April 22, 2020


Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel once said that for a politician a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

It's an opportunity for showcasing oneself, as Governor J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have superbly done since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The danger, of course, is that maximum exposure can soon evolve into maximum blame.

The coronavirus outbreak will at some point be quelled only to be replaced by a fiscal crisis of gargantuan proportions. The collapse of tax revenue streams has blown gigantic holes in the $42 billion state budget and the $11.65 billion city budget. There will be a multitude of both pain and blame.

There will be some tough political decisions that will anger a whole lot of voters. There will be blame directed at those who make them. Any goodwill acquired during 2020 by those in governance will be long dissipated.

Economic dislocation will abound. There will be a realignment of the "haves" and the "have-nots," with the latter becoming the majority. Government, at every level, will become a veritable Santa Claus, expected to dole out money to everybody who needs it. Politics over the next half-decade will be dominated by those who MAKE PROMISES about the distribution of scarce resources, and not those who MAKE DECISIONS about that distribution.

Marxism is based on the bankrupted premise of "To each according to his needs," and "From each according to his ability." That is, as the history of Communism has proven, contrary to human nature. But we are fast approaching an economic tipping point - where workers will no longer have the ability to satisfy their own needs AND non-workers' needs. Capitalism will be in crisis and will be scorned. America, Illinois and Chicago, buried in debt, will be attacked as a failure by those on the far left, who want socialism, and by those on the far right, who want militaristic fascism. Those whose pre-COVID-19 lives have been forever changed will be angry, bitter and vengeful. THEY WILL FIND SOMEBODY AND/ OR SOMETHING TO BLAME. There will be fears of domestic unrest and lawlessness, as a nation of semi-prosperity for all is transformed into a nation of semi-poverty for all. Class warfare will reign.

And so, too, will political opportunities. It is a probability that Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), chair of the council's Socialist Caucus, could run for mayor in 2023. Lightfoot, who needs to find $1 billion for pension funding in 2021, will be overwhelmed with demands for "essential" services, which can only be satisfied by more debt, more taxes (on a declining revenue stream) and confiscatory property taxation. The value of the property owning "haves" will be tapped to pay for the needs of the poorer "have-nots." By 2023, Lightfoot will have had to pick a side. And the other side will overwhelmingly vote against her.

There will also be a council remap in 2022, and wards will change. But 2023 will be a referendum on Lightfoot, all aldermen, and the status quo.

33rd Ward: The new leader in Chicago Hispanic politics is Iris Martinez, an 18-year state senator who was nominated on March 17 for Clerk of Court, an office employing about 1,500 people, and who was elected ward Democratic committeeperson. Martinez rode a Latina wave to win the countywide job with 34 against three male opponents, including the slated Mike Cabonargi. The office processes court records, and the bulk of employees are G-17 to G-20, meaning office and courtroom clerks and data processors that earn $25,000-35,000. There could be a push for Hispanic hiring thereby creating a mobile precinct army of 100-plus voluntary workers. Employees can't be coerced into donating or politicking for their boss and they cannot be fired without cause. But they can be NOT be promoted.

Among the G-23s (earning $75,000-plus) in her office could be Rich Bradley, an inveterate political operative and city worker who was state representative from 1996 to 2008, but got dumped by longtime ward boss Dick Mell in 2008 to make way for daughter Deb Mell, who became alderman in 2013 when the elder Mell resigned. Bradley was an early Martinez strategist and could now start working toward a third pension.

Aaron Goldstein beat Mell for committeeman in 2016 by 50 votes, in a 10,864 turnout. Martinez, with strong support from Hispanics in the ward's west end, trounced Goldstein 5,712-3,778, getting 60.2 percent and winning 24 of 28 precincts in a turnout of 9,490.

Deb Mell was elected alderman in 2015 with 50.11 percent over two opponents, topping the 50 percent threshold by 35 votes in an 8,171 turnout. By 2019 it was NO MORE MELLS. Deb Mell was forced into a runoff with "democratic socialist" Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, which she lost by 13 votes in a 11,495 turnout.

