August 21, 2019


It looks like white men still got it. In fact, at the county Democrats' Aug. 15 and 16 slatemaking, white men got quite a lot - like slating for high-end jobs as Clerk of the Circuit Court, two Appellate Court vacancies, one Metropolitan Water Reclamation District spot, one of 13 countywide Circuit Court vacancies and the 1st District Board of Review.

That's six white men out of 22 slated, or 27 percent. Of the other 16 slated, there were 12 women, of whom six are white, eight are African-American, of whom three are men and four are Hispanics, all women. Overall, that's 55 percent women, 36 percent black, and 18 percent Hispanic.

That's about right, at least in terms of Democratic primary turnout - not population.

"It was a good, open process," said 38th Ward Democratic committeeman Robert Martwick, noting that in the past such party bosses as Ed Burke, Mike Madigan and Tom Hynes dictated the slate, which committeemen then rubber-stamped.

"Committeemen were in the room, trading votes, making deals" for their candidates, Martwick said. That is the job of the 80 committeemen, 50 from Chicago and 30 from the suburban townships. Their job is to pick their candidates and produce votes for those that are picked.
Of course, there will be a plethora of primary contests on March 17, and slated candidates in a heavy turnout routinely lose. But slating does give each slatee an infrastructural base, with committeemen supposedly disseminating a pre-primary sample-ballot and the party, to which each slatee donates $40,000, getting 20,000 nominating petition signatures and sending out a countywide sample-ballot mailer.

Achieving diversity among the Democrats' constituencies is a delicate task, which usually displeases more than it pleases. For Clerk of Court, a 2,000-job office from which incumbent Dorothy Brown announced on Aug. 14 that she is retiring, the slatee is Mike Cabonargi, a current Board of Review commissioner. The total countywide weighted vote was 795,424, of which Cabonargi garnered close to 65 percent, and had the solid backing of the Black Caucus. The slatee for state Supreme Court justice is appointed black incumbent P. Scott Neville, who got 478,407 weighted-votes. Kim Foxx was re-slated for state's attorney on a yea-or-nay voice vote, with some scattered nays; a move for a roll call was tabled. A huge surprise came when 17-year MWRD commissioner Frank Avila was dumped and replaced by Eira Corral Sepulveda, a Hispanic woman from Hanover Township. The Chicago/suburban vote breakout is about 57 to 43 percent. "My dad is running anyway" in the MWRD primary, said son Frank Avila.

Two appointed justices, Michael Hyman and John Griffin, were slated for the Appellate Court. To counter-balance the surfeit of white men slated for up-ballot spots, the Circuit Court slatees were nine women, five African-Americans and three Hispanics, leaving room for just one white man, Christ Stacey, a lawyer out of the 47th Ward. That computes to four white women, two black women, three black men, and three Hispanic women. A judge who is gay is retiring so the LGBTQ community demanded a replacement, which is Jill Rose Quinn, a trans-gender woman. Justice may be blind, but not judge-making. A special slatemaking "lawyer's subcommittee" met on Aug. 10 and screened 47 judge aspirants, making the above pre-arranged recommendations, which were approved by acclamation. Expect a record number of lawyers to file against the 16 Appellate and Circuit Court slatees.

Hispanics were "short-changed," state Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) said. She was passed-over for Clerk, getting about 20 percent of the weighted vote. She will run anyway. Others by-passed were Appellate Court justice Jesse Reyes for Supreme Court and Circuit Court judge Sandra Ramos for Appellate Court. Given the vagaries of gender voting and ballot placement, it is entirely possible that the three Circuit Court Hispanic slatees - Laura Ayala-Gonzalez, Teresa Molina and Araceli De La Cruz - could lose to an Irish-surnamed man or woman, as could Sepulveda.

Little noticed was the 1st District Board of Review job, which pays $100,000 and has enormous fund-raising potential. Cabonargi has $516,838 on-hand. The pick is Matthew Dattilo, a corporate attorney and protŽgŽ of Cabonargi. He would face Republican commissioner Dan Patlak in Nov. 2020. Abdelnasser Rashid, who ran for county commissioner in 2018, will likely file.

It takes roughly 20,000 petition signatures to get on the ballot and withstand a challenge. The 90-day circulation period begins Sept. 3, with the 7-day filing period Dec. 2 to 9. Democrats slated three "alternates" for the Appellate Court (including Ramos) and 10 for the Circuit Court. Should any justice or judge resign prior to Dec. 9, the party gets the "alternate" on the ballot, usually unopposed.

