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Thursday, December 12

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Airbags

A decade or more ago, this time of year meant I had to start carefully plotting vacation and sick days. Primary season means lots of days out knocking doors, xeroxing newspaper articles, and silkscreening signs. I'm getting a little too old for all that crap, and now that I've got this handy Internet connection, I much prefer posting anonymous comments in favor of my preferred candidates and doing research using my cousin's Lexis account. I'm clever.

Primary season! In Chicago, it's what matters. For the rest of Illinois, too, but in a one-party town like Chicago — and increasingly, its suburbs — the primaries are when you have the most fun, like last year's slugfest between former 17th Ward Committeeman Milt Patterson and Charles G. Morrow III for the Democratic nomination to the 32nd State Representative District. In that particular race on the South Side, several of my city worker friends, as white as white can be, dispatched to the Englewood-based district to join with the fearsome 17th Ward Regulars to dispatch Morrow, who had fallen out of favor with the powers that be. Milt Patterson had the backing of pretty much every alderman that counted down there, and reportedly the Mayor, too. Morrow was appointed by Harold Washington. Milt looks like a perpetually displeased junior high principal. Milt slaughtered him on the street and waltzed down to Springfield.

The primary election is only weeks away, now, and the airwaves are going to get lousy with negative ads soon. The neat trick for the Democrats is that they're all that matters in Chicago, easy — by a ridiculous margin — but also in most of the suburbs now, up to Waukegan and down to Lansing, and west to Naperville, northwest to Schaumburg (where Kerry, believe it or not, beat Bush handily in 2004). The result is that the Chicago media market, which is ridiculously expensive, means little help to cash-strapped Republicans in the primaries, especially if they want to save a little nut for the generals. You'll end up spending hundreds of thousands for 20 second ads that run during Saturday Night Live, to communicate with who exactly? The tiny fraction of registered Cook County voters who are going to bother voting in the Republican primary? The other option, to rely on field work to get to the voters, is almost worse because it's pretty expensive, too, and slow going. Not to mention that the media completely avoids that factor in nine cases out of ten. Poor Republicans. Ah, well.

The big story, of course, is the gubernatorial primary, and less so the Treasurer's race. And much less so something in Cicero.

On the Republican side, fifteen hundred and twenty people are vying for the nomination. Something like that. Anyway, the ones that matter: Erratically-Coiffed Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, Cow Magnate Jim Oberweis, Zillionaire Accused Slum Lord Ron Gidwitz, Guy Jim Brady, and other dudes. On the Democratic side, Incumbent Rod Blagojevich and Edwin Eisendrath, former alderman of the 43rd (Lincoln Park) Ward.

Eisendrath, of the Chicago Eisendraths, is also a zillionaire. Had he entered the race in, say, October he'd have a shot. However, he decided to be marginally insane and enter the race 20 minutes ago, and furthermore remain vague about how much of his own money he'd be willing to spend. The only thing that could've made his race more of a long shot would've been if he had a press conference to announce the hiring of Alan Keyes as his senior vote-getting advisor.

As for the Governor, man oh man. His approval ratings have rebounded a little, but for a guy who has been basically running a non-stop PR campaign since he was elected, he is not doing well at all. The fact that anybody would even be in a position to challenge him without getting personally bludgeoned to death with a bag of apples by Democratic Party chair Mike Madigan speaks volumes about his bungling. Still, he's the prohibitive favorite. It didn't help his case (or did it?) that the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) declined to endorse him. When the state workers union refuses to endorse an incumbent Democrat in the freaking primaries, that's saying something. Their decision was based on a hatred of his hair. Just kidding. In reality, he eliminated over ten thousand state jobs, skimmed the state pension, and picked a fight with them over the Department of Corrections. On the other hand, Blagojevich won the endorsement of the Service Employees (SEIU), who at 150,000 strong are the largest and probably most politically important union in the state. The fact that he signed two executive orders aiding SEIU in getting about 60,000 of those 150,000 members probably helped. In Chicago especially, SEIU is the kingmaker in these kinds of low-turnout affairs.

Many are arguing that people hate the state workers unions, so their decision not to endorse him is a boon among voters, since people view state workers as over-paid brats. There may be some truth to that argument, if Blagojevich was, you know, a Republican. So people point to the fact that the teachers union also withheld an endorsement — because everybody hates teachers, too. Well, at this point, you're talking about roughly 200,000 people represented by these two unions. And last I heard, state workers and teachers tend to vote and be politically active, since the state is their boss. Besides; a large percentage of SEIU's members are state employees of some kind or another, too.

