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Sunday, October 20

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Airbags

Barack Obama seems to be on his way to the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. The extended campaign — the junior senator from Illinois announced his candidacy a year ago, and began laying the groundwork for it in '05 — has kept him out of Illinois' internal politics, probably to the relief of the governor, the speaker of the House and the mayor, our political Three Stooges. Except for endorsing and doing some campaigning for Todd Stroger, and his bizarre endorsement of Dorothy Tillman, the senator has (wisely) distanced himself from Illinois' dirty politics, much to the benefit of his presidential aspirations. The only whiff of scandal that has tainted his run has been, of course, something to do with the Illinois political system — fundraiser and powerbroker Antoin Rezko.

There is a flip side to it: Illinois' increasingly ridiculous one-party politics continue to fracture along tribal and regional lines, and "progressive" candidates — the nobodies nobody sent — are not performing well. Larry Suffredin and Mark Pera come immediately to mind, but the failure of real opposition to Mayor Daley to manifest itself is notable, too. Senator Obama's popularity in the years immediately following his election, along with the organization built around his campaign, could have made him a considerable force within the state, though it would have dragged him into the muck for sure.

The failure of an insurgent, independent Democratic movement to emerge on Senator Obama's tails has emboldened the ethnic, racial and geographic organizations — to the point that the Stroger camp was gleefully pointing out as part of their campaign message that voters punished those who attacked Stroger. The lack of real Republican opposition has made party discipline slack. So what will happen when Barack becomes President in November?

The choice to replace him is left up to Governor Blagojevich, but he will not have the luxury of making the choice in a vacuum. His rumored third-term aspirations will encourage a rush of horse-trading. The party's clans and tribes will also surely have their opinions on the matter.

Obviously, there will be pressure on the governor to appoint a black elected official. For Blagojevich, there is a greater calculation beyond the obvious need to recognize the party and state's (and Senate's) lack of diversity. Black voters in Chicago and Cook County have been a particularly loyal constituency of the governor's. Tying himself even closer to any of a number of black political organizations is pretty enticing. The natural, or default, guess is therefore Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. The Junior Jackson has experience as a legislator, is best known for fighting tirelessly for a new airport for his constituents, and also happens to belong to a hell of a street-fighting political family. Triple J's mayoral aspirations could preclude such an appointment, though. Statewide, too, the Party leaders may be worried that Jackson is too polarizing a figure to win statewide in 2010, when the seat is up for election again. Steve Rhodes of the Beachwood Reporter (via Chicago Magazine) suggested Kwame Raoul, the guy who won Senator Obama's old state senate seat, as a potential replacement. Though Raoul will only have had four years as a legislator, he was a prosecutor and is friendly with Senate President and Blagojevich ally (two words you will increasingly see prefaced with "former") Emil Jones.

Closer to his original geographic political base, and tied to Blagojevich through his former legislative ally (but only because she retired from her seat) Carol Ronen, is Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Schakowsky is surely interested in the senate seat, and it could be a positive step towards improving Blagojevich's relations with the "Lakefront Liberals" who have been steadily turning on him.

This would also have the added bonus of opening up a safe Democratic congressional seat that has great party-building potential. It straddles city and suburbs, is pretty comfortably "progressive" and has immense fundraising potential. Evanston, Skokie, Niles Township and Maine Township join Rogers Park down to Edgewater. The district also nicks New Trier Township.

It helps the case for Schakowsky that she was one of Senator Obama's earliest boosters, telling and retelling an annoying story about President Bush asking about her Vote Obama button. (Did she really wear a big blue campaign button to a meeting in the Oval Office? Do elected officials have to do that when they give an official endorsement? Because that'd be amusing.) Schakowsky is an old-school liberal with a clean ethical record (though her husband, Robert Creamer, ran afoul of the law a few years back) and enormous popularity with her Chicago and Cook County base. Given the disarray of the Illinois GOP — the Harlem Globetrotters of circular firing squads, to paraphrase Larry at Archpundit.com — that popularity and base makes her a safer bet for reelection, too.

In these calculations, we obviously leave out one group of ethnic and geographic political organizations, namely, Latinos. Latino voters flexed their muscle in a unique way on Super Tuesday. Barack Obama did not win a single Latino ward in Chicago, particularly the Mexican wards on the south and southwest sides. [Note: Thanks to commenter Josh, who correctly points out that Senator Obama did win North Side Latino-majority wards, the 26th and 35th, and wards with Latino pluralities, the 1st (Wicker Park) and 33rd. This interestingly tracks a split between Puerto Rican and Mexican-American communities. A previous draft also pointed out that Senator Obama handily won both Lake and Kane Counties. Thanks Josh!] This is remarkable — the hometown senator, whose national mystique was initially built on his come-from-behind Primary victory and subsequent owning of Alan Keyes, lost about a third of the city's wards, most of them Latino-majority wards. He didn't lose them by much — generally, Clinton ranged between 51 and 64 percent — but given Senator Obama's performance in the rest of the city, they are anomalous enough for us to take notice.

