all 21 ballot spots?

To be slated or not to be slated? That is the question that candidates for 2020 must determine. Is having the party's imprimatur helpful or harmful? And is it worth the party's obligatory $40,000 "donation?"

On next year's countywide ballot will be the offices of state's attorney, Circuit Court clerk, and three Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) commissioner seats, plus 13 Circuit Court judgeships (and maybe more before the December filing deadline), two Appellate Court justices, and one state Supreme Court justice. At $40,000 a pop from each slatee, that is $840,000 for the coffers of the county Democrats and their chairman, Toni Preckwinkle, which will be used for sample ballots, flyers and one pre-primary countywide mailing. Plus 20,000 nominating petition signatures. That's the helpful part.

The unhelpful part is that being associated with Preckwinkle and the party establishment will border on toxic in 2020, especially for state's attorney and clerk. For every other office, any publicity is good publicity, since voters have scant knowledge about the candidates. The bump of having a sample-ballot mailing and election-day workers can be critical. So, too, will be money, but only in the state's attorney, clerk and Supreme Court races. Voters care little about the other 18 contests.

The marquee 2020 race will be for Kim Foxx's job as state's attorney. A protŽgŽ of Preckwinkle, Foxx's slating is a certainty, and for Foxx a necessity. She needs all the help she can get. The ongoing Jussie Smollett situation, coupled with ongoing gun-related violence and Foxx's bail-bond reforms, and the opposition of the Chicago Federation of Police (FOP) and suburban police chiefs, makes her beatable in the March 17 primary. Slating (and Preckwinkle) will whip most black committeemen into line, especially because her major opponent, Bill Conway, is white. But she's on her own everywhere else.

In 2016, Foxx easily won the racially charged primary over incumbent Anita Alvarez, who was embroiled in the Laquan McDonald cover-up. The vote was 645,738-324,594, with 144,063 for Donna More. Foxx got 415,627 votes and 62.4 percent in Chicago and 230,111 votes and 52.1 percent in the suburbs. To win, Foxx needs to divert attention from the issue of her competence and portray her critics as racists, which is already happening.

From a political standpoint, a more important office is the Clerk of the Circuit Court, a 2,000-job bastion now held by the venerable and beleaguered Dorothy Brown, who will not seek slating. Brown has reportedly managed to get herself identified as "Clerk A" in a recent federal indictment of a Pennsylvania debt collection company and its owner. Penn Credit Corporation had a contract with Brown's office and the alleged pay-to-play scheme involved donations to her scholarship fund, birthday celebrations, Women's History Month celebration, and complimentary robo-calls for her 2016 campaign against Alderman Michelle Harris (8th), which she won 477,503-307,392, getting 47.7 percent, with 221,921 votes for lawyer Jacob Meister.

Harris was the slated candidate and spent more than $1 million. Brown has NOT been indicted.
The Brown name is well known and she has deep support among older African-Americans, and especially among women churchgoers. But she has little cash-on-hand, with $5,281 as of June 30. Committeemen are prone to support those candidates (like Harris in 2016) who donate generously to their ward and township organizations. But Brown has her own support network, and the committeemen who alienate it face some risk, especially if they endorse a non-black candidate who donates well. If Brown is the only African-American in the 2020 primary, she will get 80-90 percent of the black vote whether she has money or not.

The pre-slating field for Brown's job includes MWRD commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, Board of Review commissioner Mike Cabonargi, and Meister, each white, and 17-year Hispanic state Senator Iris Martinez (D-20), from the Albany Park area. Racial dynamics will be a factor, but money more so. As of June 30, Cabonargi had $516,838 on-hand, Spyropoulos $283,875, Meister $829, and Martinez $130,502. Since June 30 Spyropoulos has dumped $500,000 into her campaign, bringing her on-hand to $783,875. Meister will likely self-fund his 2020 campaign with $300.000, as he did in 2016. For an office that involves paper pushing, data processing and fine collecting, it seems to be extraordinarily desirable.

There are a lot of Democratic politicians who would like to get their paws on a chunk of the Circuit Court clerk's jobs, especially those graded G-23 and up, which pay $75,000 and up - of which there are about two dozen. The vast bulk of the Clerk's jobs are filing and courtroom clerks, which pay in the $25,000-35,000 range, with a "merit" system that essentially insulates them from being forced to work precincts or donate money.

