May 6, 2020


Mike Madigan is a multitasker extraordinaire.

Not only is he the state's Speaker of the House for the past 36 years and a state representative for 50 years, he is also the state Democratic chairman, the 3rd District state central committeeperson and the 13th Ward committeeperson. Not to mention a persistent and prodigious fund-raiser. And a prosperous tax appeal lawyer.

The man keeps busy.

And let's not overlook the fact that he is a terrific valet. Madigan has mastered the "Art of the Park." He knows where to park stuff, control stuff and then spend stuff - as in money, not cars. And those parked dollars keep his 74-44 majority and keep him as speaker.

Madigan's technique was evident in Michelle Darbro's easy victory in the March 17 Democratic primary in the Illinois 20th House District, the seat from which Mike McAuliffe (R-20) resigned from last year, to be replaced with Rosemont mayor Brad Stephens.

Darbro is a city EMT/firefighter who was recruited by operatives of her Local 2 union. She had zero political experience and name recognition, and yet "raised" $320,051 in 4 months, spent all but $19,774, had 26 mailings, and beat Cary Capparelli 9,921-4,909, getting 67.8 percent.

About half of Darbro's donations consisted of PARKED MONEY THAT WAS UNPARKED: $52,000 from Greg Harris, majority leader, and $50,000 from Kathleen Willis and $40,000 from Natalie Manley, both assistant majority leaders. As of May 1, the cash-on-hand for those three was $719,240, $657,149 and $985,608, respectively.

They didn't accumulate those bucks because they were busily servicing their wonderful and adoring constituents. Madigan parked that money by instructing his donor base of trades and public sector unions, trial and tax appeal attorneys and a myriad of special interests to donate NOT to him, but to other House Democrats under his control.

The benefits are obvious: First, it fogs-up the paper trail and any bad public relations. Madigan has three committees - Fund for Democratic Majority (FDM), Friends of Mike Madigan (FMM) and the Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI). FDM raised $4,085,706 in 2019 through March 17, FMM $13,512,114 and DPI $2,504,544. That amounts to a cool $20,102,364 (some trickling down to other Democrats). At least another $5 million went to the 73 other Democratic reps.

House Republicans raised only $1,955,861, making Madigan's $20-plus million a bit uncool. Madigan wants to keep a steady cash flow but spread it out over 4 quarters and among multiple recipients. And donors, instead of reporting a noteworthy lump of, say, $100,000, can give the speaker $25,000 quarterly, with some to other Madigan-controlled minions.

Second, having a half-million definitely deters primary or Republican opposition. For example, Marty Moylan (D-55) and John D'Amico (D-15) had, respectively, $554,238 and $337,999 on-hand as of May 1; neither has a Republican opponent on Nov. 3. And third, the money is readily available, to be spent where and when the speaker needs it.

Which is what happened in the ILLINOIS 20TH HOUSE DISTRICT. The parked $142,000 plus Madigan's FDM's $60,225 totaled $202,225, with another $35,000 in union money from the teachers and $22,500 from the firefighters. The campaign was run out of Moylan's Des Plaines office by a 19th Ward Madigan operative, and Darbro adhered to the usual rigorous door-knocking regimen. Capparelli spent $6,593 and ran a wholly digital campaign, sending 250,000 iPhone and email "impressions." That may be the future for political communication, but the 20th District's older voters are not glued to their digital devices. Mailers and personal contact still rules. And wins.

Critical for Darbro were aldermen Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Nick Sposato (38th), who have been firefighters. "I couldn't go against (Local 2)," said Sposato, a longtime Capparelli friend. Capparelli said Napolitano told him last autumn, before Darbro was recruited, that he "could not" endorse him because it would "antagonize McAuliffe and the Stephens guys," a reference to appointed state Representative Brad Stephens (R-20) and his Rosemont political operation. But then not only did Napolitano endorse Darbro and give her $39,077, he endorsed cop Ammie Kessem for 41st Ward Republican committeeman, and she defeated McAuliffe 1,215-805. Go figure.

And then there were a dozen 41st Ward "First Responder Team" mailings, paid for by Napolitano, featuring Napolitano, Darbro and Bill Kilroy, a retired cop, for Democratic committeeperson. A couple thousand cops and firefighters (and families and retirees) live in the ward. Napolitano was re-elected 12,502-5,289 (70.3 percent) in 2019. On March 17 Darbro won the ward 5,622-2,433, winning 34 of 34 precincts, while Kilroy lost to Joe Cook 5,808-4,690, winning 18 of 47 precincts. Turnout was 8,969 in Chicago in the rep race.