What adds to the surprise here is that most of the elected officials and organizational leaders in these communities in fact endorsed Obama — or at least used his name on their palm cards to take some mojo for themselves. This follows with the national trend — despite exit poll results from Virginia and Maryland, where the Latino populations are primarily South American — but given the local flavor, has an added dimension. Unless we automatically assume the uncharitable reading that Mexican and Puerto Rican voters in Chicago were just rejecting a black candidate, there seems to have been a bucking of organizational endorsements and a consensus preference among Latino voters. This could be a nascent political base for a Latino senate candidate. Given the lack of statewide Latino officeholders (or even candidates), the bench of candidates is deep. The popular pressure on elected Latinos to support a Mexican or Puerto Rican candidate for senate would be huge, and the blow to the established order could carve a new niche for third-term Blagojevich to burrow into.

It also shouldn't be ignored, of course, that Hillary Clinton's (recently removed) campaign manager was Patty Solis Doyle, sister of Ald. Danny Solis (25th), deputy mayor and former leader of the United Neighborhoods. Solis represents the heart of Pilsen, which is the heart of the ring of South and Southwest Side Latino neighborhoods that divide white from black. Clinton's success over the favorite son in those wards provides the argument that a Latino candidate would have a real voting base.

Chicago has the second-largest Mexican community in the country, and in 2000 the city was 26 percent Latino, primarily Mexican. What's more, the two largest Latino populations outside of the city limits are in Aurora and Elgin, which sit in DuPage and Kane Counties, two GOP strongholds. Aurora and Elgin also happen to be the second and seventh largest cities in the state. The municipal governments are visible enough locally to propel office holders to regional and statewide office. If these are office holders and Democrats, it also strikes into the weakly beating heart of the Illinois GOP, essentially shouldering them further in the exurbs.

There is no reason to assume "Latinos" in the city and suburbs will automatically vote as a bloc. However, the Super Tuesday voting patterns show they could, given a candidate they respond to. What seems like crass political calculations based on ethnicity don't need to be interpreted that way. The absence of high-profile, statewide Latino politicians is surprising, given the huge population here, and, given the recent-immigrant and first-generation status of many of the families, the unique issues they face. It is a great opportunity to build a Democratic voting bloc that reaches across the city and suburbs, at a time when the GOP's only glimmer of hope is a sharp increase in primary voters in the city itself (clustered around downtown and Lakeview in particular).

The elephant in the room, alluded to earlier, is that Senator Clinton's popularity with Latino voters could be attributed to the "black-brown" rift — in other words, it could be interpreted as a rejection of a black candidate, rather than indicating some ideology or "message" that appealed to Latino voters. That would be unfortunate. The black-brown divide has been bubbling for some time on the street level, particularly in Los Angeles and the Bronx in New York, but Chicago has certainly not been immune. Every large immigrant group seems to have a historical moment when they choose whiteness or minority-ness (the joke being that Puerto Ricans, unlike Italians, chose unwisely). Still, it isn't useful to attribute voting patterns to something so negative and simplistic without better evidence (something tells me there's a regression analysis of exit polls waiting to be performed, considering "Importance of Candidate's Race" is often one of the questions).

Obviously, this is all just speculation. The fact that Congresswoman Schakowsky's name was leaked to the press is evidence enough that she is the presumptive choice, and a relatively safe one. Besides — there is no one Latino elected official I could think of that has the type of political skill, organization and fundraising capacity to pull of such a base-building operation. Except, of course, the perennially about-to-do-something Mouth that Roared from the 26th Ward, Rep. Luis Gutierrez. Does Gutierrez have the heft to step into Obama's seat?

There is also the presumption that Blagojevich has some future political aspiration serious enough for him to make long-term calculations on this appointment. With seriously low — beyond Bush, Mussolini-in-the-square-low — approval ratings, the governor may have come to his senses. Particularly considering he has permanently alienated his original patron (Ald. Dick Mell) and made an enemy of the stone-faced, black-hearted Lord of the Gavel, Chairman Madigan. With plucky and popular Attorney General Lisa Madigan potentially waiting in the wings to replace him — or destroy him — maybe he'd be better off avoiding the whole thing... and appointing himself.

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Comments

rick / February 13, 2008 10:13 AM

Or maybe the appointee will be Blair Hull, the totally unqualified pathetic rich guy Ramsin supported over Obama in the Senate primary.

What, you thought we'd forgotten?

Ramsin / February 13, 2008 10:18 AM

I don't think it'll be him.

C-Note / February 13, 2008 10:34 AM

Uh-oh. Say it ain't so.

But seriously, I'm not sure I have any problem with Schakowsky or Jackson taking the Senate post. Seems like a win-win to me.

