August 28, 2019


Kind of like in the "Book of Job," he that giveth can taketh away. Like former Skokie state Representative Lou Lang, who is the Niles Township Democratic committeeman, is doing with the man he appointed for his Springfield gig.

Apparently, he that voteth wrong can also be voteth out. Or dumped, as the case may be, with first-year state Representative Yehiel "Mark" Kalish, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who Lang appointed to the 16th Illinois House District House seat in January. At the screening, 23 candidates sought the appointment.

"He (Kalish) violated his commitment," said Lang, who had $1,071,782 in his campaign fund as of June 30. "He promised to have a voting record just like mine ... to carry on my legacy," added Lang. "Especially on guns and choice." Lang promised that he "will do what it takes and spend what it takes" to defeat Kalish in the March 17 primary. Kalish had $70,914 on-hand.

"It was understood," Lang said, that "my successor share my values on important issues" such as "choice, labor, gay rights, minimum wage, progressive income tax, the need for a capital bill ... this was asked of every presenter, and all (23) agreed."

Kalish's post-appointment transgression was his May 28 "present" vote on the Illinois' Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which reaffirms abortion rights in the state, with no exceptions, in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, a possibility if President Trump is re-elected. Senate Bill 25, got 64 House votes, 4 more than needed to pass. "A 'present' vote is the same as 'no' vote," said Lang, deputy majority leader when he resigned Jan. 19. Now age 69, Lang was once on a track to be speaker when Mike Madigan retired. He is now a lobbyist in Springfield.

As a consequence of Kalish's RHA vote, Lang appointed a 6-person party organization screening committee to find an alternative to Kalish, with 14 presenters. Kalish did not appear. The choice was Denyse Wang Stoneback, an Asian-American woman from Skokie who is a social media consultant and founder of an anti-gun group called People for a Safer Society. At her August 12 campaign rollout, Stoneback blasted Kalish as a legislator "who can't be trusted to keep his word in Springfield." Lang, who called her an "impressive candidate," Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josina Morita, and Personal PAC, the state's pro-choice fund-raising and political action committee, endorsed her.

Its president, Terry Cosgrove, issued a blistering denunciatory statement asserting that Kalish "promised publicly and privately, verbally and in writing, on numerous occasions" prior to his appointment, "to vote for" the RHA when it came up for a vote in the 2019 session. "He (Kalish) lied to Personal PAC, lied to Planned Parenthood, lied to (the) ACLU, lied to (Lou) Lang, lied to everyone...(and) by not voting for SB25 (Kalish) stood with Donald Trump." Personal PAC has a huge pro-choice donor database, and can crank out thousands of mailers at will.

It is the policy of Speaker Mike Madigan to fund and support his Democratic incumbents in primary contests, although there are exceptions like renegade Kenneth Dunkin. The questions are (1) whether Madigan will spend $400-500,000 to rescue Kalish and (2) whether Madigan will take on the pro-choice lobby, a key Democratic constituency. Does Kalish really matter?

Kalish, after his May 28 non-vote, went into a bunker mode, but appeared at a June 24 town hall meeting at the Lincolnwood Public Library. Kalish was then in a mea culpa mode and read a prepared statement asserting that "it is clear that my Orthodox Jewish values and beliefs were not aligned with some core components of the (RHA) legislation" and that he "made a personal decision based on my conscience." Kalish admitted that he "made a mistake by not being in touch with my true position earlier" in the selection process and "not making it public," adding "God forgives true repentance." Voters, however, may not.

The RHA specifically rejected all abortion restrictions deemed unconstitutional by any federal court, including parental consent, waiting periods, mandatory counseling, and 8, 14, 18 or 20-week abortion performance bans, or any prohibition on late-term partial birth abortions. SB25 affirmed a "woman's fundamental right to an abortion" and specifically stated "a fetus does not have independent rights."

Kalish did not specify which "core components" of SB25 were unconscionable, but stressed that he "didn't vote for and didn't vote against" abortion rights. His vote, he said, "was not needed," as SB25 passed 64-50, with four Democrats voting "present" and seven voting "no." Democrats have a 74-44 House majority, which means 60-plus Democrats and 3-4 Republicans voted "yes."

