January 1, 2020


There are two kinds of people in the mind of a politician: Those who are useful and those who are not. Most are not in their eyes, but the useful are indispensable.

Some serious 2020 legislative contests are developing on Chicago's Northwest Side and in the suburbs, and a usefulness spreadsheet is required to differentiate the U-plusses from the U-minuses.

In the 3rd, 16th, 19th and 20th Illinois House districts, resigned former state representatives Luis Arroyo (D-3), Robert Martwick (D-19), Michael McAuliffe (R-20) and Lou Lang (D-16) - all committeemen - are useful to and for their appointed successors, respectively, Eva-Dina Delgado, Lindsey LaPointe and Brad Stephens, as well as Denyse Wang Stoneback, who is running against Lang's appointed successor, Mark Kalish. Speaker Mike Madigan is useful to Kalish and likely to LaPointe, as it is Madigan's policy to bankroll and support all Democratic incumbents. Delgado was appointed contrary to Madigan's wishes, so she may be un-useful.

Madigan may or may not be useful to Michelle Darbro, a city firefighter recruited by his staffers and CFD Local 2 political director Rob Tebbins to run for the Stephens (formerly McAuliffe) seat against Cary Capparelli in the March 17 Democratic primary. Rumors are rife that Darbro is a "shill." Stephens, currently Rosemont's mayor and a political legacy as the son of Rosemont founder Donald Stephens, can raise and/or self-fund up to $500,000. The word is that the speaker, with a 74-44 majority, is not averse to Republican Stephens holding the seat through 2022, and that Darbro will take a dive.

10TH SENATE DISTRICT: Martwick flip-flopped big time on the state senate appointment, an opening created by incumbent John Mulroe's (D-10) June appointment as a Circuit Court judge. Martwick's former 19th District comprises the east half of the senate district, east of Nagle, encompassing nearly all of the 45th Ward and most of the 38th Ward. Martwick had a tough 2018 contest against Republican Ammie Kessem, who had serious outside funding from conservative political action committees, spending $600,000 to Martwick's $250.000. He won 21,389-13,852, getting 60.7 percent. Martwick's ties to defeated Alderman John Arena (45th) were not helpful, nor his equivocation on the "5150" housing project. But Arena lost in 2019, and big-bucks right-wingers like Dan Proft and friends of Bruce Rauner took their best shot in 2018, and Madigan could and would fund Martwick heavily in 2020. His seat was utterly safe. Now his senate seat is not.

The 19TH HOUSE DISTRICT has 84 precincts, 77 in Chicago and seven in the suburbs. That includes 37 precincts in the 45th Ward (which Martwick won 9,405-5,494 over Kessem) and 28 in the 38th Ward (which he won 7,155-4,257).

Martwick, when the Mulroe vacancy loomed, assured me that he had no interest in being a senator, and that he had "considerable influence" in the House. He changed his mind a week before the June selection meeting, and Senate President John Cullerton got on board. The weighted votes of 45th Ward committeeman Arena and his own in the 38th Ward were more than enough to seal the deal.

But no deal has been sealed for March 17. Decorated Chicago police officer and Marine veteran Danny O'Toole has filed for senator, and a phalanx of 41st Ward politicians, including Alderman Anthony Napolitano and Democratic committeeman Tim Heneghan, are backing O'Toole. Heneghan thought he had sewed-up the Mulroe appointment, but Martwick's switcheroo nullified that. There will be a huge "cop vote" in 2020, with first responders, their families and law-and-order types coming out to vote against State's Attorney Kim Foxx, and for cops O'Toole, Joe Duplechin for state rep in the 19th District, Bill Kilroy for 41st Ward committeeman, and John Garrido for judge in the 10th subcircuit.

Martwick's problem, I think, is that that he has no ground game west of Nagle in the 20th House District, except in Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights), where his father Robert Martwick senior was the longtime (1964-2018) committeeman and his ally Frank Avino is the current committeeman.

The 20TH HOUSE DISTRICT has 84 precincts, 41 in Chicago, with 34 in the 41st Ward and seven in the 38th Ward, and 43 in the suburbs, including Rosemont, north Park Ridge, east Des Plaines and some of Elmwood Park and Franklin Park.

