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Elections Sun Oct 31 2010
This article was submitted by David Jordan
Two sons of Irish immigrants, mutual childhood friends from the old neighborhood, are in a close, nasty fight for a state Senate seat on Chicago's Far Northwest Side.
John Mulroe (next to the young woman) at a party in the North Austin neighborhood in 1979. Photo courtesy of Brendan Egan
Like me, both Brian Doherty - for the past 19 years the city's sole Republican alderman--and his foe in the November 2 election, John Mulroe--appointed to the seat in August after a long-serving fellow Democrat resigned from it--graduated from St. Angela School, in the North Austin neighborhood on the West Side. I am SAS '74, Mulroe is '73 and Doherty, '71.
Neither candidate for 10th District senator--Doherty, 53, a standout amateur boxer as a young man, who started in politics as a volunteer to a Northwest Side state representative 30 years ago; Mulroe, 51, a mild-mannered but tough and tenacious accountant-turned-lawyer, who is a relative political neophyte--is pulling many punches in the bout, which has been heavily financed by both party organizations.
Both candidates, like me, are from big Irish Catholic families.
Mulroe was the third of five children, all boys. The family, like mine, lived for several years in a two-bedroom apartment in a two-flat with relatives occupying the other flat, near tiny Galewood Park, a North Austin neighborhood hangout for countless youths, including me and several of my nine siblings.
Mulroe's father, a longtime laborer with Peoples Gas, often carted a gang of us kids in his station wagon to various sporting events.
On the campaign trail, Mulroe often recounts how he began his work career at age 13 as a janitor's assistant at St. Patrick High School, an all-boys Belmont Avenue institution, where I was a year behind him, just as I had been at SAS, where he later was a director of the St. Angela Education Foundation.
In the 1980s, while Mulroe was working days at Arthur Anderson as an accountant, he attended Loyola University law school at night. Then he served as a Cook County prosecutor for six years before, in 1995, opening a small, general legal practice in an office that is a block from Doherty's aldermanic office, down Northwest Highway in the Edison Park neighborhood, where the senator and his wife, Margaret, live with their two sons and two daughters.
Similarly, Doherty, the third of nine children, was a presence in my youth. My father, the late Jack Jordan (SAS '38), St. Angela's longtime volunteer athletic director, became close to the future alderman while working as a manager for the Chicago Park District boxing program.
At the time, the future alderman was in the midst of his amateur boxing career, in which I remember seeing the slim Doherty out-pound heavier boxers on his way to a 19-2 record and Park District and Golden Gloves championships.
Doherty graduated from Lane Technical high school, one of the few Chicago Public Schools to long have a good reputation. Then he earned a degree in business management at Northeastern Illinois University.
One day in 1980 at his home on the far Northwest Side, Doherty responded to a knock at the door. It was a stranger, Roger McAuliffe, his Republican precinct captain, who also happened to be a local state rep. McAuliffe was recruiting voters for an upcoming election. That was the start of a decade-long mentorship that culminated in Doherty's 1991 ousting of the 41st Ward alderman, onetime Polish powerhouse Roman Pucinski, which catapulted the 34-year-old Doherty from political aide to elected politician.
David Jordan is kneeling in front at the right end in the photo. Marty Mulroe, a year younger than his brother John, is kneeling at the left end.
A couple decades later, Doherty turned his political acumen toward earning a 2005 urban-studies master's at Loyola.
He now lives in the Oriole Park neighborhood, a couple of blocks from where I lived for many years, and where he and his wife, Rose (SAS '75), have a daughter and a son.
In addition to being my alderman, Doherty was my GOP precinct captain, and, as such, regularly knocked on the door of the home I shared with my mother and brother.
Both candidates have lived on the Far Northwest Side since the 1970s, when they moved with their parents as part of the white flight that swept through the West Side in that decade. My own family followed suit in 1985.
St. Angela church has been shuttered since 2005, when, facing a much shrunken congregation in an impoverished neighborhood, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago disbanded the parish it had established in 1916.
At an October 5 debate between the two SAS alumni at Wilbur Wright community college, Doherty emphasized his opposition to a tax hike.
"I am a fiscally responsible conservative," the alderman said in his opening remarks to the 100-plus gathered at the Northwest Side branch of the Community Colleges of Chicago. "I never voted for a property-tax increase."
