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Tuesday, June 6

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As of midnight on Wednesday morning, most of the aldermanic results are in, barring legal challenges. The biggest news is probably out of the 32nd Ward, where challenger Scott Waguespack has (apparently) brought an end to decades of rule by the organization Dan Rostenkowski and Theris Gabinski. If the result holds and Waguespack is declared the winner, by a razor-thin 122 or so votes, then the jury should no longer be out on the Regular Democratic Organization: it's more or less over, unless they seriously analyze how they do business.

Waguespack had serious organized support from labor and a handful of independent pols, but was otherwise left to fend for himself. Labor especially was busy foot-soldier wise elsewhere. So yesterday it was one savvy campaigner versus much of the city's establishment Democratic organizations — including several from neighboring wards — and they couldn't pull it out. They spent obscenely on signs and ads, and brought in canvassers from far and wide, including legendary precinct workers from the Southwest Side, but ultimately they couldn't keep the anti-establishment wave in the ward down: now perhaps that doesn't have as much to do with Waguespack's campaign as it does with Matlak's aldermanship, but that's semantic.

The problem with the so-called "Machine" is not that they were a well-organized and incentivized political operation — in that way, they were like pretty much every good political organizations — it was that, as times changed, they allowed the thing the urban Democratic Parties were organized to resist — the complete control of the political process by big business at the dawn of the twentieth century — to come to dominate their own party. Urban Democratic organizations in Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Boston and other towns were born in the streets, by tough kids with thick-necked dads and sometimes thicker-necked moms who worked hard for their money. They were a way to tip control of government back towards the regular people, rather than the big men in the big buildings downtown. That's why the feds have gone after these organizations with such reckless passion for nearly a century while leaving the major business cartels untouched — in fact, with Ronald Reagan (our second worst President), beginning to allow business to actually write our laws.

But, like with most things, they went bad. They started to look a lot like the corporate behemoths they were designed to fight. In the case of Chicago and the HDO, our political machine was even partially privatized. While a hard core of precinct captains and street soldiers remained, as the city administration drifted towards privileging big business and real estate developers over working men and women who wanted a piece of the pie, it became difficult to keep the loyalty of the average voter. And if you think about it, where is that shift more obvious than in the 32nd Ward? On the south end of the ward, Polish and Ukrainian families have been pushed out as developers court young professionals; the north end of the ward, even the run-of-the-mill yuppies can't afford it any longer. The working class families left a long time ago. So what good is "the Machine" then? For the greater glory of a mayor who vetoes living wage laws? For loyalty to a ward committeeman who can't force his alderman to pick up a phone? With overcrowded streets, raucous neighbors, constant development, and breakneck stripmalling, why show any loyalty at all?

The Machine forgot the streets where it was born and, through pain and trials, hardened into the fighting force that made average guys like Tony Cermak and Dick Daley into kingmakers who got presidents elected. Once upon a time, no less than Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy came pleading not just to the Mayor but to individual ward committeeman for their support. Now they can't keep one of their own in office in a run-off against a kid who says things like, "Who knows? Maybe we'll stop some of that government waste."


Elsewhere, Toni Foulkes, on whom I obviously have a political crush, won a resounding victory in the ACORN and SEIU stronghold of the 15th Ward, Englewood. This is the second alderman ACORN has gotten elected in the 15th — this time, at no small cost, as SEIU and UFCW spent approaching half a million dollars on her campaign. With a Regular Democratic Organization that has proved barely a shadow of its former self, Foulkes has little to fear. She has everything to gain by being as independent and outspoken as she knows how to be (which is quite a bit). Foulkes comes to the Council straight from a Jewel-Osco bakery. How can she not take it to powers that be, knowing how hard it is for a working family in Chicago?

As of now, Joe Moore seems to have eked out a 50 vote victory in the 49th Ward, what would have been a major black eye for labor. Their great progress as of the February primaries could have been, symbolically anyway, wiped out if the champion of the Big Box Ordinance that sparked this whole debate would have been knocked off. Especially considering union-endorsed candidates Leroy Jones, Jr. and Michael Chandler both lost badly, and Naisy Dolar, who was endorsed over Bernie Stone, was defeated by a surprising six point margin.

