January 19, 2022

It's outrageous. It's appalling. It's politically incorrect - and I mean that metaphorically not literally.

To plagiarize President Joe Biden, it's a battle for the soul of Cook County, and democracy is hanging by a thread. To further plagiarize the president, that's not hyperbole.

To be serious, 28-year 9th District county commissioner Pete Silvestri (R) announced his retirement Jan. 10, which prompted a flurry of interest among Northwest Side Chicago and northwest suburban politicians. The job pays $80,000, requires attendance or participation via Zoom at 26 meetings per year and essentially means rubber-stamping whatever president Toni Preckwinkle (D) and finance committee chair John Daley (D).

It's a part-time job that doesn't interfere with other moneymaking pursuits. Silvestri was elected in 1994 while serving as Elmwood Park mayor, a job he kept until 2013. The recently resigned commissioner Jeff Tobolski was mayor of McCook until convicted on conspiracy to extort charges. Commissioner Bridget Degnan (D-12 has reported ties to the cannabis industry and ex-commissioner John Fritchey, an attorney who Degnan beat in 2018, had a prosperous tax appeal practice. The late Ted Lechowicz (D) even kept his state senate seat for a while.

Democrats hold a 15D-2R majority, so being a Republican commissioner is sort of like being the team's waterboy - seen and noted for service, but ultimately ignored by the majority.

In fact there are 36 elected Cook County officeholders, of which 34 are Democrats; that's 95 percent "D." Silvestri and commissioner Sean Morrison comprise the other 5 percent (excluding judgeships).

Elected countywide (16) are board president, sheriff, assessor, treasurer, clerk, state's attorney, Clerk of Court and nine Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) commissioners. Elected in three districts are Board of Review (BOR) commissioners. There are also about 10 countywide judges elected every 2 years along with occasional Appellate Court and state Supreme Court justices.

All are Democrats.

Elected in 17 districts are the county commissioners. Democrats won two suburban seats in 2018 and came within 5,573 votes of defeating Silvestri and 1,377 votes of defeating Morrison, the current county Republican chairman. Morrison gets occasional publicity by attacking Preckwinkle and her $8 billion budget, but Silvestri has always been a consensus (meaning go along/get along) politician. And he usually voted against count taxes.

"Under-represented" is a famous catchphrase used by the Left that leads to asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to be expanded and packed with more liberal Democrats and people of color because the 6-3 conservative majority "doesn't reflect America."

Who knows what reflects America anymore? Elections have consequences. Trump beat Clinton in 2016. If he hadn't, the High Court would be 6-3 liberal.

But nobody whines about Republicans not being represented.

Republican BOR commissioner Dan Patlak lost by 11,693 votes in his district in 2020, and Springfield Democrats drew a new map to create a Hispanic-influenced BOR district for Chicago Alderman George Cardenas (12th) and put Patlak's Wheeling residence in commissioner Mike Cabonargi's Lakefront/ North Shore BOR district. Democratic slate makers in December dumped commissioner Tammy Wendt, who beat Patlak, for Cardenas.

Wendt is running anyway.

If Morrison loses in 2022 and a Democrat wins Silvestri's seat, then the Republicans would be UN-REPRESENTED in a county where Trump got 24.7 percent in 2020 and 21.9 percent in 2016. That strikes me as inequitable, but Republicans aren't whining. They're confident they can keep both seats, especially since the 2021 remap passed by the board pushes the 9th District westward through Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, south Wheeling and Arlington Heights to Palatine.

Silvestri's current district contains 226 precincts, 67 in Chicago and 159 in the suburbs, including 17 in Norwood Park Township (Norridge and Harwood Heights), 30 in Leyden Township (Rosemont, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park, River Grove) and 67 in Maine Township (Park Ridge, Des Plaines). The bulk of the Chicago precincts are in the 41st Ward (47), and the 38th Ward.

In 2018, an abysmal Republican year, Silvestri beat Democrat Frank McPartlin, who raised and spent no money by 55,612-50,039 in Chicago, with a 1,882-vote margin in the 41st Ward, and by 39,849-37,035 in the suburbs, including by 1,745 in Leyden and 800 in Maine. Silvestri spent about $125,000. In 2014, a good Republican year, Silvestri beat McPartlin 51,240-30,040.