"I'm doing my job," said Kalish, formerly a lobbyist and CEO for S4 Group, a governmental affairs lobbying group with an S4 PAC which has made donations to Republicans. Kalish is chairman of that political action committee. He was born in Philadelphia, went to high school in Skokie and received his rabbinical ordination from Hebrew Theological College in Skokie. He is presently a cantor at Congregation Shaarei Tzedek Mishkan Yair in West Ridge, which is the southwest section of the West Rogers Park 50th Ward, east of McCormick and north of Devon, where there are a dozen more Orthodox Jewish temples. There is also a large Orthodox Jewish presence in east Lincolnwood and in south Skokie, south of Dempster.

The population of the 16th House district is roughly 110,000, with 32,600 registered voters in the 32 suburban precincts, spread through most of Skokie, all of Lincolnwood, and parts of Niles and Morton Grove, plus 43,000 registered voters in the 41 Chicago precincts, with 39 of those in the 50th Ward, and 5 in the 40th Ward. In the most recent presidential-year Democratic primary, in 2016, turnout was 16,856, with 9,816 in the suburbs and 7,040 in Chicago. If Lang produces high numbers in Niles Township, then Stoneback will win.

Turnout will be equally large, if not larger, on March 17. To win, Kalish needs about 8,500 votes. He must unify his Jewish base, which will be at least 35 to 38 percent of the primary. However, according to a political operative in the 16th District, Orthodox Jews, reform Jews and secular Jews have decidedly different lifestyles, religious cultures and political agendas.

¥Orthodox Jews strictly adhere to the teachings of the Torah, observe the Sabbath and largely support Israel. They have large families, unpretentious tastes and are conservative on social issues, such as gay rights and to some extent on abortion, although the Torah offers no direct guidance on the issue. The Catholic Church, by comparison, issued a papal encyclical banning abortion. Ira Silverstein, the former state senator and an Orthodox Jew, was pro-choice during his 20 years in Springfield.

¥Reform Jews observe religious holidays, are generally affiliated with a synagogue, are politically liberal and generally support Israel, plus they are older, well educated and upscale, largely in the professional class and donate to liberal Democrats. They do not always relate well to Orthodox Jews.

¥Secular Jews are Jewish by DNA and ancestry only, eschew the practice of the Jewish faith, with the many who marry outside the religious called "lapsed Jews." They are mostly younger, liberal and feminist on social issues, politically correct, pro-civil/women's/gay rights, and support abortion rights, which also bodes ill for Kalish.

According to the 16th District source, the aforesaid Jewish segmentation is 40/30/30 percent, respectively. Kalish's only viable strategy, the source said, is to appeal to Jewish solidarity: Silverstein, the 50th Ward Democratic committeeman, lost his 8th Senate District seat to Ram Villivalam (D) in 2018, and Lang quit his seat, the east half of the senate district. If Kalish loses, the remaining Chicago Jewish state legislator will be Sara Feigenholtz (D-12), from Lincoln Park. "That will be his theme," said the source.

The 16th District's population is about 20 to 25 percent white non-Jewish and 33 to 35 percent Jewish, but also contains concentrations of Asian Indians and Koreans in Lincolnwood, plus a wide mix of Assyrians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russians Hispanics and Mid-East Muslims in the east end of the 50th Ward, plus a mix of those scattered throughout Skokie. Those with Third World ancestry are about 30 to 35 percent, but lackadaisical about voting.

An interesting dynamic will be the 9h subcircuit judicial race, where there are two vacancies on the ballot. The subcircuit contains 243 precincts, 94 in Chicago, with 39 in the 50th Ward and 31 in the 49th Ward, plus 149 suburban precincts, 59 in Niles Township, 24 in New Trier Township and 50 in Evanston Township. Mike Strom was appointed to the judge Marvin Luckman vacancy, but the judge Larry Axelrod vacancy has yet to be filled.

Both will be on the March 17 ballot, and it is widely expected that Silverstein will run for the Axelrod spot. Silverstein lost to Villivalam in 2018, getting 30 percent of the district wide vote but carrying his 50th Ward base. "I have not made decision" to run, said Silverstein. He has $4,140 on-hand, with debt of $49,000.

Outlook: Kalish is out of his league. He will lose 60 to 40 percent.

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