Friday, March 6, 2009

5th District Race creates impending vacuum on Cook County Board

Most political observers recognize that Cook County Board Commissioner Mike Quigley's victory in the March 3 special election in the 5th Congressional District in the Democratic Primary seals his fate as the district's new congressman succeeding Rahm Emanuel who resigned the seat to become President Barack Obama's chief of staff.

That would create a vacuum on the Cook County Board where Quigley has led the reform movement challenges to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, whose administration is beleauguered with failed leadership and controversies involving excessive taxation. Many observers do not believe Stroger will have the backing of the Democratic organization whe he seeks election to the spot his late father, John Stroger, held for years.

Quigley was the more fearless of the reformers who challenged Stroger's continued missteps and mistakes, a group that included Forrest Claypoole and Larry Suffredin. Suffredin flipflopped on Stroger's sales tax hike opposing before when he ran for state's attorney and supporting it after he lost. Claypoole is a power hungry political wannabe whose interest in reform has more to do with his personal ambitions than genuine concern for the voters.

Quigley, on the otherhand, was always genuine and consistent although hsi background years ago began as a worker in a Chicago Machine Ward organization of Alderman and Commiteeman Bernie Hansen.

It's not wrong for people to expect Quigley to win. The votes, despite a record low turnout, show that Quigley far outdistanced any of the competitors in the Republican or Independent field. Quigley receive over 12,000 votes. The Republican victor, Rosanna Pulido, won only 1,001 votes (several hundred higher than her closest challenger in part because of the fire-charged issue of illegal immigration that she espoused). The five candidates running on the Independent slate, all members of the Green Party, barely got close to 450 votes total among them all.

One might argue that the Democrats who did vote for other candidates -- Quigley's impressive 12,000 votes is impressive compared to the 11 people who ran against him but not when compared to the total Democratic Party primary vote. The vast majority of Quigley's vote like the other Democratic contenders, came from the Chicago portion of the District, 12 percent and that means 88 percent is still out there. But there is no reason to believe the majority of those Democrats will vote Republican, or that the Republican Party can mount a significant campaign head-to-head considering they had no money going in to the race.

So it is fair to say Quigley will win Tuesday April 7 in the general election. And when he does, the Democratic Committeemen in the 5th Congressional District will meet to appoint someone to take his place.

Everyone was impressed despite their losses with the performances os State Rep. John Fritchey and State Rep. Sara Feingenholtz. Both Fritchey and Feigenholtz spent the most money in purchasing TV ads which helped them lead the field but not win. There were three candidates with Machine names that stood out: Frank Annunzio, the grand nephew of the former congressman of the same name, Cary Capparelli, related to representative Ralph Capparelli, and Pat O'Connor, a Chicago alderman. Their Machine credentials gave them boosts but not enough to score significant votes. Capparelli got713 votes, Annunzio got 750 votes and O'Connor got 6,371 votes which was substantial but only half of Quigley's winning turnout.

The lessons: The Machine does not rule the 5th District; a real reformer can put together a coalition to win enough votes; the Republicans have a long way to go; the green Party needs to assess its own future as a 3rd party or better yet a faction in the Republican or Democratic parties. And who swings the decision on Quigley's succession in the 5th district among the district's commiteemen will be significant.

The vote to replace is based on a weighted system among the committeemen and Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward carries the largest weighted vote. He may decide who succeeds Quigley, and he may pick from a large field too that includes two current and former county board aides to Quigley, and a former State Representative who may be dragged down by her ties to disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich.

On a completely different plain, the low voter turnout in the highly contentious 5th Congressional District race suggests voters remain as apathetic as they always have. And that may reflect general apathy across Cook County and the six-county Chicagoland region.

Why? Voters seem content with the election of Obama as president. They're not going to jinx their luck; voters rarely get the best candidates.

You can hear a discussion of these and other issues from Friday's radio broadcast of Radio Chicagoland (WJJG 1530 AM Radio, with Pioneer Press Newspaper reporter Patrick Butler and FOX TV News County Reporter Dane Placko. ... (Click HERE to Listen to the Podcast interview with Patrick Butler -- first 30 minutes -- and Dane Placko, 2nd 30 minutes of the show?)

-- Ray Hanania

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