February 22, 2023

The 45th Ward aldermanic race is all about digits. I don’t mean fingers (or even middle fingers) or spreadsheets.

I mean who has double-digits and who has got single-digits. In pollster jargon, that means who is or is not getting less than 10 percent of the vote.

Here’s my prediction: Alderman Jim Gardiner is going to win on Feb. 28 with 53 percent of the vote because four of his five opponents – James Suh, Susanna Ernst, Marija Tomic and Ana Santoyo – are mired collectively around 10-14 percent, and each appears to be at  3 to 4 percent. The only breakout contender is Megan Mathias, and she has hit her ceiling of 30-33 percent.

The math is elemental: To force Gardiner into the April 4 runoff the five aspirants need to amass a total of 8,000 votes, being slightly more than 50 percent. In a turnout of 15,500, slightly up from 2019’s 14,858, that means Suh and Tomic need to draw 1,500-2,000 votes apiece, and Mathias at least 4,000.

In 2019 Gardiner received 7,570 votes (see chart), 141 more than 50 percent, avoiding a runoff. Then-incumbent John Arena, who got 6,083 and 8,488 votes, respectively, in the 2011 and 2015 runoffs, collapsed in 2019 to 5,382, or just 36.2 percent. His vote was down by 3,126, a stunning 37 percent. Gardiner got 307 more votes than John Garrido in 2015.

Clearly, the anti-Arena base turned out, while Arena’s didn’t. And Gardiner, a  firefighter, was the MOST VIABLE alternative. Which is how Mathias is portraying herself this time versus Gardiner. The other 2019 candidates, Morales and Bank, got 1,906 votes, a combined 10.7 percent. 500 votes is about 3.5 percent, so Mathias has a shot if the other candidates exceed expectations.

Gardiner wins if voters focus on his record of ward services and $400 million in economic redevelopment, especially around Six Corners. But he is vulnerable on personal and character issues. The Sun-Times editorialized that Gardiner should resign because of “accusations of misuse of office too numerous to ignore.”

Luckily for Gardiner, more than half of the ward’s voters are probably ignoring them. And that’s because “low-information” voters, only dimly aware of Gardiner’s miscues, outnumber “high-information” types, most of whom detest the conservative alpha male Gardiner anyway.

So what is Gardiner’s base? Start with the ward’s 8,309 2020 Trump voters, a bedrock 30.2 percent. Add to that Gardiner’s 7,570 2019 vote, his 5,659 2020 vote for committeeman, Garrido’s 7,263 2015 vote, and Pat O’Brien’s (R) 13, 276 2020 (51.1 percent in the ward) vote for state’s attorney, and it averages 8,415 votes. What is the anti-Gardiner/Leftist base? Start with Kim Foxx’s 10,536 2020 vote (40.6 percent in the ward), add Bernie Sanders’ 5,483 2020 primary (D) vote, Arena’s 5,382 and 8,489, and Ellen Hill’s 5,267 for committeeman (D), and it averages 7,031 votes.

That’s a 54/46, Right/Left, Gladstone-Jefferson Park/Portage Park, North/South breakout. Sounds about right. Plus the remap lopped off Independence Park and added 5 precincts in Edgebrook/Wildwood. 

So how do you beat Gardiner? You have to chip off 5-7 percent off his base. You have to GO NEGATIVE.  And that is exactly what Mathias, the best-funded challenger, is doing.  According to certain sources Gardiner’s job approval at over 50 percent.

That’s not auspicious if the goal is to defeat Gardiner. Mathias has a campaign budget of $200,000 and will have seven mailers by Feb. 28. Her last two were a collage of 12 headlines detailing Gardiner’s  profane texts regarding a council staffer (he publicly apologized), his alleged “withholding of ward services,” an alleged FBI probe, and pending lawsuits. It is axiomatic in the trade that a candidate goes NEGATIVE only when they are losing.