A lot has changed since 2018. First, Silvestri's longtime alliance with office-mates Brian Doherty, who quit as alderman in 2011, and Mike McAuliffe, who quit as state representative in 2019, has evaporated. He has no 41st Ward base.

Second, Rosemont mayor Brad Stephens, the Leyden Township Republican committeeman, took McAuliffe's job, and the 2021 remap gave him a safe seat. Stephens is the Republicans' northwest area kingmaker. He has the clout and money to anoint the nominee. There is speculation that he may even anoint himself, passing his House seat to somebody from Rosemont and avoiding the tedious 200-mile schlep to Springfield. The petition circulation period began Jan. 13 and ends March 7, so there is plenty of time to make arrangements. Also, Elmwood Park mayor Skip Saviano could run.

Third, there will be a credible Democrat with money this time. Pondering the race, likely, are Frank Avino, a Norridge trustee and township Democratic committeeperson who is a protege of state Senator Rob Martwick (D-10), who is close to fellow state senator Laura Murphy (D-28), the Maine Township committeeperson. She, however, may support Des Plaines mayor Andrew Goczkowski or state representative Marty Moylan (D-55). If Moylan, who has over $500,000 in his campaign account, ran, then Goczkowski, who is a staffer for congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-9), could take his seat. Also in the mix is Heather Boyle of Norridge, a Des Plaines Public Works clerk who ran for the MWRD in 2020.

But fourth and most importantly, the new district is somewhat more Republican. Precincts in Wheeling and Palatine are now 30 percent of the Republican vote. Already out of the gate and the early frontrunner is Matt Podgorski, who founded the Northwest Side GOP Club in 2016. It is a conservative grassroots Republican precinct operation which backed Ammie Kessem for state rep in 2018, Anthony Beckman for state senator in 2020, Trump for president, and nearly won the Norridge and township elections in 2021.

NWS GOP acolytes hold committeeman posts in the 41st, 45th, 38th and 39th wards as well as Maine and Norwood Park townships, giving Podgorski a solid base. Podgorski is a logistics executive associated with Ogden & Fry polling and has political connections with key Republican insiders and moneymen.

Podgorski will be part of 2022's Team Griffin, headed by billionaire Ken Griffin. They have already recruited Aurora mayor Richard Irvin to run for governor and former U.S. Attorney John Milhiser to run for secretary of state, and will fund selected legislative and local campaigns, including Podgorski's, which has already raised $123,000.

Silvestri, age 65, is the board's second most senior commissioner, behind Daley who was elected in 1990. He said he is retiring to engage in other pursuits. Silvestri will collect 3 pensions, from the state, county and Elmwood Park. Silvestri was first elected after the state legislature created 17 single-member districts, and abolished the former practice of at-large elections. At the time 10 commissioners were chosen at-large in Chicago and 6 in the suburbs.
Silvestri beat incumbent Marco Domico (D), whose political base was in the 36th Ward, then dominated by William Banks and James DeLeo. He quickly made a non-aggression pact with them, joined up with McAuliffe and won easy re-elections thereafter, including against Martwick in 2002. The 36th Ward Machine has also evaporated, with Banks and DeLeo out of office.

The legislature in the early 2000s de-coupled the presidency from the commissioners, abolishing the requirement that the president be a sitting commissioner and have a vote. Now the president cannot be a commissioner.

But with all power concentrated in Preckwinkle's vote, it matters not. Her only defeat since 2011 was the soda tax repeal. Oh, and the mayor thing, but that could also have been because of the soda tax.

A couple of board presidents have used the post as a steppingstone: Anton Cermak (D) in 1931 to mayor and Dick Ogilvie (R) in 1968 to governor. Some have failed: Dick Phelan (D) for governor in 1994 and Bill Erickson (R) for governor in 1952, as well as Preckwinkle (D) for mayor in 2019. The party dumped two: Todd Stroger (D) in 2010 and Seymour Simon (D) in 1966.

But the wise politicians view the job as a pinnacle, like John Stroger and George Dunne.

Preckwinkle, age 74, will win easily in 2022, but it will be her last term.