Overall the 20th District has 84 precincts, with 43 in the suburbs, including eight in Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights), 11 in Leyden Township (Rosemont and parts of Elmwood Park and Schiller Park), and 22 in Maine Township (north Park Ridge and east Des Plaines). Darbro beat Capparelli 3,768-2,089 there in a 6,891 turnout.

Attention now shifts to the Stephens-Darbro election. There are numerous imponderables: (1) COVID-19 has eradicated the old norm of person-to-person and door-to-door campaigning. It was the Darbro campaign's plan to have her working precincts daily from May to October. That's out. (2) Will Madigan spend $1.5 million to beat Stephens, as he did in 2016 to beat McAuliffe? Does he stockpile it for 2022, figuring one more seat is superfluous? (3) Or does he blow through $30 million and use the expected anti-Trump surge to take out 10-12 Republicans, including their few remaining seats in Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will counties? That would give him a majority of 84-34 or thereabout.

(4) How much will Stephens, heir to the dynasty that has dominated Rosemont since 1956 and current mayor, spend? He has cash-on-hand of $31,658 in the Stephens for state representative account, and also $227,387 in the Brad Stephens PAC and $32,024 in Stephens for Mayor. He spent $49,692 for mailings in the primary, in which he was unopposed. More importantly, he needs to spend $50-60,000 for mailers to introduce and define himself real quick, like during May-July, before Madigan does so.

Stephens has baggage. He earns $260,000 as mayor (plus $70,000 as a representative). Rosemont is an entertainment mecca, with upscale eateries, pubs, theaters, parks and the Allstate Arena and the Stephens convention center. The mayor's nephew Chris runs events, brother Mark runs Bomark Cleaning, which provides janitorial services and another Stephens is police chief. The obvious Dorbro attack will be that (1) Stephens is not and will not be a FULL TIME rep and that (2) Rosemont is a dynastical patriarchy run by one family. A lot of voters will choke on one guy earning $330,000 a-year, especially with 20 percent unemployment Stephens will be relentlessly excoriated as a "Trump Republican." And a whole bunch of FOIAs will be filed for Rosemont records, with something useful sure to turn up.

If Stephens wants to win, he needs to get out front and negatively define Darbro as yet another Madigan puppet. But being a female EMT gives her cover, and she is not an officeholder. He needs to go hard on the Madigan thing.

(5) With COVID lurking, and blowing a $2.7 billion (to date) hole in the state's $42 billion budget, there are no real state issues now piquing voter interest. They're worried about themselves and the shutdown, not the Fair Tax Amendment or Madigan's power. November will be a referendum on Trump, and to win Stephens will have to peel off a quarter of the anti-Trump vote.

McAuliffe in 2016 won 25,387-19,784 over Merry Marwig (D), a margin of 5,603 votes, or 56.3 percent, spending $3 million (provided by Governor Bruce Rauner's friends) to $1.5 million for Marwig (provided by Madigan). Turnout was 45,111 in 84 precincts. The key was the 41st Ward, where McAuliffe won 11,070-7,794, a margin of 3,276. The McAuliffe name was iconic, Mike was a 20-year incumbent, an indefatigable door-knocker, and had dozens of precinct workers. Stephens in 2020 MUST WIN the 41st Ward by at least 1,500 votes - half of McAuliffe's edge. And he must do so without McAuliffe's now-defunct organization, and with Napolitano and Local 2 backing Darbro. And even though Rosemont is a union-friendly town, all the public service unions and most trades will endorse Darbro.

McAuliffe won the suburbs 13,326-11,304, a margin of 2,022, getting 53.9 percent, winning 20 of 43 precincts. Trump was a factor, with Marwig's TV ads calling McAuliffe "as extreme as Trump." Given current trends, Stephens will be lucky to break even in the suburbs.

There is an overall Trump base of 40-43 percent in the 20th District. Trump got 42.8 percent of the 41st Ward vote. New committeeperson Kessem is fervently pro-Trump. All this puts Stephens in an impossible LOSE-LOSE situation. He has to go with - and go down with - Trump.

A final thought: Capparelli said he is not distressed about the trials and tribulations of Illinois.
"I'm moving to Arizona."

Sounds like a plan.