September 11, 2019


Here is a multiple-choice question for anyone who is still paying attention.

A Chicago Democratic ward committeeman is (a) at the top of the political food chain, (b) at the bottom of the political food chain, (c) holds a non-paying post that is inconsequential, and/or (d) believes it’s a steppingstone to glory and power.

Anybody who is now or has been a committeeman would answer (b) and (c). Anybody who aspires to and is running for committeeman in 2020 would answer (a) and (d). And everybody else, including this columnist, would give a resounding (c).

After all, the sitting Democratic committeemen of the 1st, 39th, 40th, 41st, 45th and 49th wards, who were elected in 2016, lost 2019 bids to be elected or re-elected alderman, and the 50th Ward committeeman and the former 32nd Ward committeeman lost 2018 state senator and county commissioner races. Robert Murphy (39th) and Pat O’Connor (40th) lost the April 2 aldermanic runoff with, respectively, 44.1 and 46.2 percent. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Tim Heneghan (41st), John Arena (45th) and Joe Moore (49th) lost the Feb. 26 primary with, respectively, 38.8, 29.7, 36.2 and 36.6 percent. And Ira Silverstein (50th) lost his Illinois 8th Senate District seat with 29.9 percent and John Fritchey (32nd) lost with 44.6 percent. They would surely answer the above question with a (b) and (c).

The bailouts have begun.

Moore, a 28-year alderman who lost to Maria Hadden, resigned several months ago and was replaced by state Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-14). Murphy, anticipating a 2020 challenge from either Alderman Samantha Nugent (39th) or state Representative John D’Amico (D-15), resigned Sept. 7 and was replaced by state Senator Ram Villivalam (D-8), who defeated Silverstein. And Silverstein, who is running for judge in the 9th subcircuit, resigned Sept. 8, and was replaced by his wife, Alderman Debra Silverstein (50th). Talk about a game of chairs.
At this time, with the petition circulatory period having commenced Sept. 3, it appears that neither Moreno nor O’Connor will seek re-election, and newly elected aldermen Daniel LaSpata (1st) and Andre Vasquez (40th), will seek those spots. Heneghan will have at least two credible opponents, including one backed “unofficially” by Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st). Arena, if he seeks re-election, will face Alderman Jim Gardiner (45th).

Up to this point, Arena had been pursuing a job in the Lightfoot administration, targeting some new director’s job in the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs that would oversee the new “Fair Workweek” ordinance. There has been major pushback against Arena from both pro-business groups, Northwest Side aldermen and labor unions. Meanwhile, as she works on her first budget, Lightfoot has imposed a hiring freeze in all of the city’s departments. That’s cold.

Arena’s petitions are not yet on the street, and word is that he may have concluded that running for committeeman against a sitting alderman would be unhelpful to his city employment prospects.

“I’m running,” said Gardiner, “regardless of what (Arena) does.” Arena wants to get a city pension, and understands that a second defeat in March would be a curtain call for a 2023 comeback. But, without his party post, he would have NO political base. 

39TH WARD: Like Arena, Murphy covets a city job, specifically an open architect’s position with the city. His legacy can be summarized in three words: Gone and forgotten. Murphy ran and lost for alderman in 2015, won for committeeman in 2016, then lost for alderman this year, and is carrying $77,000 of debt owed. Murphy thought being committeeman would create a political base, but in the end it turned out to be a ball-and-chain. When Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) retired, Murphy was transformed from being the anti-Laurino outsider to the political insider, with Nugent the outsider. Against either D’Amico or Nugent, who are allies, Murphy would have been crushed - since both wanted to get rid of his future irritation and meddling.

Villivalam, who lives in North Mayfair, is a satisfactory alternative. “I can work with him,” said D’Amico, Laurino’s nephew. “He (Villivalam) is a good fit for the role,” said Nugent. Neither will run for committeeman, nor will Casey Smagala, who received 27 percent for alderman.

“My job is to get folks together, focus on issues, heighten turnout, pass the Fair Tax amendment, and elect Democrats,” said Villivalam, who added that “under no circumstance” would he back Silverstein for a judge.

For the first time since 2015, peace has broken out. Now everybody gets a piece of the pie.