Mathias, an attorney, is NOT losing. She is a lock for second place, claiming she has knocked on 10,000 doors over 2 years. She is endorsed by the Chicago Tribune and congressman Mike Quigley (D-5). “One in 4 voters hold him (Gardiner) in absolute contempt,” she said. That’s three-quarters of Arena’s 36 percent. So what? Mathias admits that she’s “left-of-center” but also pro-police, stressing her mental health approach to policing and for more cops. “They” – meaning the Woke/Leftist UWF/CTU/SEIU and Arena’s social media crowd – “are not supporting me.” And therein is Mathias’s problem: The Fervor Factor.

Mathias, who lives in Old Irving, is trying to be a hybrid. Her goal is to be VIABLE. In other words, vote-for-me-to-get rid-of-him.  That strategy could work in a runoff, with the Leftist base doing just that. But on Feb. 28 it doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm. Suh and Tomic appear to be more moderate or right-of-center, with businessman Suh running on economic issues and Tomic on anti-crime. But the ward’s Right majority is smart enough to NOT waste their votes on them. For them it’s either Jimmy or back to the dark days of Johnny. Neither Suh nor Tomic will top 5 percent.

And then there’s Santoyo, who is “bringing her fighting Socialist campaign” to the 45th Ward so as to end its “fascism” and eradicate “police terror” plus free CTA rides, Medicare for all and housing is a human right with nobody paying more than 10 percent of their income for rent. She’s a lock for 500 votes.  Ernst aspired to be the progressive champion, but UWF/CTU took their money elsewhere.

Gardiner has raised about $240,000 thus far and began his mailings recently. He will have five. His plenitude of yard signs is obvious. Being nice and polite is great for customer service workers, but not necessarily for aldermen. Gardiner gets a second term.

MAYORAL WRAP-UP: At some point during the 2023 campaign there was some doubt that Mayor Lori Lightfoot would make the runoff, meaning NOT finishing first or second by NOT getting more than 100,000 votes on Feb. 28. Not anymore. The only suspense is whether she will finish 4th or 5th in the 9-candidate contest.

The template is 2019. There were 14 candidates and the turnout was 556,758, just 36.1 percent of the city’s 1,540,521 RVs. That means nearly a million didn’t vote. The threshold was 90,000 votes: Get it and you’re in the runoff. The presumption was that there would be a Daley-Preckwinkle runoff, just like now everybody presumes Jesus “Chuy” Garcia will make the runoff.

The 2019 finish was 97,667/89,343/82,294 for Light­foot/Preckwinkle/Daley. Just 15,373 votes separated the three. The total vote for the White guys (Daley, Vallas, Joyce, McCarthy) was 166,499, or 29.1 percent of the turnout. The vote for the Latinos (Mendoza and Chico) was 84,893, or 15.3 percent. The vote for the Blacks (Wilson, Preckwinkle, Lightfoot, Ford) was 252,148, or 45.3 percent, although Lightfoot got 75 percent of her vote outside Black wards, especially from LGBTQ and North Shore/Lakefront voters. The lone “wokester” (Enyia) got 44,580 votes, or 8.1 percent.

The 2023 turnout will be 580,000. With no Preckwinkle-type running, and Lightfoot having done nothing to develop a Black base law-and-order multi-millionaire capitalist businessman Willie Wilson will get 55 percent of the Black vote and 15 percent of the White vote, or 140,000. Vallas will get the White/cop/law-and-order vote, plus a lot of non-Leftist Lakefronters who want a competent mayor. He’s good for 130,000.

Garcia has run a lackluster milquetoast campaign, invigorating nobody, and will get 95,000. Brandon Johnson decries disinvestment in minority communities, has appeal to White Leftists and will get around 90,000. And Lightfoot will also come in around 90,000. You read it here first: Expect a Vallas-Wilson runoff.   Stranger things have happened, and if I’m wrong, well so be it.

A very large majority of Chicagoans want Lightfoot gone. That will soon occur.

For a Chicago mayor to struggle to get 15 percent is truly pathetic.

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

This column was published in Nadig Newspapers. If you, a friend or a colleague wish to be added to Russ's BUDDY LIST, and be emailed his column every Wednesday morning, email webmaster Joe Czech at Joe@Nadignewspapers.com