October 13, 2021

Blessed are those who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.

That will be on display Oct. 14 to 15 at the Cook County Democrats' biennial pre-slating session. With 72 people aspiring for 31 offices, there will be an abundance of nothing, especially among the 40 lawyers who want the one Appellate Court and 10 Circuit Court vacancies.

Already disappointed are sheriff Tom Dart and assessor Fritz Kaegi, who both expected no opposition either at slate making or in the June 28 primary. Dart will be re-slated, but faces a primary against Carmen Navarro Gercone, who is backed by Clerk of Circuit Court Iris Martinez, and LaTonya Ruffin, of Markham. Both are former sheriff employees.

Kaegi has a more dire predicament. Kari Steele, the president of the Metropolitan Water Rec-lamation District (MWRD), is challenging him. It is unlikely Kaegi will be dumped by the Democrats, but it is likely that the party will eschew an endorsement and mandate an open primary. Then committeepersons can back whom they want. In that situation Steele would have an edge.

An unusual anomaly has surfaced at the MWRD where 13 candidates are seeking four $60,000-a year part-time commissioner positions, and only one incumbent, Mariyana Spyropoulos, is running. Commissioner Debra Shore, out of Evanston and part of the Jan Schakowsky North Shore "machine," has been named Midwest regional EPA director by the president, and will resign when confirmed, probably by December. That means three 6-year terms and one 2-year term. Women will win all four.

It's all about identity politics for the one vacant Appellate Court seat. Three Circuit judges running are Dominique Ross, Debra Walker and John Ehrlich. Ross will get slated, but all will run.

Never let it be said that county Democrats are not progressive. "Progress" can be either the advancement of a political ideology or a political timeline, and "progressive" either a political identity or a political process.

Pre-slating commences the 2022 political process. It is a dog and pony show at which those 72 petitioners trek before the 80 Democratic ward and township committeepersons to present their credentials in-person at IBEW Hall on the near South Side. Each will get 15 minutes - 5 to extol their virtues and hype their identity, and 10 to answer questions. With time over-runs and breaks, that amounts to 25 30 hours of self-hype.

The process then progresses to the formation of four subcommittees, one each to "screen" aspirants for state office, countywide office, Circuit Court and Appellate Court. The official slate making will occur Dec. 13 to 14, prior to which the subcommittees will make their recommendation. Those must be approved by a majority of the weighted-vote of each of the 80 committeepersons, and that is the number of Democrats who voted in the 2020 primary in their ward or township. That total is 1,986,554, so half is needed. But it's all a charade.

The "recommendations" are always approved because they are pre-ordained. Party factions have 60 days to balance (read FIX) their slate before approval. Identity politics is paramount. The slate must have a preponderance of women, African-American, Hispanic and LGBTQ candidates.

If there are enough crossovers then a few White guys may get a spot. But with history as a guidepost, both Black and White men almost always lose to a woman in low-profile contests for judge and MWRD commissioner.

And then there is the passing of nominating petitions, which begin Dec. 28 and last 90 days. COVID prompted the legislature to move the March primary to June, and lower the 0.05 percent signature requirement by a third. That means a minimum of 8,000, and 15,000 to be safe. The gathering period was moved from Sept.-Dec. to Jan.-March, not a balmy season. The Democrats have the organizational manpower to secure 10-20,000 in a few days, usually by lumping the whole slate onto a couple petitions, but not a do-it-yourselfer independent candidate. Plus the party foots the lawyer bill for any petition challenge.

Lastly, there is the campaign. Each slatee is required to contribute $45,000 toward party "expenses," which include a bio/picture flyer listing the party's slate, a countywide mailing of that flyer to every Democratic household (about 700,000), delivery of 900,000 flyers to the committeepersons, and assorted media ads. The county party will gross around $1.3 million from the 2022 slate. Being slated usually guarantees a floor of 40 percent, higher if the turnout is lower, as it will be in 2022.

