Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pundits say Gorman has trouble but I don't believe it

Going in to every election, incumbents always look vulnerable. There's a lot of big talk and big ambition by officeholders who dream of becoming the next political "phenom" like Barack Obama, who went from relative unknown to president of the United States in less than six years.

The candidates are already dreaming and some of those dreamers have set their sights on one incumbent in the Southwest Suburbs, 17th District Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman.

Gorman is not the darling of the downtown news media which analyzes everything in terms of either Mayor Daley or the Chicago Loop. Most major media, with some exceptions, ignore the suburbs and pretty much follow the pack when deciding who is or isn't vulnerable in elections. So bright stars in the suburbs often are overlooked.

There have been a few exceptions like Media darling Forrest Claypool, who every writer pretty much ordained would become the slayer of the evil tax lord, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. But Claypool discovered in his polling that he could neither raise the money nor could he count on real Democratic Party support. He would have lost to Stroger.

Then there is the other darling of the news media, Mike Quigley. Unlike Claypool, Quigley is made of much more genuine substance. He's more personable and less arrogant. He actually talks to people. Quigley was smart enough to throw his hat into the crowded Democratic primary battle to succeed Rahm Emanuel in Congress. It wasn't that Quigley was a phenom like Obama, but rather that the race for the congressional seat was more like the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Some people would luck out and make it through to the end of the race without getting gored, and a few unlucky ones would get gored.

Quigley got lucky. He has but two years to prove himself and he's working hard at showing he can handle the job, now that he was lucky enough to win.

Gorman is off the major media radar screen, except when the negative steamrollers come in to rehash all that deadweight about Ed Vrdolyak. Yes "Fast Eddie" will never leave the news. Ed happened to be friends with Gorman's husband, Gerry. They were business partners, too. But there isn't one politician Ed Vrdolyak hasn't helped, worked with or has not considered to be a friend. And he's done business with a lot of others, incuding a few who are among those being hailed by pundits as possible Gorman challengers.

The least known of the presumptive candidates to challenger Liz Gorman is in fact the front-runner, Pat Maher. President of the controversy-plagued Orland Fire Protection District (in two years its political legal spending went from nothing to hundreds of thousands) Maher is the son of a long time Orland Park village clerk, Dave Maher. Pat Maher has one brother who quietly and unsuccessfully ran for a village trustee post in nearby Lemont. In any other lifetime, the Mahers would be just an ordinary, bland suburban political family. Fat frogs sitting high on lilly pods in small pools. But this Maher family has ties to the powerful family of Tom Hynes, father of Comptroller Dan Hynes, who hail from the legendary 19th Ward where the the 19th Ward Machine stands ready at their beck and call.

Yet Pat Maher is not the name that everyone is talking about when it comes to the 17th District challenge to Liz Gorman. Take this paragraph from a recent column by my friend and capable columnist Russ Stewart (July 23) who looked at the county races from top to bottom:

17th District (Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, then south in a narrow corridor to Lemont, Orland Park and Tinley Park): Incumbent [Liz] 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.

The first thing you notice is that focus is not on Liz Gorman, who has come out swinging this past year with some major legislative initiatives. Rather, the focus is on her husband, Gerry, a businessman whose family is involved in politics. It's a funny thing. I'd heard a lot about Gerry Gorman that made him out to be some kind of behind-the-scenes T-Rex. Then I had a chance to meet him. Turns out he's just like any other family man who takes his kids to little league practice and spends a lot of time with his wife.

The second thing you notice in Russ Stewart's analysis is the absence of any recognition of Pat Maher. The focus instead is on: Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin; Jim Dodge, who Gorman appointed to the METRA Board; Dennis Cook, a member of the RTA board with the Illinois Federation of Young Republicans. And perennial candidate Victor Forys.

Now, I'm not knocking anyone but I can tell you this:

Dan McLaughlin may covet higher office, possibly lieutenant governor in the Democratic race for Governor in 2010, as the rmor mill is now swirling. But Dan has a big job with the Chicago Plumbers Union that pays well and takes up much of his time. Being president of a village with a great reputation and a high-paid village manager is a second job that pays some money but offers great rewards. Give that up for the undistinguished arena of the Cook County board? I don't think so. Maybe for statewide office, yes!