Still, he may wanna do something about that animosity soon, if he really intends on running for president. Which he does. Good luck with that.

On the Republican side, Baar Topinka is the prohibitive favorite to win, although murmurs of Oberweis have been gaining traction. Oberweis is doing his best to shed the baggage of his now-infamous "Helicopter Ad," which featured him ranting maniacally about undocumented immigrants and how they're filling up Soldier Field every year, and something about napalm.* He performed well in the first Republican debate, and has plenty of money and a semblance of a statewide organization. He will nail Baar Topinka on her moderate reputation, including the fact that she marches in the gay pride parade every year and is pro-choice, and don't be surprised if the fact that she smokes comes up for some reason.

State Senator Steve Rauschenberger dropped out of the race to run as Ron Gidwitz' Lieutenant Governor. Brilliant strategy: Gidwitz uses big words and has gotten press mainly for a slum he owns in Joliet, and Rauschenberger doesn't get press at all, because he's so boring. Whatever. Their plan was to be the superstar reform ticket, "joining forces to fix Springfield" or something like that.

As long as they're in a room together, the Republican men won't gang up on Baar Topinka, because ever since the Rick Lazio-Hillary Clinton debates in 2000, some political consultant somewhere said that voters catch vapors when they see men argue with women. However, in campaign materials, they'll definitely go after her as Democrat-Lite, or Republican In Name Only, or a new designation I just invented, "Republican't!" Hey, it's just as witty as those other ones. They'll pretend they're going to run a positive campaign until about two or three weeks from election day, and then they'll freak out, harping on the pro-choice, pro-gay, and weird hair-color angle. Baar Topinka will have to count on the suburban Republican vote from Lake, Will and suburban Cook County, which will be enough to smoke her opponents unless one of them utterly dominates the rest of the state, which they won't, because there's like a million of them running, and if each of them gets their nuclear family to vote for them that's like everybody left in Illinois.

The next treasurer of Illinois will be a Democrat, either former Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri or banking magnate scion Alexis Giannoulias, of hard-to-read purple billboard off the Dan Ryan fame. Giannoulias got the endorsement of progressive superstar Senator Barack Obama, State Reps. John Fritchey and Harry Osterman, and 33rd Ward Alderman and political heavy Dick Mell. His family also has more money than God and he has unlimited fundraising potential, because (excuse the stereotype here) the Chicagoland Greek community notoriously supports their own when it comes to politics. And movies. How do you think My Big Fat Greek Wedding got so big, huh? Exactly. The unions and much of the Party, likely as a favor to House Speaker Madigan, lined up behind Mangieri, who is the Party's slated candidate.

A moderate Republican from suburban Lemont, Christine Radogno, is quietly preparing to lose to either of these guys.

Blagojevich is the key, and he is very, very polarizing, and mainly within his own party. The most important thing that will happen the next six weeks is that legislative maneuvering, campaign support, and general posturing will probably mean some kind of realignment of Illinois Democrats that could mean a real fundamental change in the party.

Also, a lot of people mangling last names on TV. Priceless.

*OK, he didn't actually say anything about napalm. Sorry, Oberweis for Governor legal team.

Next Week: In Chicago itself, a near bloodbath between the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) and its many opponents — including the unions, Congressman Luis Gutierrez and a host of independent Aldermanic organizations — was avoided, but there will still be some fireworks from that feud.

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Comments

vit / February 1, 2006 11:09 AM

You'd better watch out or Oberweis will be dropping you into Soldier's Field from that helicopter of his.

Nice run down.

Spence / February 1, 2006 11:27 AM

Reality is that if Oberweiss or any other Republican than Judy Baar Topinka win the primaries, then Blagovich will easily be re-elected as Governor. Baar Topinka is the only republican that has cross-over appeal and Republicans will need some Dem votes come election time if they are going to win. Judy has Birkett as a running mate, which should appeal to the more conservative republicans in IL as well. And that's why Oberweiss doesn't stand a chance. Also, I don't really believe that Judy stands a chance as Blago has something like $14 million saved up in his war chest to throw at any challenger.

 

About the Author(s)

Richard Carnahan is a true South Side Sox fan who's played a bit part in Chicago politics more than once over the years.

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