Martinez's short-term goal through 2024 will be to create function in a clerk's office long-plagued by Brown's dysfunction. And then to oust Sanchez in 2023. She will dictate her successor as senator. And that choice, likely a Latina, will run for alderman.

38th Ward: "I was 99 percent certain that I would retire (in 2023)," said Alderman Nick Sposato (38th), a former firefighter who is very popular in his ward. "But now I'm only 90 percent certain." It depends, he said, upon whether he "approves" of the candidate fielded to succeed him.

Sposato was unopposed in 2019. He is one of the council's Righteous Three - the other two being firefighters Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Jim Gardiner (45th). They are dependably pro-police, anti-tax and come as close to philosophically being a Republican as they dare. All represent the far Northwest Side wards with a large first responder voter base. Kim Foxx, for example, got 15.9 percent of the vote in the 41st Ward, 31.1 percent in the 45th, and 23.1 percent in the 38th.

One eager would-be successor is Cynthia Santos, a former city worker and 20-year Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner (1996-2016) who is now a board member at the Illinois Pollution Control Board appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016. But she's also married to Rich Bradley, as aforesaid.

"She (Santos) told me she wants the (alderman) job," said Sposato, who seemed rather non-plussed

If Sposato quits his most likely successor would be state senator Rob Martwick (D-10), who just unimpressively beat Danny O'Toole 18,037-14,568 in the March primary, raising $758,242 to O'Toole's $66,602, according to recent filings. Martwick lives in Portage Park. He is also the 38th Ward Democratic committeeperson. If Martwick's 2022 re-nomination looks dubious, or if he loses to O'Toole in a rematch, he may opt for the alderman seat.

40th Ward: A "fluke" is defined as an event brought about by accident, or a stroke of luck. That aptly describes Alderman Andre Vasquez, a "democratic socialist" who ousted 36-year incumbent Pat O'Connor 7,509-6,431 in the 2019 runoff, with a 13,940 turnout. In a historical context, those who oust an incumbent alderman/committeeman usually finish the job the following year, as O'Connor did in 1984.

The fact that Vasquez failed to beat Maggie O'Keefe, who got 15.4 percent in the Feb. 2019 primary, is telling. O'Keefe beat Vasquez on March 17 6,241-5,540, carrying 23 of the ward's 39 precincts. Vasquez is a fluke. He won only because voters were weary of O'Connor, and he was the ONLY alternative. O'Keefe is now well positioned to beat him in 2023. Vasquez is a one-termer.

45th Ward: Jim Gardiner upset Alderman John Arena 7,570-5,382 in the 2019 primary, eclipsing the 50 percent threshold by 150 votes. The ward is divided into three sections: Gladstone Park in the north, Jefferson Park in the center, and Portage Park and Old Irving in the south. Arena won in 2011 and 2015 because he ran up huge margins in his southern base and got 40 to 45 percent elsewhere. Gardiner beat Arena in 32 of 48 precincts in 2019.

Stating that he wanted to "finish the job," Gardiner filed for Democratic committeeman, the post won by Arena in 2012 after his 2011 win. Arena quit and backed Ellen Hill, funding her with his remaining resources. The official tally showed Gardiner winning 5,559-5,267, carrying 29 of 49 precincts. Turnout was 10,826, less than 2019's 14,856. "There is a core (Democratic) vote of 50 percent for Arena (and his candidates) in a primary," said Martwick. Gardiner got 2,011 fewer votes on March 17 than he did in 2019. Gardiner, however, looks good for 2023.

41st Ward: Napolitano is popular, winning with 70.3 percent in 2019, and carrying every precinct. But his popularity is not transferable. He paid $39,000 for mailers for Democrat Michelle Darbro for state representative and Bill Kilroy for committeeperson. Joe Cook beat Kilroy 5,808-4,690 (55.3 percent) and Darbro, spending $320,051, beat Cary Capparelli 5,622-2,433 in the ward. Cook said he has "no intention at this time" to run for alderman. The situation in the ward is very fluid.

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