41ST WARD: The last Democratic committeeman with real clout was Roman Pucinski (1964-92), a former congressman (1958-72) and alderman (1973-91) who got booted by Ralph Capparelli in 1992 after he lost to Brian Doherty in 1991. Capparelli, a state representative (1970-2004), was booted by Mary O’Connor in 2008, who used that post to win the 2011 alderman race, when Doherty retired. O’Connor then got booted by Napolitano in 2015 (and got a city job), and Heneghan then ran for committeeman in 2016 with her support. Heneghan won easily, 6,787-3,921-865, over two foes, one backed covertly by Napolitano, but then lost overwhelmingly - 12,502-5,289 — to Napolitano in 2019.

Heneghan, from Edison Park, has emerged as a dissident, conservative Democrat opposing the slating of Kim Foxx, criticizing her tenure and bail bond policies, and endorsing Bill Conway in the March state’s attorney primary. Locally, he opposed the choice of Robert Martwick for 10TH DISTRICT state senator and Lindsey LaPointe for 19TH DISTRICT state representative.

Heneghan sought the Mulroe seat, worked to get it, and then Martwick snatched it from within his grasp. He calls Martwick an “opportunist” who is “bad for the state and bad for the district.” Hence, there are lots of subtexts ... and definitely ill will.

Danny O’Toole, a decorated police sergeant from Norwood Park and former Marine, has announced against Martwick, and he will be supported by BOTH Napolitano and Heneghan, and certainly the Fraternal Order of Police. There will be four candidates for Democratic committeeman: Heneghan; Bill Kilroy, from Norwood Park, a retired police lieutenant; Joe Cook, of Edgebrook, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District attorney, and Goran Davidovac, an event coordinator who received 7.5 percent in 2016.

The alliances are tangled, almost incomprehensible, but should be fun to watch to see how they shake out on the Northwest Side.

All will likely be endorsing Conway, but Speaker Mike Madigan has dispatched field operatives to find a candidate in the 20TH HOUSE DISTRICT, a seat which takes in all of the 41st Ward, plus Norridge, Harwood Heights, Rosemont and part of Park Ridge, and from which Mike McAuliffe (R-20) resigned in June. Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens replaced him. Interviewed were Heneghan and Cary Capparelli, Ralph Capparelli’s son, who is passing petitions. According to Heneghan, Madigan is dangling $1.5 million of funding as an enticement. In the 2016 race, Madigan pumped in $2 million for Merry Marwig. “I’m running,” said Cappareli, who can self-fund.

There is a Republican subtext: McAuliffe is the ward’s committeeman, and his votes insured Stephens’ choice. Ammie Kessem, a 16th District police officer from Oriole Park, is challenging McAuliffe for the party post. “Mike is running,” said Doherty. To win, Stephens needs a unified party.

45TH WARD: Arena’s longtime base is liberal Portage Park, but his support in the ward’s north crumbled, due largely to his affordable housing crusade and some say, for not listening to his constituents. Feb. 26’s anti-Arena voters will be pro-Gardiner voters unless the presidential contest spurs a huge leftist turnout. But that may not trickle down to the bottom of the ballot, where committeeman is listed. There will also be ideological alliances. Arena backed Martwick for senator, and then Martwick backed Arena’s choice LaPointe for his former 19TH DISTRICT House seat.  Patti Vasquez, a former WGN radio talk show host is running against LaPointe.

There will definitely be a left/ right dichotomy, with the Arena/ Martwick/LaPointe voters supporting Foxx and Sanders or Warren and the Gardiner/O’Toole/Vasquez voters supporting Biden or a moderate. There is no question that Gardiner is the early favorite.

There will be a Republican house candidate: Jeff Muehlfelder, of Dunham Park, a police sergeant. The Republican senate candidate will be Anthony Beckman, a Norridge cop.

40TH WARD: Alderman Vasquez is running, but so is Maggie O’Keefe, a protégé of 47th Ward committeeman Paul Rosenfeld, who got 2,058 votes, or 15.4 percent, for alderman on Feb. 26. O’Keefe is obviously positioning herself for a 2023 rematch.

33RD WARD: Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, a democratic socialist, beat incumbent Deb Mell by 16 votes in the runoff. She is not running for committeeman. Aaron Goldstein upset Dick Mell by 50 votes in 2016, and faces state Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) in March. Martinez is also running for Clerk of Court but her campaign has generated little traction or money.