Photo by Patrick McDonough
"TODD UNDERTOW" PUTS
COMMISSIONERS AT RISK
ANALYSIS & OPINION BY RUSS STEWART
It's the blind leading the blind. It's the dumb following the dumb. It's beyond moronic.
But, quite incredibly, of the 17 Cook County commissioners, six Democrats -- five blacks and one Hispanic -- have allied themselves with beleaguered Cook County Board president Todd Stroger, and will bear the stigma of running for re-election in 2010 as a "Stroger Stooge."
When the Board, at Stroger's behest, passed the one percent sales tax hike in March 2008, nine commissioners voted in the affirmative (see adjacent vote chart). The "Todd Squad" included black commissioners Earlean Collins, Robert Steele, Jerry Butler, Bill Beavers, and Deborah Sims, Hispanic commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, and white commissioners Joan Murphy, John Daley and Larry Suffredin. The hike was supposed to raise $400 million annually in new revenue.
When the Board in May 2009 voted 12-3 (with two absences) to repeal the hike, the "Todd Squad" dwindled to Beavers, Butler and Steele, with Collins and Sims absent.
And when Stroger vetoed the repeal, necessitating a three-fourths vote (13 of 17) of the commissioners to override, the Toddler prevailed. The vote in June was 11-4, with Beavers, Butler, Sims and Moreno voting to sustain Stroger's veto, and Collins and Steele voting "present." The repeal was two votes short.
Now, fueled by voter wrath, the proverbial Sword of Damocles is set to fall - but not only on the "Stroger Stooges." Of the 12 Democratic incumbents, at least eight will face difficult primaries if they choose to run. Beavers, Butler and Collins are likely to retire. The credibility of Collins, Moreno, Sims and Steele, all of whom prevaricated, vacillated and then capitulated to the Toddler, has imploded. Murphy and Suffredin, who were "enablers" for the tax hike, look like fools.
Moreno voted for the sales tax hike, then for its repeal, and then to sustain Stroger's veto. What did Stroger promise him? Moreno, a profile in erratic opportunism, is a disgrace to good government. In his heavily Mexican-American Southwest Side Chicago district, which also includes Cicero, Moreno will face serious primary opposition from Len Dominguez.
Steele, who inherited his mother's county board seat in 2006, voted for the sales tax, opposed the repeal, and then voted "present" on the veto override. That's total cowardice. Steele has been ailing in recent months, from a kidney problem. He may not run for a second term in his West Side district.
Collins, a state senator from 1977 to 1998, draws a state pension of $75,912 atop her county salary of $85,000. She voted for the sales tax hike, was absent for the repeal, and then voted "present" on the override. That's "public evasion," not "public service." She makes $150,000 a year at the taxpayers' trough, but hasn't the courage to show up or vote on tough issues.
Murphy, with dubious wisdom, proposed a two-cent sales tax hike in 2007, which would have raised $1 billion in county revenues. Just imagine the hordes of payrollers who could have been hired with a $4 billion county budget. She voted for the 2008 tax hike, but then thereafter for the repeal and override. That means her instinct for survival overcame her previous stupidity. She can expect opposition in 2010, most likely from John Fairman, a trustee in Justice.
Suffredin, of Evanston, provided the critical ninth vote to enact the sales tax hike. He extracted a promise to create a new hospital governing board, effectively terminating the board president's control over county health hiring. But Suffredin, who lost a 2008 bid for state's attorney, getting only 18.1 percent of the vote, is trying to make amends, backing the repeal and override. He may run for board president, opening the seat.
Among the Republicans, who hold five of the 17 seats, their key to survival is not their implacable opposition to Stroger and tax hikes; instead, it's demographics. Cook County's suburbs are becoming relentlessly more Democratic. That puts Republican incumbents Pete Silvestri, Gregg Goslin, Tony Peraica, Liz Gorman and Tim Schneider at risk. All won unimpressively in 2006. If 2010 is another Democratic tsunami, some or all could lose.
Here's an early analysis of developing board races:
12th District (central Northwest side; 47th Ward): Two-term incumbent Forrest Claypool (D) is retiring from politics, foregoing a run against Stroger. The hot rumor is that 47th Ward Alderman Gene Schulter, who is also the ward Democratic committeeman, will run for Claypool's spot. That would entail a $50,000-a-year pay cut, but Schulter, age 61, may want a change after 34 years in the city council. The Ravenswood/Lincoln Square 47th Ward dominates the 12th District, so Schulter can dictate Claypool's successor. Other possible 47th Ward candidates are attorney Dan Farley, son of a former state senator, and Tom O'Donnell, an aide to Sheriff Tom Dart.