Dodge, the former Orland Township GOP Committeeman, has ambitions. But in a fight with an incumbent Republican, he'd have a difficult battle. A nice guy, what has he done on the METRA Board and how would the public even know him? Could he raise the money you'd need to run in this fight? And would you backstab someone who went to bat for you when you needed it?

Dennis Cook may want to enter the race simply to give himself higher name recognition because he just ain't too well known with the voters. A nice guy according to Republican insiders who I know. He has a future.

But Orland Park based challengers really have a disadvantage. The 17th District is shaped like the Via Dolorosa, the cobble-stone path that winds its way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem, where Jesus carried his cross before being crucified. In addition to including Orland Township, where Maher may do well, the 17th District runs all the way north to include many areas where names like Maher, McLaughlin, Cook, Dodge and others might not mean so much. Places where building name recognition is not easy like in Park Ridge, Des Plaines, and Mt. Prospect, just to name a few.

I give Liz Gorman credit. She's fearless. I wasn't her biggest fan several years back when she headed the Cook County Republican Organization. I thought she could have done more. But since leaving that party leadership post for others, she has done much. The truth is I don't think any Republican could have done much better with the county or with the state. Illinois House Speaker Mike J. Madigan has the legislature in a vice grip, and despite numerous opportunities to break through the Democratic headlock, Republican leaders have fallen short. The disarray at the state level only gets worse in many prominent Republican bastions. So maybe she did as well as anyone else might have done.

It takes more than party identity. It takes action, someone willing to stand up and fight the fight for the taxpayers. And boy do the taxpayers desperately need someone to standup and fight on their behalf as everyone seems to tripping up all over. Everyone that is, except Liz Gorman.

In the past year, I have seen Liz Gorman stand up and fight, and fight hard for the rights of taxpayers not just in the 17th District, but in Cook County, too. She was the driving force behind the battle to force Todd Stroger to repeal the oppressive 1 percent sales tax hike. If it wasn't for her, the repeal battle might not have been fought. That it was fought has given the county board ambition to push even harder and there is a chance that next week, a compromise will pass that forces Stroger to cut the sales tax by half.

And while everyone else was hissing last year, Liz Gorman was the only county commissioner who stood up and asked why the board was going to give a $190,000 taxpayer funded loan to the regional schools superintendent, Charles Flowers. She fought hard trying to convince everyone that Flowers' office was drowning in mismanagement and wasteful spending. No one listened.

Turns out Liz Gorman was right on the money, where it counts for taxpayers. Gorman protested and last month, a state Audit concluded that Flowers had charged thousands of dollars worth of personal expenses on the taxpayers' credit card. And he couldn't provide receipts for more than 70 percent of those purchases. he also gave thousands of dollars in cash advances to his employees, including to one who is his sister.

Believe it or not, there are politicians like Flowers who think the public trough is their personal ATM machine where they can borrow money whenever they want.

Liz Gorman was the scissor who chopped up Flower's taxpayer funded Debit Card.

Two major initiatives defending the rights of the taxpayers just in the past two months. That has to make even the most seasoned of political challengers a bit wary wondering if Liz Gorman is really worth trying to unseat.

For the taxpayers, right now, the answer is Liz Gorman should remain in office.

I think if Pat Maher breaks from his father's shadow and starts to clean up the mess at the Orland Fire Protection District, he could make a name for himself as a champion for the taxpayer's too. And when Dan McLaughlin retires -- he's been in office a long time -- or moves on up the ladder as some are rumoring he will do in another bid for state wide office, Maher may want to try to run for village president.

And if he can do it without the help or meddling of the foreigners from the 19th ward, he just might make a great mayor. Someday.

By the way, there is one rumor that is worth looking at closely. Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy, the hero who took a bullet for President Ronald Reagan in the assassination attempt in the 1970s, is being rumored to be a possible candidate for the U.S. Senate seat on the Democratic side. McCarthy is a titan. he ran for statewide office once before but with two statewide candidates coming from the same village, it made it tough to win. With Illinois Attorney general Lisa Madigan out of the race, why not McCarthy.

-- Ray Hanania

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