December 15, 2021

It's almost unbelievable. It's a political anomaly, a slap in the face of expectations of diversity ... a nearly extinct rarity that can now only be seen on Chicago's Northwest Side.

The upcoming 2022 Democratic primary will have no identity politics, no gender factor and no sexual orientation angle. It looks like it's  going to be just three White middle-aged guys seeking to replace another White guy, the recently-resigned state Representative John D'Amico in the Illinois 15th House District.

So far, the declared candidates are Chicago firefighter Mike Kelly of Mayfair, who was appointed to the D'Amico vacancy on Nov. 23, Lemont Argonne National Laboratory operations manager Michael Rabbitt of Edgebrook, and Loop attorney Dan Cotter of Edgebrook. 

The filing deadline is March 7, 2022, for the June 28 primary, with the petition circulation period commencing on Jan. 13. About 1,000 valid signatures will be needed to qualify for the ballot and avoid a challenge.

The contest as it is developing is all about positioning: To be the leftmost of the Left but not to be too far Left so as to offend the non-Left, which among a Democratic primary electorate means slightly left of center and distant from Bernie Sanders-style woke "progressive" on the far Left.

Thus far the array is from Kelly, age 46, who calls himself a moderate, much like D'Amico, then leftward to Cotter, age 56, who tabbed himself to be ideologically between Kelly and Rabbitt, and then to Rabbitt, age 58, who said he eschews labels, but thinks legislators must to "do more work" in Springfield "to affect life outcomes" and "fulfill the needs of the community." 

That sounds sort of woke to me, especially about "outcomes" and "needs." Who decides that? It sounds like it will be Rabbitt and the government. He added that he has been a community activist who has advocated for important needs such as affordable housing, police reform, immigration rights and the defeated the FAIR Tax amendment. Rabbitt was endorsed by the independent political organization 39th Ward Neighbors United, and United Northwest Side. Rabbitt is the leftmost candidate. That's just my take.

Equally critical will be fund-raising. Rabbitt said he has a budget target of $150,000 and is backed by SEIU Healthcare, so will get money from the public sector unions. Cotter has been a lawyer for 28 years, practicing business and commercial law with a major Loop firm, and was the Chicago Bar Association president in 2014. He has lots of contacts among corporations, Downtown attorneys and insurance companies. He said he expects to "raise $200,000 to $250,000" but will not self-fund.

Kelly will rely on trade unions for money and endorsements, with Firefighters Local 2 leading the way. He will probably get FOP, and certainly the Plumbers Local 50, where D'Amico is now political director and has $320,089 on-hand and un-used in his campaign account. Almost all of it was raised during Mike Madigan's reign as speaker and much of it was "parked" money, which means he could raise $50-100,000 in union cash with a few phone calls every month, and direct it to a loyalist like D'Amico and Kathleen Willis. Kelly said he "expects" to get a large chunk of D'Amico's money. Kelly will need $150,000.

The 15th District, which D'Amico represented since 2004, extends from north Albany Park at Lawrence-Pulaski west to Elston and then northwestward along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor to Golf Mill in Niles, and then west of Greenwood to the cluster of condos and apartments on Golf Mill. It contains 94 precincts, of which 42 are in the suburbs, mostly in Niles, and 52 in Chicago, mostly in the 39th Ward, where D'Amico is the last legacy of the Laurino dynasty, being the grandson of Anthony Laurino.

The normal template to analyze the 2022 primary would be to look back to 2016. Edgebrook resident Jac Charlier, whose campaign was managed by Cotter, challenged D'Amico. He ran a coordinated "progressive/reform" campaign with Robert Murphy, who was running for 39th Ward Democratic committeeman. Murphy had lost to Alderman Marge Laurino in 2015 and was positioning for a 2019 rematch. Murphy won 6,075-5,034 in a 11,109 turnout, but Charlier lost 11,437-7,663 in a 19,600 turnout, getting 39 percent. D'Amico won the 39th Ward 5,202-3,934 and the suburbs 4,905-2,282.

But, as they say, nothing stays the same. Political reform, like ousting the Laurinos, has been transcended by social reform, like cancel culture. The pre-Trump, pre-COVID Left of 2016 is tepid, almost wimpy, compared to today's Left. Presuming that the primary field remains Kelly-Cotter-Rabbitt, and no woman (or other candidate) files by March 7, and presuming that the Charlier base is the ceiling of the liberal base, then Kelly is the frontrunner - but only in a two-man race.

If it's a 3-man contest, then the questions are: (1) What will be the turnout? And (2) who does Cotter take votes from?

Turnout was 12,00 in the 2016 and 2020 primaries, but down to 9,000 in 2018, and won't be much above that in 2022, even with some contested county races. 35-40 percent is enough to win - and will be necessary to win. Sanders got 52.6 percent in the 39th Ward in 2016 and 52.7 percent in 2020. Joe Biden beat Trump 17,789-7,283 in 2020. To win, Kelly needs to get two-thirds of the 2016 D'Amico base, or 40 percent total. To win, Rabbitt needs to get 95 percent of the 2016 Charlier/anti-D'Amico base, or 38-40 percent. To win, Cotter needs 40 percent of the Kelly/D'Amico base and half of the 2016 Charlier base to get to 40 percent.

At present each aspirant is undefined. Kelly wants to craft an image as a get-things-done/accessible incumbent, like D'Amico. He has been with CFD for almost 20 years, and has been the athletic director at Saint Edwards parish in Mayfair since 1999, coaching various sports. He works at the Wrigleyville station on Waveland just north of Wrigley Field and has seen firsthand the homeless situation on the north Lakefront, with thousands of people camped under Lake Shore Drive viaducts (especially Wilson) and others sleeping on nearby doorsteps. He said 70 percent of his station's EMS calls are for homeless interventions, and said he will work on mental health issues in Springfield.

Rabbitt seeks to be "a leader on important needs," as he claims he has demonstrated by his prominence in Neighbors for Affordable Housing, a group involved promoting the 5150 Northwest Highway and Higgins/Marriott projects as well as his involvement in landlord/tenant issues.
Cotter said he was inspired to run because of ex-president ex-Trump, of whom he is a vehement critic. "There is a Trump base of 40 percent or more in our (15th) district," he said. "We must nominate a Democrat who can win."

Kelly has the backing of the local "ruling class," which are D'Amico, Alderman Samantha Nugent 39th (with whom Kelly shares an office, as did D'Amico), state Senator Ram Villivalam (D-8), the 39th Ward committeeperson, Niles mayor George Alpogianis, state senator/Maine Township committeeperson Laura Murphy, and new Niles Township committeeperson Josina Morita, who is running for county commissioner.

Harlem Avenue separates Maine from Niles, and there are 29 precincts in Maine versus 13 in Niles. Of Chicago's 52 precincts,  45 are in the 39th Ward, with the rest scattered in the nearby wards.

Charlier lost in 2016 because D'Amico had more money from Madigan and a better ground game, particularly in his 39th Ward base.

Outlook: COVID and volunteer hesitancy preclude a ground campaign. People don't/won't answer doors. So a deluge of mailers it will be. Cotter has two options, and both require a massive mail expenditure - either (1) go negative on Kelly, using the "failed old politics" argument so as to chip away at the Rabbitt vote base or (2) go negative on Rabbitt, isolating him as too "Lefty loony" as one NW Side alderman likes to say, and positioning himself as the "change" candidate who can win.

But any such attacks won't chip away at Kelly's base. Cotter, quite simply, is in a politically untenable position. Invoking Trump is a non-starter.

PREDICTION: As of now, Kelly will win comfortably.