February 5, 2020


It is conventionally postulated that age 70 is the new age 50. In 2020 politics, Hispanic women candidates are the new Irish-surnamed women. The "Year of the Latina" looms.

Conventional wisdom, as demonstrated in the past three decades, dictates that surnames and gender are determinative in contests where the candidates are unknown, such as judge or Metropolitan Water Reclamation commissioner. Women, especially with Irish surnames, invariably beat men and women with ethnic-sounding surnames. Men win when multiple women run.

Non-conventional wisdom may prevail on March 17. Watch the races of Iris Martinez for Clerk of Court, Sandra Ramos for Appellate Court, and Laura Ayala-Gonzalez, Teresa Molina and Araceli DeLaCruz for countywide Circuit Court. Martinez is running against three men. Ramos is running against two Irish-surnamed women and a male incumbent. The Circuit Court Latinas were all slated; Ayala-Gonzalez faces two Irish-surnamed men. Molina faces an Irish-surnamed man who ran in 2018, and DeLaCruz faces an Irish-surnamed man and woman.

There are 2,958,173 registered voters, of which 1,422,337 voted in the 2016 Democratic primary. 2020 turnout is expected to be equally heavy, with the Democratic electorate heavily skewed to the left, backing Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg for president, with more centrist Democrats opting for Biden or Klobuchar. In 2016's Clinton-Sanders primary, the countywide vote was 633,300-536,805, signifying a rough center/left split of about 54/46 percent.

In past judicial races the breakout has been as follows: Slated Democrats get 30-35 percent. Joe Berrios got 36 percent in 2018. About 5 percent of the voters are conscientious types, monitoring bar association and media endorsements. And the remaining 60 to 65 percent are "deaf, dumb and blind" as the Who song goes.

In this year's toxic and polarized environment, Democrats have two options: Nominate a democratic socialist who is going to try to fundamentally change the corporate capitalist system, or nominate a conventional Democrat who is going to try to roll-back Trump policies, issue a lot of PLANS, but essentially restore the pre-Trump status quo. The Cook County races are well down-ballot, and fall-off from president to Clerk or judge will be at least 200-250,000. But the bulk of those politically-correct "change" Democrats who get down there are not going to vote for any man, will be OK with an Irish-surnamed woman, and will be ecstatic to find an identifiable Latina.

CLERK OF COURT: "It's a boring race," said political consultant Frank Calabrese. Voters "do not know the candidates, the issues, nor the (office's) function." That is correct. The office is all about paper-pushing, not policy-making. It absorbs and stores 30 million pieces of paper annually, plus 300,000 filings and documents, digitizes some, and manages the county's 80-plus courtrooms. It's a clerical mess. The public, however, knows not and cares not. Practicing lawyers do.

The Clerk candidates, all largely unknown, are Martinez, an 18-year state senator who positions herself as the anti-Madigan/anti-insider; lawyer Jacob Meister, who got 221,927 votes, or 22 percent, in his 2016 bid, running as the reformer/ progressive; Board of Review commissioner Mike Cabonargi, the slated North Shore Democrat, whose issue is competence; and former county commissioner Richard Boykin from Oak Park, who was beat in 2018 by Toni Preckwinkle due to his anti-soda tax agitation. Each has a demographic but not necessarily a base - Martinez with women and Hispanics, Meister with Lakefront and North Shore progressives and the LGBTQ community, Boykin with West Side blacks but not Preckwinkle's South Side allies, and Cabonargi with the party establishment, developers, lawyers, labor and some liberals. Cabonargi has a floor of about 30 percent due to slating. Hispanics are about 20 percent of the county population, but turn out anemically.

If money talked, then everybody should be eating Cabonargi's dust. Martinez had $17,500 on-hand as of Jan. 1, Boykin $50,221, Meister $133,760, and Cabonargi $666,916 - amassed over past years. It's called pay-to-play. Lawyers who get property tax reductions before the BOR have a propensity to donate to Cabonargi, whose wife used to be the TIF advisor to Mayor Rich Daley. But Cabonargi had about $555,000 last summer, so his fund-raising is sluggish. Blame it on Meister.

A 1993 Cook County ethics ordinance put an annual $750 cap on donations to elected officials, which, as applied to Cabonargi, meant lawyers, lawyers' employees, and law firms. Meister filed an ethics complaint on Jan. 16. Cabonargi has 30 days to respond. Berrios filed a lawsuit to invalidate the cap, which was affirmed by the Appellate Court on Sept. 21, 2018 (with Berrios returning donations). According to Meister, Cabonargi received and returned $45,500 in donations over the $750 cap in 2018, but then instructed those donors to redirect $30,700 to the "Fund for 9th District Democrats," an entity which Cabonargi created because he is the North Shore 9th District Democratic state central committeeman. Cabonargi should be up on TV, cable and the social media by now, but a chunk of that $666,916 will be returned to sender. He's also going to hold onto another chunk, like $300,000, for his 2022 re-election, if necessary.