Ramsin / February 13, 2008 10:45 AM

I think Jesse Jackson Jr. gets unfairly pigeonholed sometimes because of his family.

Most of his time in Congress has been in the minority party, so he may not have any major legislation to his name, but man has he been tireless on that Peotone Airport, for a part of his district t that is not at all his base. You gotta respect that. He's also worked his way up the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Schakowsky would be fun to watch in the Senate. She'd be the most progressive Democrat in the Senate "on day one" to use a now-tired cliche.

(Independent Bernie Sanders, a professed democratic socialist, obviously enjoying the left-most credentials).

Josh / February 13, 2008 11:42 AM

Correction: On the northside, Obama won the 'independent ' 1st (67.3%), 26th (59.9%) & 35th (59.3%) as well as Mell's 33rd (54.3%) which were all majority latino in the last redistricting. The independent ward's demographics have changed, but they were strong for Obama. He lost the HDO controlled 30th &31.

http://www.chicagoelections.com/wdlevel3.asp?elec_code=45

Ramsin / February 13, 2008 12:01 PM

Thanks Josh. I left the 1st Ward out consciously--but the 33rd Ward is plurality Latino, not majority. What the rest shows is a Puerto Rican-Mexican divide, too.

rick / February 13, 2008 12:10 PM

Don't know if Jan would be most progressive. She's a great progressive, sure, but take nothing away from our Russ Feingold, Sherrod Brown and our senior senator, Dick Durbin.

But let's talk about Blair Hull. Can you admit that boneheaded endorsement was a colossally stupid mistake on your part? Or are you one of those Hillaryous refuse-to-recognize-you're-wrong types?

printdude / February 13, 2008 1:03 PM

I actually was thinking that "the Rod" would place AG Madigan in the position to get her out of his considerable hair. Schakowsky makes sense as he might appease those as well. it makes for an interesting political choise, that's for sure.

Ramsin / February 13, 2008 1:17 PM

"considerable hair"! Perfect. I wonder if she could decline it were it offered? That would be an interesting "force you to announce your candidacy while you're investigating my impropriety" dynamic!

w / February 15, 2008 9:20 AM

Well, we've had 5 years of a Senator who did nothing except plan his presidential run and make sure all of his voting record was such that he could boast about later....during his presidential run....so I guess at this point a piece of stale fruit could probably fill Obama's shoes. It might actually get more done and not exist solely to continuously vote for higher office while not actually doing anything while you're IN office.

Is there such thing as "King of the World"? If so, we'll have to plan for running another Democratic candidate in 2012...Obama might decide to run for that toward the end of his second year as President. That is, after he's spent those first two years realizing that pretty speeches about the "audacity of having hope and wanting change" doesn't translate to effective governance and he fails miserably at being President.

Of course...I'll still vote for him should he become nominee. I am, after all, a Democrat.

Steve / February 15, 2008 2:34 PM

Did you mean to compare the Illinois GOP as the Washington Generals? Because the Globetrotters beat them every time....

Joseph / February 15, 2008 8:35 PM

Nice observations on that Obama-man kid. I really hope that Jesse L. Jackson takes his seat in the Senate. He is a hard worker and he is very loyal to his constituents.

If he does take the Senate seat, you have to run my eventual campaign for his House seat. Remember, I am the 2nd district's favorite son.

If you want to look at the bills Jesse has sponsored and co-sponsored, look at this link: http://thomas.loc.gov/bss/d110/sponlst.html

He has sponsored and co-sponsored quite a bit of legislation. However, I think that Schakowsky has never seen a bill that she didn't like. She has co-sponsored an average of over 700 bills over the last three Congresses. That's one way to get your name out there.

Oh yeah, nice comment by Rick about Blair Hull. I almost peed myself when I read that.

C / February 18, 2008 7:10 PM

w: shut it. nobody accomplished anything in Congress the last five years. Freshman senators, as you should know, don't pull a whole lot of water down there. All you can really do is: (a) build relationships (which, of course, is something that you will see pay off later - when Obama's in the White House); and (b) vote along party lines on close votes. The appropriations bills happen in the House, so Obama can't vote Illinois' taxpayers' money back, really. Reduce war spending? Yeah, right. Repeal the MCA? Nope. Impeach the executive branch? Nope. That also is the province of the House. So what exactly was it that you were expecting Obama to do in his first term? What do you want him to say about his presidential policy? If you hadn't noticed, this part of the game is a popularity contest. Policy comes after the nomination. And not only that, but if you'll take the trouble to look back a few years, you'll see that nothing the man says now will have much to do with what he will have to deal with as President. Somebody cue up W's platform during the 2000 race.

w / February 19, 2008 8:50 AM

C: YOU shut it. I'm telling.

 

About the Author(s)

Ramsin Canon studies and works in politics in Chicago. If you have a tip, a borderline illegal leak, or a story that needs to be told, contact him at rc@gapersblock.com.

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