STATE'S ATTORNEY: Still enmeshed in the Jussie Smollett controversy, and her bail-bond policy perceived as soft-on-crime, Foxx faces a racially-polarizing re-election campaign. Her principal opponent will be Bill Conway, a former Naval Intelligence officer and county prosecutor who has the family wealth to self-fund...probably up to $5 million. That's a lot of paid media. Outlook: 50/50.

SUPREME COURT: There are 7 justices, 4 from Downstate districts and 3 from Cook County’s 1st District. Neville, then on the Appellate Court, was appointed in 2016 to replace Charles Freeman, a black elected in 1990. Freeman preferred Appellate justice Nathaniel Howse for his seat, but the six other justices, including the 1st District’s Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis, picked Neville. Howse and Reyes, along with justices Cynthia Cobbs and Shelly Harris and lawyer Daniel Epstein appeared before Martwick’s subcommittee, and Neville was recommended. The Black Caucus mostly backed Neville, but the suburban committeemen gravitated toward Howse, who got over 40 percent of the weighted-vote. A controversy arose as to whether Neville took a homeowner’s exemption on his late mother’s Bronzeville house while he was living in Beverly. That will be a major campaign issue.

Howse is definitely running in the primary, as is Appellate justice Margaret Stanton McBride and Harris both white. Each will divide their racial constituency. According to party sources, Reyes has been promised Burke’s seat when she retires in a couple years. If Reyes doesn’t file, that’s why. Outlook: Uncertain.

CLERK OF COURT: Retro is the word. The office is still mired in the 1980s, and Brown is forever mired in pay-to-play federal investigations. With Brown out, race played no role in the Cabonargi pick. Quite amazingly, qualifications and performance did.

"He's done a great job" at the Board of Review, said Martwick, who is part of his father's law firm, which specializes in property tax appeals (along with Burke and Madigan). The appeals process "is digitized and online," said Martwick, crediting Cabonargi, Patlak and commissioner Larry Rogers for the transformation. That needs to happen in the clerk's office, which processes over a million pieces of paper per year. Cabonargi is viewed as the candidate best able to do that.

As a commissioner since 2011, Cabonargi has energetically engaged in outreach by hosting and personally attending tax appeal seminars in all the townships, and attending party functions (and donating money). His primary opponents will be Martinez, who has $130,502 on-hand; attorney Jacob Meister, who ran in 2016, getting 20 percent; and Mariyana Spyropoulos, a MWRD commissioner who just put $500,000 into her campaign, and has $783,875 on-hand. "If she spent $3 million, she'd have chance," said one politician. "Otherwise, it will be Cabonargi." Also expected to run are the ubiquitous Todd Stroger and Richard Boykin, a county commissioner defeated in 2018.

Asked whether accepting donations from lawyers who practice before the Board of Review was pay-to-play at Martwick's Aug. 12 ward meeting, Cabonargi replied that he "did nothing illegal." Meister will be the attack dog in the race, and is already questioning Cabonargi's wife's connections to the Sterling Bay developers, her TIF expertise and Burke's tax appeal services. Outlook: With six candidates, 35 percent is enough to win. But Meister may be 2020's Lori Lightfoot. Outlook: Edge to Cabonargi, but only if he runs strong in the African-American wards and townships.

APPELLATE COURT: With Hyman and Griffin slated, judges William Stewart Boyd, Ramos and Sharon Johnson were made "alternates," mainly to keep them from running. They were likely promised appointment to the next vacancy. A slew of female lawyers or Circuit judges will surely run.

CIRCUIT COURT: It is requisite that any slatee gets a "qualified" bar association rating. But the slatees are hardly household names. The four white women - Quinn, Maura McMahon Zeller, Kerrie Maloney Laytin and Lynn Weaver Boyle - have Irish surnames. That deters opposition from other women. If two or more men run, the slatee wins. The three black men are Lloyd James Brooks, Levander Smith Jr. and James Derico Jr., and the two black women are Celestia Mays and Sheree Henry. And then there are the three Hispanic women and one white man. The rule-of-thumb is that the SLATE WINS if there are two or more Irish-surnamed women running, or five-plus candidates. OUTLOOK: Expect five or six slatees to lose, and at least two late openings.

METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT: The slate includes incumbents Cam Davis, a white man, and Kim DuBuclet, a black woman, plus Sepulveda. Avila, who ran in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2008 and 2014, is the best known. Also running are Sharon Waller and Sarah Bury, both white women. Three will be chosen. Much depends on ballot position.