Martwick has to introduce himself real quick to roughly 30,000 new west end voters, and solidify his east end base, which is shaky. Martwick and Arena had enough weighted votes to seal the deal to appoint rookie LaPointe in the 19th District, but LaPointe has made it emphatically clear that she is "running her own campaign" and has endorsed neither Foxx nor Martwick. LaPointe has opposition from Patti Vasquez and Duplechin. Martwick last summer approached Joe Cook, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District attorney who is opposing Kilroy, about running a co-coordinated campaign, but Cook declined.

Direct mail will be the key. Martwick has championed an elected Chicago school board, a graduated state income tax identical to the governor's "Fair Tax," and pension reform. O'Toole's task will be to introduce himself as a "neighborhood" kind of guy, and paint Martwick as a liberal elitist.

The Capparelli-Darbro primary has complexities, though. Tebbins of Local 2 claims he recruited Darbro, who gets the automatic $5,000 donated to every firefighter candidate, but Capparelli claims Madigan's operatives interviewed him. The venerable Ralph Capparelli, now age 94, served in the House from 1970-2004, and was close to Rosemont founder and mayor Donald Stephens, who served 51 years, and was succeeded by his son as mayor in 2007, and also as Leyden Township Republican committeeman. Cary Capparelli has been a successful businessman and intends to self-fund. He is an ideological conservative, and ran in the past for county office as a Republican. "I will be independent in Springfield," promised Capparelli, meaning not under Madigan's thumb. The elder Capparelli was defeated by McAuliffe in a remapped district in 2004, and he was ousted as committeeman by Mary O'Connor in 2008, but the surname still has residual recognition. If Madigan wants Darbro, he's going to have to spend some money.

Nevertheless, some Democrats think Capparelli is the shill. McAuliffe resigned last June, and he as 41st Ward Republican committeeman had sufficient weighted-votes, along with Stephens's, were enough to make Stephens the pick. McAuliffe was appointed in 1996, succeeding his late father, Roger McAuliffe, who had a longstanding non-aggression pact with Capparelli. An interesting subtext is that Stephens is a member of the Illinois Tollway Authority board, which in 2018 outsourced a $6.5 million 5-year contract to Morreale Communications to handle public relations. The company, with an Edison Park office, earns $80,000-a month. Kim Morreale McAuliffe owns the firm and is the former state representative's wife. Some Democrats, such as Cary Capparelli, think the McAuliffe-for-Stephens switch reeked of a payback.

McAuliffe is running for re-election as committeeman because, he said, he "wants to help elect Stephens." Kessem opposes him. McAuliffe was long allied with former alderman Brian Doherty (1991-2011), but in 2015 and 2019 didn't endorse Napolitano. The alderman reciprocated in McAuliffe's tough 2016 re-election, when Rauner channeled $3 million into his campaign, and Madigan $2 million into Merry Marwig's.

16TH HOUSE DISTRICT: Madigan "is supporting me," said Kalish, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi appointed to Lang's Skokie-based seat in March. Kalish subsequent apostasy was that he voted "present" on a bill to codify abortion rights into Illinois statutes, prompting Lang, the Niles Township Democratic committeeman with $1.1 million on-hand as of Sept. 30, to recruit Stoneback. A third candidate filed. "The anger has diminished," said Kalish. "Voters will judge me on my overall record."

3RD HOUSE DISTRICT: Arroyo was the undisputed leader of North Side Puerto Rican politics, but his arrest for alleged bribery and resignation rendered him toxic in Springfield but not so much back home. Madigan vowed that Arroyo's participation as 36th Ward committeeman in his successor's selection would "taint" the process, and would nullify the choice. Arroyo did participate by proxy and Eva-Dino Delgado was chosen and sworn-in by a judge. The legislature meets Jan. 9, by which time any formal objections to Delgado must have been submitted. Delgado is opposed by Dave Feller, a sheriff's internal investigator and Martwick political operative, teacher Nidia Carranzo, who has support from Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and the Chicago Teachers Union, and Joaquin Vazquez. Delgado, whose hub is high-level county jobholder in Toni Preckwinkle's office, will be backed by aldermen Ariel Reboyras (31st) and Gil Villegas (36th), and state Senator Iris Martinez (D-20),

Delgado will win, whether seated or not. Villegas will replace Arroyo as committeeman.

By and large, the useful will prevail. They all scratch each other's backs. It's the name of the game.