To be slated a candidate must aggregate more than half of the weighted-vote of the committeemen, which is the 2018 Democratic primary vote cast in their respective wards and townships. In Chicago it totaled 452,529 and in the suburbs it was 342,892, for a countywide total of 795,427. Thus, to be slated, an aspirant needs 397,714 weighted-votes.

Cabonargi and Spyropoulos each WANT to be slated, while Martinez wants a non-endorsement. She is working to get committeemen from the Hispanic-majority 1st, 12th, 15th, 22nd, 23rd, 25th, 26th, 30th, 31st, 35th and 36th wards, plus Cicero and Berwyn townships, to vote for her or to abstain. Their weighted-vote amounts to 80,545, or 10.1 percent of the total. Hispanics sometimes don't turn out, as demonstrated in the 2019 mayoral primary, when Susana Mendoza received 9 percent and Gery Chico 5 percent; both are much better known than Martinez. She also needs backing real soon from Hispanic heavyweights like Chuy Garcia, Luis Arroyo, Gilbert Villegas, Ariel Reboyras, Roberto Maldonado and Ray Lopez ... even Joe Berrios. Garcia, the 4th District congressman, is supposedly the Mexican-American South Side's top leader, although he endorsed losers in several 2019 aldermanic races. Arroyo, a state representative and 36th Ward committeeman, is supposedly the top leader in the North Side's Puerto Rican wards, although he backed losers for alderman in the 30th and 31st wards.

To further complicate matters, Martinez strongly backed incumbent Reboyras in the 30h Ward, where he faced Jessica Gutierrez, former congressman Luis Gutierrez's daughter, who was endorsed by Arroyo and the 36th Ward alderman, Villegas, who is now Mayor Lori Lightfoot's council floor leader.

"Nobody will get a majority" at slate making for clerk, Martinez predicted. But Martinez will be going nowhere unless and until she gets ALL the key Hispanic leaders behind her candidacy. Her belief that she can win a 5-way primary is pure fantasy.

Committeemen by nature are opportunistic and avaricious, and they know a "cash cow" when they see it. Cabonargi and Spyropoulos are ripe for milking. Both will dump close to $1 million into media, but there will be a sizeable trickle-down to committeemen who make opportune promises. That's why there will be no clerk slating,

Martinez claims she will assemble a "black-brown coalition," but Dorothy Brown is a lock for 33 to 35 percent on March 17. That means the anti-Brown foursome will divvy-up the remaining 65 to 67 percent and that one of them has to get half or more of the non-Brown vote to win. With both Cabonargi and Spyropoulos bashing the incumbent and trying to be the most furious "reformer," both will finish in the 25 to 30 percent range, and Martinez and Meister will be lost in their dust. Cabonargi is the most credible alternative, has the best credentials and has the best breakout prospects. Absent a Brown indictment before March 17, the incumbent will win - and even an indictment might not be fatal, as was shown in the aldermanic races. (Ed Burke comes to mind.)

Brown "checked out a long time ago," said Martinez, referring to her office's antiquated operations and the feds' perpetual investigations. But having four opponents, who at some point will begin attacking each other to corner the anti-Brown vote, will extend her shelf life.

For the MWRD, incumbent commissioners Frank Avila, Kim DuBuclet and Cam Davis will be slated. Visibility is an impossibility, even though the agency has a $1 billion-plus budget and 1,200 employees. The district processes effluent and solid waste, and has nine part-time $40,000-a year commissioners. Avila is chairman of the Finance Committee, was first elected in 2002, and is one of two county Hispanic officeholders (the other is MWRD commisioner Marcelino Garcia); DuBuclet is a former top aide to Preckwinkle; Davis is allied with commissioner Debra Shore and her Evanston progressives. The three will run as a slate, and be bracket on the ballot as Avila/DuBuclet/ Davis.

Such factors as gender, ballot position, slating and media endorsements are invariably determinative in MWRD contests, where three are picked. Reportedly running without slating are Sharon Waller and Sarah Bury, two white women from Chicago, and Eira Corral Sepulveda, a Hispanic woman from Hanover Park. A black candidate from the south suburbs is also in the mix. If a lot of liberals vote, Sepulveda could draw a lot of votes.