Doherty promises to continue opposing tax hikes as 10th District senator, and he attacks Mulroe for joining a senate caucus that had passed a hike in the state income tax to 5 percent from 3 percent . (While the senate passed that proposed hike last year, the Illinois House has yet to vote on a new tax bill, and the governor's plan would hike the income tax to 4 percent.)
Mulroe says he favors a progressive tax and only if a careful study of spending shows the need. Only then, he says, would he seek approval on a voter referendum, as required for such constitutional amendments, to allow a shift from the current flat tax to a federal-like progressive tax with higher rates for richer residents.
During the Wright debate, Doherty suggested tighter regulation to prevent easy fraudulent eligibility in Medicaid, the joint federal-state, low-income health-insurance program, which at $7 billion accounts for about a third of the state's general fund.
Mulroe responded that most Medicaid recipients are in managed care and that the main problem with state finances is mismanagement by "career politicians."
Doherty retorted that the Democrats have ruled in Springfield for the past eight years and are responsible for the mismanagement. "That's why we need checks and balances," Doherty said, referring to the Republicans' lack of power in Springfield, where the Democrats control both the executive and the legislative branches.
Doherty had the last word at Wright. Before shaking hands with his foe, the alderman asked voters, "If you don't trust Springfield, then why would you trust Springfield in this race?"
The Democratic Party is hoping to hold a seat that is part of its 37-22 senate supermajority.
The Republican Party is betting Doherty can deliver a knockout blow, helping it to regain state power. A shift in just two seats would erase the veto-proof supermajority. (In the House, the Democrats' 70-48 majority, which may well shrink after November 2, is currently just one vote shy of the three-fifths needed for a supermajority.)
Doherty pointed to ending the supermajority in explaining by e-mail to me why he decided early this year - at the request of GOP leaders in the senate - to give up his annual aldermanic salary of more than $100,000, to become a state senator at about $68,000.
"I was told my party needed me to defeat the supermajority in the Senate," he wrote.
"The supermajority can borrow at will, without any input from the other party.
"Selling bonds with high back-loaded interest and without a plan to pay for them in the future is wrong. It is also one of the many reasons we are faced with this fiscal crisis."
But Mulroe--who says his accounting experience will help the state erase its $13 billion budget deficit--points to the alderman's 2008 council vote for Daley's parking-meter privatization as evidence of budgetary mismanagement.
Mulroe campaign spokesman Owen Kilmer brought up the parking-meter fiasco, in which the city has already spent most of the $1.2 billion it got in exchange for leasing the city's meters for 75 years, in responding to my asking about Doherty's claim that Mulroe's bid for the senate seat is a betrayal of the pair's friendship.
Doherty told me that Mulroe had betrayed him after his having helped in Mulroe's 2008 judicial race by running against him without first informing him.
"This is an open seat," Kilmer wrote to me in an e-mail reply, "and it belongs to the people of the 10th District, not to Alderman Doherty of the 41st Ward. Doherty never told John he was running either."
In his own e-mail reply about the so-called betrayal, Mulroe suggested that consultation with his own family in considering the senate run superseded any concern for his old friend.
"I was running," Mulroe wrote, "because I think new people need to be involved in public service if we are going to fix the serious problems facing our communities and our state."
In an e-mail reply to me the previous day, October 12, Doherty had written, "I have assisted John and his extended family whenever I could."
Doherty said that in Mulroe's 2008 judicial campaign, his only previous bid for elective office, an unsuccessful run in the 10th Subcircuit primary, "I supported his campaign ... holding a fundraiser at my home raising approximately $5,000 for his race.
"I personally walked precincts for John with my brothers and supporters in the dead of winter. Despite all of this," Doherty wrote, after Mulroe had entered the 10th District race this year, he "did not have the decency to call me about his decision" to also enter, until after he filed the required nominating petitions.
Two months earlier, in an August 16 e-mail reply to me, Mulroe wrote: "When the seat opened up, it became the people's seat. No one was entitled to it.... The people would have felt betrayed if it was handed over to someone without an election."