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JP Paulus / April 18, 2007 5:51 AM

i think Naisy Dolar lost because of the negativity that surrounded her campaign in the primary -- look at places lke Aldertrack, and her supporters were ripping on GREG BREWER instead of Berne Stone. They also left Salman Aftab in the cold too. Had all 3 united, Bernie Stone would be gone.

Also, if Joe Moore wins, the "Broken Heart of Rogers Park" will need some serious intervention, as they might push him over the edge

Richard F Carnahan / April 18, 2007 7:57 AM

If Moore holds on, which it looks like he will, "Broken Heart of Rogers Park" will either a) move b) allege a far-reaching and nefarious conspiracy by Moore to steal the election or c) all of the above.

Sorry, Broken Heart. Sometimes your horse can't carry the day!

Gino / April 18, 2007 8:45 AM

Eh. Post-election quarterbacking. There will be a debrief. More likely it was the fact that it was a runoff, there was voter fatigue, there was a lot of people who believed that Naisy would take it and they stayed home. It is what it is.

If memory serves me correctly, it took a long time for Brewer to come around to this side after he'd lost, even more evidence he would not have made a good alderman, the nature of political coalition making being what it is.

Naisy reached out to Aftab. I was even there in a restaurant on Devon when we ran into the guy, congratulated the guy for running a good campaign and asked him to throw his support to her side. As is his way, he reversed himself.

47% of the voters said no to Stone and they made him and his crew work harder than they ever have in 33 years. So it goes.

Jack / April 18, 2007 9:39 AM

I think you're dead on, Richard about why the machine lost. We were out in the Back of the Yards precincts of the 3rd Ward. Tillman had folks from Bridgeport and Pilsen and even Solis's chief of staff was out. But it was way too top heavy, full of big time endorsements, and empty on soldiers. Our "organization" of studetns, Back of the Yards residents and Ricardo Munozites were the only folks actually knocking on doors (well, beside the teams from SEIU). The big question is who is going to fill the void left by RDO for the "regular voters." Will it be new labor? Will it be an organization surrounding a a particular candidate? Or will it be nothing at all, leaving Chicago politics balkanized and the city fully given over to downtown business interests

jerry 101 / April 18, 2007 10:13 AM

na na na na na na...hey hey hey good bye Matlak!

Woohoo! Ding dong ding, Fast Teddy is dead!

Irishpirate / April 18, 2007 8:42 PM

You are missing at least part of the reason some of the black incumbents lost. In 2002 the black alderman insisted that there be 20 black majority wards after the redistricting. Each of those wards had to be 65% or more black based on their demands.

Therefore you had traditional black alderman with large numbers of hispanic and white residents who might support a more "modern" black candidate. That certainly played a factor in Tillman and Coleman's losses.

Tillman's ward had ridiculous "fingers" of land going north and west that pulled in large numbers of white and hispanic voters.

If the black alderman had been more prescient they might have demanded 18 or 19 black majority wards and kept their wards "blacker".

Jack / April 19, 2007 7:32 AM

I don't know Irishpirate, if you're totally right about why Tillman got beat. I worked the Back of the Yards precincts (am I spelling that right?) and we won big and got a +141 vote total. Pat won by 666 (yikes) votes, so only about 22% of her final vote differential came from there. I really think the fact the SEIU and UNITE-HERE are predominantly African American and Latino mattered a lot. As I posted before, I think who lost (or almost lost, like Joe Moore) relied on endorsements and high profile people hanging around the polls, while those who won were banging on doors.

Andrew / April 19, 2007 10:29 AM

Sadly, Jack, both high-profile endorsements and people banging on doors weren't enough for Dolar to take down Stone.


JP, Aftab didn't have the support of the entire Indo-Pak community; many were very turned off by his history of attacking friends with knives. More than a few people up here were suspicious that he might have been put into the field by Stone himself, hoping to split the Asian community, so his endorsement of Stone didn't seem all that surprising.

Gino, I recall Brewer endorsing Dolar no more than two days after the election. Is that slow?

