February 1, 2023

Failure does not necessarily beget more failure. An electoral drubbing does not necessarily beget or presage another drubbing. Although it usually does.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) might be the 2023 exception, although maybe I should hedge a bit on that.  He was defeated in the 2022 3rd congressional district Democratic primary by state Representative Delia Ramirez, amassing 23.1 percent despite spending close to $400,000. 

Ramirez was endorsed by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the usual “Woke” suspects, spent under $900,000, and raised a lot of out-of-state money. She got 66.4 percent, crushing Villegas 37,296-12,590.

A drubbing is defined as getting beat soundly in a fight, a thorough thrashing or defeat.  And there is a reason for a drubbing. It’s either (1) an exercise in futility, which is knowing one cannot win,  or (2) an exercise in incompetence, which is NOT knowing how to win. And a Democratic primary is all about creating, identifying and cranking-out THE BASE.  

Villegas’ strategists had a notion that a pro-police, ex-Marine “pragmatic progressive” man could beat a Leftist woman and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” by running a centrist campaign in a new congressional district (CD) which stretches from Logan Square to Elgin. It was a total misread of the district and of political reality.

Once upon a time congressional districts were compact and contiguous. Not anymore. The federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) makes it permissible to cobble together lengthy strings of minority precincts to create a monstrosity like the 3rd CD. It has a population of about 525,000, about 225,000 registered voters and is 47 percent Latino. But the actual voters (RVs) are 63.4 percent White, 25.2 Latino, 6.2 Black and 4.7 Asian. So shouldn’t a centrist like Villegas have been able to construct a winning coalition? Not in the 3rd CD, where Ramirez’s core Far Leftist vote, centered in Chicago, turned-out, and suburbanites didn’t. Turnout was 55,780, under 25 percent, and Ramirez won 9 of 10 Chicago wards by a stunning 23,058-8,718 margin, or 73 percent.

So her 37,296 primary votes, just 16 percent of the 3rd’s RVs and 7.1 percent of the 3rd’s population, was enough to send her to Washington. You got to have a hardcore base. Villegas didn’t. In his home 36th Ward he got just 57.1 percent.

It could be déjà vu all over in 2023 in the aldermanic race. Villegas is chair of the council’s Latino Caucus and fought in 2021 to create 16 Latino-majority wards. The White/Black coalition gave him 14 (although Andre Vasquez in the 40th Ward will mean 15 Latino aldermen). They also gave Villegas a new 8-mile long 36th Ward which stretches from Sayre and School St. in the northwest to Chicago Ave. and Wood St. in the southeast, connected by a Grand Ave. corridor. Some in the media have said it resembles a pool noodle.

Of the ward’s 27 precincts, 13 are from Villegas’s old ward, and 14 are new, with 18,000 RVs. And the United Working Families (UWF), the political front for CTU, AFT and SEIU Healthcare gave him a credible female opponent: CPS teacher Lori Torres Whitt. Also running are Jacqueline Baez and David Herrera. Whitt is aligned with the mayoral campaign of Brandon Johnson, who makes $80,000 as a CTU staffer (plus another 80K as county commissioner). Villegas is endorsed by congressman Chuy Garcia (D-3), who he has endorsed for mayor. Garcia endorsed Ramirez in 2022.

Whitt’s base is the southeast, the 11 Latino precincts absorbed from the 2nd and 27th wards, consisting of West Town, Ukrainian Village and East Village. This is not Woke/Left territory like Logan Square or Humboldt Park. They’ll generate about 2,500 votes. Villegas’s base is the northwest, the 8 precincts surrounding the Brickyard, consisting of Montclare and parts of Dunning and Belmont-Cragin. They’ll generate about 2,500 votes. The 8 precincts along the corridor will bring in another 1,200.

Villegas must introduce himself to 10,000 voters. His themes are experienced leadership and to not defund the police. He touts a new medical clinic near Hanson Park, more school vocational programs and the guaranteed income pilot program that he came up with that the mayor took as her own. “I deliver for my ward,” he said. He had almost $250,000 on-hand.

Outlook: The UWF/CTU strategy is to get a Villegas-Whitt April 4 runoff. They have already poured $1.8 million into Johnson’s campaign, and can dump a quarter million into a 36th Ward runoff. To avoid another embarrassment Villegas MUST WIN his Montclare/Northwest base by at least 60-40 percent and finish with MORE than 40 percent in the southeast.

I doubt Whitt/Baez/Herrera will get a cumulative 50-plus on Feb. 28, but they will come very close. Expect Villegas to eke it out with 51-52 percent. Or I’m the pool noodle.

50TH WARD (West Rogers Park): “This is the most diverse ward” in Chicago, said alderwoman Debra Silverstein, with a mix of East Asians, Southeast Asians, Mid-East, Blacks and Latinos. “There are 40 languages spoken in our schools,” she said. And a multitude of immigrant-run small businesses that cater to their respective cultures. There are over 20 synagogues and mosques.

The dominant demographic used to be mostly Jewish. The ward 2020 Census breakout was 40 percent White, 12 Black, 17 Latino, and 25 Asian. Jews are estimated to comprise about 80-85 percent of the ward’s White population, Orthodox Jews about 2/3rds of that, and Jews cast about 45 percent of the ward vote.

Silverstein is the council’s only Jewish member. The 50th’s “Jewish ward” legacy dates back to the 1940s, and it had a Jewish Republican alderman from 1955 to 1973. Jack Sperling (R) was made a judge in 1973 and Berny Stone (D) won the seat, hanging on for 38 years. For 70 years Jewish Democrats have battled to be ward boss (committeeman), with state senator Howie Carroll dumping county commissioner Jerome Huppert, Stone dumping Carroll, and state Senator Ira Silverstein dumping Stone. Debra Silverstein convincingly ousted Stone as alderman in 2011 with 61.4 percent and was re-elected in 2015 with 64.4 and in 2019 with 65.5. She is now committeeperson (D). 

The ward’s west boundary is Kedzie, running east to Ridge and then Clark/Ashland, and from Howard to Peterson (ending at Lincoln Village). The ward is a mix of single-family homes and 2- and 3-flats, mostly west of California, where the Orthodox Jews are concentrated. There are a lot of apartments to the east, along Western and near the Devon, Pratt and Touhy business strips. The core of the Jewish base is Winston Towers, the massive 5-tower apartment complex on Kedzie between Touhy and Pratt. It comprises 3 precincts and its tenants are or were overwhelmingly Jewish. This was Stone’s base for years.

Silverstein said she focuses on services, touting business-friendly street improvements, $6.8 million in grammar school additions, a 7-mile bike path, a Western Avenue redo plan, and 44-units of senior housing atop the Pratt-Western library.

Outlook: Silverstein’s base is rock-solid. Her opponent, UWF/CTU-endorsed “democratic socialist” Mueze Bawany.  Expect Silverstein to creep into the lower 70s this time.

Read more Analysis & Opinion from Russ Stewart at Russstewart.com

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