As a result, nobody's got the money to be a serious contender, like Bill Conway with his $5 million in the state's attorney's race. Meister also is shopping his claim that Cabonargi's wife now works for developer Sterling Bay, which have used Ed Burke and others to get tax breaks before the BOR, which has two other commissioners. But Meister lacks the resources to COMMUNICATE these allegations.

Meister dismisses the "Latina" theory and is banking on the Pat Quinn model: Just keep running and losing, and voters will remember you. Quinn ran seven times between 1982 and 2002, losing four times. "People remember me" from 2016, said Meister. That's dubious. He got 221.927 votes, so maybe he has a base.

The retiring incumbent is Dorothy Brown, who won five times, lost for mayor and county board president, and had a solid base, especially women. Boykin is trying to tap into Brown's base. Brown was dumped in 2016 in favor of Alderman Michelle Harris (8th), a Lakefront Preckwinkle ally. But Brown won 477,503-307,392-221,927 over Harris and Meister in a turnout of 1,006,827, with Meister getting pluralities in the more affluent suburbs, Lakefront and outlying city ethnic wards.

Outlook: Meister has first ballot position. Martinez is a Latina. Cabonargi is slated. Expect Martinez to win 34-28-27-11 percent, with Boykin last and Meister second.

SUPREME COURT: Too many African-Americans will guarantee that this historically "black seat" is won by a white woman or Hispanic man - either Margaret Stanton McBride or Jesse Reyes, both Appellate justices. McBride has $275,547 on-hand and Reyes is a ubiquitous campaigner and is well liked. The three African-American candidates are appointed incumbent P. Scott Neville and Appellate justices Nathaniel Howse and Cynthia Cobbs. Black voter enthusiasm is minimal in 2020. Two others, Appellate justice Sheldon Harris (running as the androgynous "Shelly"), who is self-funding $2 million, and Daniel Epstein, an Evanston lawyer, cut into McBride's suburban and white female base. Turnout was 1,196,000 in 2016, so whichever of the seven gets 300,000 votes wins. Edge to McBride, with a Reyes upset very possible.

APPELLATE COURT: Two seats are open, and two appointed white male justices - John Griffin and Michael Hyman - were slated, with Hyman the most beatable. Griffin, who has ties to labor and Madigan, is opposed by Circuit judge Sharon Johnson, but is favored. Hyman is opposed by Ramos, but caught a real break when two Irish-surnamed women - Circuit judge Carolyn Gallagher and lawyer Maureen O'Leary - filed for the seat. Ramos is trying to piggyback on Martinez's campaign, but Hyman, with three female opponents, is favored.

CIRCUIT COURT: There are ten countywide judgeships on the March 17 ballot, and slatemakers chose a minority and/or woman for nine spots. The only white man is Chris Stacey, who has two Irish-surnamed females opposing him.

As for the Latinas, Molina is up against Mike O'Malley, a former assistant state's attorney (ASA) who got 107,139 votes in a 2018 run, and who put together a "prosecutors' slate" for the 2020 openings. Ayala-Gonzalez is up against John O'Meara and U. O'Neal, who ran as Ubi O'Neal in a black-majority subcircuit and lost. DeLaCruz is up against ASA Lorraine Murphy and James Crawley. The Molina and DeLaCruz contests will test the "Year of the Latina" premise. Each Latina, because of slating and SOMEBODY DIFFERENT voters, is a slight favorite.

10TH SUBCIRCUIT: There are three vacancies in this Northwest Side/Park Ridge/Des Plaines subcircuit. The McGing vacancy has three candidates: The slated Jon Stromsta, who has the backing of 47th Ward committeeperson Paul Rosenfeld, Maire Dempsey, and CPD lieutenant John Garrido, who has great name ID, both negative and positive, from his 2011 and 2015 45th Ward aldermanic runs. Edge to Garrido. For the O'Brien vacancy, five candidates filed: Appointed associate judges Audrey Cosgrove, Mary Marubio and Dan Trevino, John Hourihane, son of a former judge, and Liam Kelly, brother of Evanston Township committeeman Eamon Kelly. Edge to Hourihane.

Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.