Jack / April 19, 2007 12:19 PM

I wouldn't be so bummed out about Dolar losing. Despite what happened this year, it's rather difficult to take out an incumbent. Most people need at least 2 or 3 tries to do it. The fact that she took Bernie "set in" Stone to a runoff is pretty impressive in my mind.

irishpirate / April 19, 2007 2:26 PM


I don't think I'm totally right in regards to the redistricting. It just played an important role.

In 2002 the black incumbents demands for 20 black wards came back to bite some of them in 2007.

If 18 or 19 black wards had been drawn in 2002 Tillman MIGHT have kept her seat.

Informed speculation on my part.

laborpol / April 20, 2007 10:41 PM

Haven't you learned your lesson yet Richard? You got it all wrong yet again. SEIU won an astounding 12 of 16 races in which we made major contributions. Mayor Daley's forces did not unseat a single labor friendly alderman while we will be sending 9 new alderman to the city counci...the most new aldermen since 1979. That means that SEIU had the same impact on the election that a highly competitive mayoral race like the election of Jane Bryne did. Some may say that SEIU can't take credit for all the new aldermen. That may be true, but SEIU certainly created the political environment that allowed challengers allover the city to have a legitimate chance this time. If we had not spread the Mayor's forces across the broader playing field they could have concentrated their fire and protected many more incumbents. Make no mistake about it. This was a huge defeat for the Mayor and the dawning of a new political day in Chicago. BTW, SEIU was Scott Wags single largest contributor, we were nuetral in the Vi Daley race and while Brookins did defeat Leroy Jones handily we used that race to divert opposition resources from other Southside races that we went on to win. There was a larger strategy at play here that the Mayor's forces played right into. They got sucked into running anti union campaigns allover the city and they fell flat on their faces. Mike "muttenchops" Noonan and his soon to be indicted buddy Victor Reyes crafted inane anti-union attacks for many African American incumbents that had absolutley no affect on the election. The Mayor's forces swung wildly throughout this election while we stayed on-message and focused. They got whopped, plain and simple and now they will have to face the political consequences. Let the fun begin boys!

rfc / April 21, 2007 12:33 PM

Is the only choice it was a 100% perfect victory/strategy or nothing at all?

So, just to be clear: Your strategy was:

-purposely allowing your biggest champion in the Council coming within 50 votes of losing,


-spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to let Leroy Jones lose. (Especially good was the anti-union campaign you tricked Brookins into running that was such a flop he almost won 2/3rd of the vote and made SEIU's name mud in that ward, with pictures of your boss's house in Highland Park on it.)

-Bernie Stone waltzing to victory and

-Emma Mitts, who started all these problems, going completely untouched.

Tillman, Natarus, and Matlak were all susceptible a year ago before your grand strategy was implemented.

Come on. It was a victory for labor--or for SEIU exclusively apparently--but it wasn't flawless.

irishpirate / April 21, 2007 3:09 PM

Tillman and Natarus would have lost with or without labor.

Labor made a difference for Moore and in some of the other races where the percentage difference was under 4 percent.

Overall a good cycle for labor but much of the credit has to do with stupid incompetent incumbents.

elrod / April 23, 2007 8:13 PM

I had a friend on the waguespack campaign...she did not recall seeing any labor walking. it was all for matlak. she also said seiu gave about $10,000 cash. that sounded like a pittance compared to what all the others were getting. matlak had 10 times as much so I do not think labor did much for him. She said he walked every door and had his own plan from day one that never changed.. nice monday morning qurterbacking.

cliff_notes / April 24, 2007 6:08 PM

Pertaining to Richard's earlier post poking fun at the "Broken Heart of Rogers Park" : Election shenanigans are not exactly a far-reaching proposition... I would believe they have been in play for quite some time. Note a challenge filed today by the Gordon campaign, which may well open a pandora's box of unethical and incompetent election behavior. I bore witness to some of it myself...

By the way, I know the "broken heart" well, and though he may overreach and use the wrong approach at times, the service he has done for the community by pointing out and publicizing various problems in R.P. has been exemplary.


About the Author(s)

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

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