A non-slatee cannot match that and must wage a TV campaign or rely on imponderables, the most important being ballot position, number of candidates, number of women in a multi-candidate race and, to a lesser extent, media endorsements.

And never let it be said that politicians are averse to the art of supplication, which is defined as those who make a humble and earnest request before a body of authority. Slate makers have power. A Democratic nomination IS the election in Cook County and it is better to be slated than not.

Four key questions will be asked: (1) Will you run if not slated? (2) Will you wait until next time? (3) Have you in the past run against a slated Democrat? That leaves out Northwest Siders Liz Ryan and Jennifer Callahan, who ran for judge in 2020 and spent a lot of money on billboards. And (4) have you got the $45,000?

In judicial races a smart tactic is to pick "alternates," who are candidates slated for non-existent vacancies, which insures they won't run. There will be 4 to 5 this cycle, and if any judge quits before March 28 the party hurriedly get petitions and the slatee is unopposed.

STATEWIDE: Incumbents for senator, governor, attorney general, treasurer and comptroller will be re-slated unopposed. The only open office is Secretary of State, a great springboard and source of name ID. Those running are ex-treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Chicago aldermen Pat Dowell and David Moore, and city clerk Anna Valencia. Infighting will be intense between Dowell and Moore to lock down African-American committeepersons. Expect a push for an open primary, as the four of them, plus south suburban state senator Michael Hastings, are going to run anyway. Giannoulias is the closest to a majority in December.

COUNTYWIDE: Incumbents for board president, clerk and treasurer, all women, are unopposed. Dart is seeking his fifth term and has $552,248 on-hand. State's Attorney Kim Foxx's no-bail policy and misdemeanor tossing has greatly reduced Dart's stress level by cutting the number of pre-trial inmates by nearly half and COVID closed the courts for 16 months, eliminating the need for transportation. Dart's current problem is an immense backlog of warrants for court no-shows

Gercone worked in the sheriff's office for 26 years, rising to the position of assistant director of court services (civil), supervising deputies in non-criminal courtrooms. She quit in 2020 to work for Martinez as executive clerk for court operations. Ruffin was a corrections officer (CO) from 2007-09, got fired, sued and got a $800,000 in a back pay judgment, which is still on appeal. She currently works for Robbins PD as an advisor. Gercone has no fund-raising on-hand and Ruffin has $6,000 according to last quarter D-2s.

Kaegi won the 2018 primary against incumbent Joe Berrios, then the party chairman and slatee, getting about 44 percent. Berrios stumbled through 8 years of scandals, none too big, but the cumulative weight too heavy to sustain. Kaegi was the media choice and perceived reformer. He has on-hand $1,032,961, and has been competent if unspectacular. But what is spectacular about making property valuations? Property taxes have spiked, in some places substantially. Kaegi can blame Berrios's pay-to-play assessment policies and general spending demands, but Steele is going to attack him relentlessly, play identity politics, and hype her MWRD "accomplishments." Kaegi should be worried. Steele has $26,296 on-hand according to disclosures last quarter.

MWRD: Ballot position - either first or last - is often determinative, especially in a 13-person field. But with the 2-year term voted upon separately, the 6-year field could shrink to six to seven. The "slate" (Spyropoulos plus two) is circulated on one petition, and usually wins if bunched either at or near the top. The slatee lost in half of recent short-term elections.

The top contender for slating is Patricia Theresa Flynn, who lost narrowly in 2020 and is backed by Operating Engineers Local 150 and other unions. Yumeka Brown and Anita Hayes, along with Sharon Waller and Cristina Nonato, are battling for the third spot or 2-year term. Others who threw in their names are Emeka Akpatulu, David Bonner, Rolando Favela, Scott Middleton, Daniel Pogorzelski, Flynn Rush and Andrew Seo.

LOCAL POLITICS: 28-year county commissioner Pete Silvestri (R) has announced for election. His new district extends to Arlington Heights and he lost half of the 41st Ward.