That reply, ironically, came nine days after his appointment to replace longtime Senator James DeLeo, who, apparently giving unspecified "personal" reasons, had resigned on July 17, about six months shy of finishing his four-year term, essentially handing over his senate seat to Mulroe till an elected senator - Mulroe or Doherty - fills the seat for two years, 2011 and 2012.
Under the 1970 state constitution, a third of the senate seats after having two four-year terms have a two-year term. (The other two-thirds each have two-year terms earlier in the 10-year cycle.)
In the 10th District race, the alderman will benefit from an army of volunteers that he shares with his close ally Michael McAuliffe, who basically inherited his state-rep job from his father, Doherty mentor Roger McAuliffe.
McAuliffe, whose legislative district, the 20th, is one of two contained in the senatorial 10th (all senate districts are split into two representative districts), is unopposed for re-election in November, just as he was in the GOP primary in February.
McAuliffe, Chicago's only Republican state lawmaker, was first elected after Roger died in a 1996 boating accident. In the other representative district contained in the senatorial 10th, the 19th, Mulroe figures to do better because it's overwhelmingly Democratic.
The 10th is also divided into four roughly equal-size wards that dominate the district, including, to the northwest, Doherty's largely Republican 41st. In the others, Democrats are in the majority: to the southwest, the 36th; to the southeast, the 38th; and, to the northeast, the 45th.
The 10th also contains a smaller suburban area: most of Norridge and Harwood Heights, plus a bit of Niles.
Also under the Illinois constitution, local Democratic committeemen had 30 days after DeLeo's resignation to pick a replacement, with their votes weighted based on how much territory they represent in the 10th.
Mulroe, the sole applicant to go before the committeemen at William Banks' 36th Ward office, won their unanimous appointment there as senator.
Attempts to reach DeLeo and Committeeman Banks for comment were unsuccessful.
According to reporter Patrick Butler, in the August 16 issue of the local Pioneer Press newspaper, in an article posted on the Brian G. Doherty site on Facebook, Doherty called Mulroe's appointment as senator "a 'slap in the face' of the local Republican party, the electorate and Doherty, personally."
Above the link to Butler's article Doherty's Facebook comment was "Another day... Another backroom deal by the Chicago Ward Bosses."
Mulroe argues that he deserved the appointment because he won the Democratic primary for the seat, with 10,036 votes (compared to only 5,809 for the closest among his three Democratic rivals). (Doherty, running unopposed in the GOP primary, got 6,279 votes.)
Since the 96th General Assembly does not reconvene for its final session, until November 10, if the alderman beats the senator on November 2, Mulroe would serve, while the senate is in session, only as a lame duck for a brief so-called veto session, probably about a week's worth of days late in 2010, mainly to consider overrides for bills rejected by the governor. (The 97th legislature will first convene next January 12.)
"Win or lose," Doherty pointed out in the Wright debate, Mulroe will get about $30,000 in salary for completing DeLeo's term.
After the debate, Mulroe told me that he is earning the salary, taking many calls from constituents and having introduced bills in the legislature: one to change the law so senior citizens must file only once for an annual property-tax exemption instead of every year, and one to require a voter referendum before a municipality can privatize airports, waste facilities or parking meters.
Doherty has also accused Mulroe of "quadruple dipping," in that his appointment added to three other part-time government jobs.
Mulroe responded to Doherty charges from the podium at a Portage Park Neighborhood Association forum on September 13. The senator said he had known Doherty would criticize him for the appointment, but that he had decided to seek the job so he could "immediately begin working for and representing the people of the 10th District." Mulroe further said that he had been surprised when DeLeo, who had been expected to retire after finishing the term, resigned. Also, Mulroe rejected Doherty's suggestion that the appointee should have been a caretaker, to hold the post till a new senator was elected.
Mulroe told the small weekday-evening crowd in Portage Park that his constituents deserve someone with a "vested interest" in the office.
"I possess the professional background, life experience and compassion that are required to successfully represent our community," Mulroe wrote in a statement prepared for the Portage Park forum.
"John," as the winner of the Democratic primary, "was the natural choice" for the post, Committeeman Mary O'Connor said in an e-mail reply. O'Connor - since 2008 the Democratic boss of the 41st Ward, where Mulroe is president of the party's ward organization - is running in the February election to replace Doherty as alderman, as are longtime Doherty aide Maurita Gavin (SAS '71) and others.