9th District (far Northwest Side and close-in suburbs): Republican Silvestri, the village president of Elmwood Park, is an early favorite to win a fourth term. He won with 54 percent in 1994, 55.8 percent in 1998, 53.8 percent in 2002, and 56.7 percent in 2006. There is a sizeable base Democratic vote in the district, and 2006 loser Jodi Biacalana is poised to run again.
But Silvestri has an Ace-in-the-Hole. He is allied with the Republican organization of Alderman Brian Doherty (41st) and State Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20) in the north end of the district, and he and ally State Representative Skip Saviano (R-77) have a potent political operation in the Elmwood Park area. And all these Republicans have a non-aggression pact with the two Democrats who dominate the 36th Ward, in the south end of the district: Alderman/Committeeman Bill Banks and State Senator Jim DeLeo (D-10). Saviano was once an aide to DeLeo.
In 2006, Biacalana, who lives in the 36th Ward, won her base over Silvestri by just 224 votes; Silverstri won the 41st Ward by 3,661 votes, and Norwood Park Township by 1,330 votes.
The outlook: As long as the Banks/DeLeo Machine dominates the 36th Ward, and as long as Democrats remain enfeebled in the 41st Ward, Silvestri is unbeatable.
17th District (Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, then south in a narrow corridor to Lemont, Orland Park and Tinley Park): Incumbent Gorman's husband was a business partner of Ed Vrdolyak, and there is some negative fallout attaching to her. She was first elected unopposed in 2002, and re-elected in 2006 with 55.6 percent. She is the Orland Township Republican committeeman, was briefly the Republican county chairman, and has been feuding with Peraica.
A likely 2010 Democratic candidate for the seat is Dr. Victor Forys, a Polish-American who garnered 11.7 percent of the vote in the 2009 Democratic congressional primary in the 5th District. If Forys can assemble both a geographic (north versus south) and ethnic coalition, he could win. Other candidates include Orland Park trustee Jim Dodge and RTA Board member Dennis Cook. But well-known Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin is also a possibility, and would be favored in a primary. The outlook: Gorman has huge problems.
16th District (Berwyn, Riverside, Brookfield, LaGrange, Lyons): Peraica was the losing Republican candidate for board president in 2006 (46.3 percent) and for state's attorney in 2008 (25.3 percent). Despite his consistent anti-tax and anti-Stroger stances, Peraica remains a much-disliked, polarizing politician with a legion of enemies in both parties.
In 2006, he eked out an 845-vote (50.6 percent) win over Democrat Bill Gomolinski, now a judge. In 2002, he won by 4,565 votes (53.1 percent) over
Melrose Park mayor Ron Serpico. Peraica is also the Lyons Township Republican committeeman; in 2002, he won the job with just 37.6 percent of the vote in a three-man field, and barely beat Mike LaPidus in 2006, winning by 96 votes.
"I'm running for re-election as commissioner and committeeman" in 2010, said Peraica, who is "undecided" about whether to launch another board president bid.
For commissioner, Peraica expects a primary challenge from Berwyn Township Republican committeeman Tony Castrogiovanni, who got only 383 votes (4.5 percent) in the 2009 Berwyn mayor's race. Possible Democrats include Countryside Mayor Robert Conrad and McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski. Former Berwyn Mayor Mike O'Connor, who lost in 2009, may run as the Green Party candidate. The outlook: In a three-way race, Peraica is favored. Otherwise, it's a toss-up.
15th District (northwest suburban Hanover, Schaumburg and Elk Grove townships): Schneider upset 32-year incumbent Carl Hansen in the 2006 primary, and beat Democrat Jim Dasakis by just 2,758 votes (52.3 percent). The area is trending Democratic. The outlook: Schneider is in jeopardy.
14th District (New Trier, Northfield, Wheeling and Palatine townships): Incumbent Gregg Goslin is obscure and inoffensive, and won with 53.9 percent in 2006. The outlook: The district is trending Democratic, and a credible female Democrat could beat Goslin.
E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.
WORD COUNT: 1,473.
COUNTY BOARD VOTE CHART IS ATTACHED.