As for the "quadruple-dipping" charge, Mulroe in Portage Park said his intermittent government jobs - city hearing officer, Chicago Park District hearing officer and Cook County Circuit Court arbitrator - all three of which he has resigned from, paid no benefits and a combined nine-year total of $151,154.
The Wright debate was moderated by Jefferson Park-based Nadig Newspapers publisher Brian Nadig, who said abortion was by far the most asked about topic on cards submitted by the audience.
Doherty said he opposed abortion except to preserve a mother's life and in cases of rape and incest. The alderman also said he favored requiring parental notification before a minor can get an abortion.
Mulroe, who is pro-choice despite being a Catholic in a heavily Catholic district, said he favors abortion rights because the decision to end a pregnancy is personal, as is the decision "to have a big family."
In his time as alderman, Doherty has kept his pledge to never vote, at least directly, for a property-tax increase, and now, in the race for the 10th, he touts that fact constantly.
Mulroe counters that Doherty has, in fact, voted to raise property taxes numerous times over his aldermanic career, by voting in favor of city budgets and thereby hiking the city's property-tax levy--and by voting on 41 occasions to create tax-increment financing districts around the city.
Ben Joravsky, who has written extensively about TIF as a staff writer for the weekly Chicago Reader and who moderated a Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association forum in June between Doherty and Mulroe on TIF, argues that every time property-tax money is diverted into a TIF fund away from the Chicago Public Schools, the taxing bodies have to compensate by raising their tax rates.
Doherty argues that TIF-district creation, originally designed to spur development of blighted areas (a use both candidates support, though seeing a need for TIF reform) but used via loopholes virtually anywhere in Chicago (and throughout Illinois), is not taxation and tends to increase the city's overall tax base by adding newly developed properties to the tax rolls, thereby actually lowering homeowners' tax bills.
Because it caps at the current level the tax assessment that taxing bodies can draw on from property in a TIF, those taxers can't tap new money generated when the assessment rises. That money is diverted into a special TIF redevelopment fund, controlled by the city, for up to 24 years. To compensate, Joravsky points out, those bodies must raise their tax rates to meet their levies.
Doherty called the Mulroe-Joravsky argument, "convoluted thinking."
"If you have a successful TIF, that's good news," the alderman said in Portage Park, "and, Would property taxes go up? Yes.
"What if a TIF fails? Then the price (the assessed value of a property) doesn't go up, but, Do the taxes go up? No."
Joravsky responded in an e-mail to me:
"It's conceivable that TIF-subsidized deals could possibly bring in so much in property-tax dollars that the taxing bodies, flooded with new revenue, would lower the rate at which they're taxing property taxpayers.... But even if this miracle occurs, those lower tax rates won't benefit taxpayers for 24 years! In the meantime, taxpayers will have paid 24 years worth of tax hikes to compensate for the TIFs.
"So, Alderman Doherty and his council colleagues jacked up our taxes today with the hollow promise of maybe reducing them in 24 years. Though, of course, whatever reduction we get in 24 years probably won't begin to make up for the increase we paid over the years. Only a sucker would fall for this argument....Alderman Doherty should just give it up and admit that he and the rest of the council were duped by a scam."
On development in general, the alderman touts his early creation of the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Board, a panel of neighborhood leaders that votes on proposed building plans.
Such neighborhood-friendly initiatives combined with personal friendship made it easy for me to vote repeatedly for Doherty, even though he leans considerably right of me.
But aldermen are largely concerned with such practical matters as collecting garbage and filling pot holes, while state lawmakers more frequently get involved in ideology, and, as Brian knows, John leans more my way.
Fortunately, I won't face the tough voting-booth choice, because I recently moved out of the 10th.
Mary Susan Littlepage contributed reporting
David Jordan reported for two years in the late 1980s for Jefferson Park-based Nadig Newspapers, then moved on to Lerner Newspapers, where he reported mostly on Skokie but occasionally on Chicago's North and Northwest sides, including coverage of Brian Doherty's initial, 1991, election as alderman. In 1992 Jordan became a copy editor for the now-defunct chain of neighborhood weeklies, then in 2004 he became unemployed when Pioneer Press took over Lerner and eliminated copy editors. Today, he is a semi-retired freelance writer.