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Apathy is Esctasy. Predictions for the 5th

Russ Stewart 26 February 2009 3 Comments

This column specializes in crunching numbers and making predictions. For the March 3 Democratic primary in the Northwest side’s 5th congressional district, those crunched numbers are:

620,387: The district’s 2005 population.
345,000 (est.): The district’s registered voters.
124,098: The Democratic turnout in the Feb. 2008 presidential primary.
67,499-52,671: The margin by which Obama beat Clinton.
578: The number of precincts in the district — 486 in Chicago and 92 in the western suburbs.
46,774: The votes that victor Rahm Emanuel got in the 2002 Democratic primary, in a turnout of 92,625.
33,907: The number of votes that victor Rod Blagojevich got in the 1996 Democratic primary, in a turnout of 68,043.
66,000: The number of residents per Chicago ward.
35,000: The anticipated turnout on March 3 – just above nine percent.
10,500: The number of votes needed to win, in a 12-candidate race – which means the new congressman will have a glorious mandate from 1.7 percent of the district’s populace.

2: The number of terms the winner will serve until Emanuel, the new White House chief-of-staff, comes back to run for his old seat. That’s the hot rumor.

And the winner is? How about “Who cares?” Or “I’m not voting.” Or “What difference does it make?” Over 90 percent of the registered voters are ignoring this contest, and will not vote – which redounds to the benefit of John Fritchey, who has the backing of powerhouse Democratic committeemen in the 33rd, 36th, 38th, 43rd, 45th and 47th wards (plus Fritchey, as the 32nd Ward committeeman); they have 275 precincts in their wards – 56.5 percent of the Chicago precincts. If they can’t pull out 2,500-3,000 Fritchey votes in their respective wards, then they should hang their heads, resign, and get a job that matches their level of incompetence – perhaps as an economic advisor to the president.

The top-tier candidates are Fritchey and Sara Feigenholtz, both seven-term state representatives; County Commissioner Mike Quigley, who has served since 1998; and Alderman Pat O’Connor (40th), who has been in the council since 1983. Despite the brevity and invisibility of the race, Fritchey raised $454,310 through Feb. 19, Feigenholtz $550,594, Quigley $303,180, and O’Connor $50,690. Quigley has had 8 districtwide mailings, Feigenholtz 6, and Fritchey 5, and all have ads on mainstream and cable TV.

The second tier includes college professor Charlie Wheelan, labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan, marketing consultant Cary Capparelli, and physician Victor Forys. Each has a small pocket of support, and will generate near 1,000 votes.

The third tier: Frank Annunzio, the eponymous great-nephew of the former congressman, pilot Jan Donatelli, eye surgeon Paul Bryan, and psychiatrist Carlos Monteagudo. All will finish in the range of 200-500 votes.

In analyzing the outcome, these factors are critical:

First, only those voters committed to a candidate will make the effort to vote. In short, they won’t show up and say: “Who should I pick?” They will be there because they’ve already decided – or have been told how to vote.

That greatly diminishes Feigenholtz’s gender advantage. This is not a “pig in a poke” contest. Unlike primaries for judge or Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, gender and/or ethnicity (such as Irish surnames) are irrelevant. Each candidate must identify, motivate, and deliver their voters. And voters will know their choice before they trek to the polls.

That means GOTV – get out the vote – will be paramount. Early polls indicate that over 70 percent of the district’s voters are undecided. Since there are not other contests to lure voters to the polls, an “undecided” voter on March 3 is a non-voter, and there will probably be 70,000 of them. The question is: Who can deliver “their” vote on Election Day? Fritchey has the edge.

Second, issues don’t matter. Feigenholtz is stressing “access to health care” as her primary issue, noting that she grew up in Peterson Park, that her mother was a physician, and that she is chairman of the House Human Services committee. Quigley, an outspoken critic of county board president Todd Stroger, is focusing on ethics, trumpeting his “record of transparency,” proclaiming himself a “fiscal conservative” and “reformer.” He adds: “I’m not just another self-serving politician.”
Fritchey touts his longstanding criticism of disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich, whom he replaced in the Illinois House in 1996, and his “experience” in the legislative process. “I know how to do the job,” he said.

Hovering in the background is the Obama administration’s $1.5 trillion economic “stimulus” package, which gives Congress a license to spend. Feigenholtz is vague on how to fund everybody’s “access” to health care. Fritchey, to his credit, expresses some skepticism. “How do we pay for all this?” asked Fritchey.

Another issue: The winner will be the U.S. House’s most junior member –435 of 435. Given the “clout” of predecessors like Dan Rostenkowski, Frank Annunzio, Roman Pucinski and Emanuel, will the newcomer have any power? “We have an Illinoisan as president, and the former congressman in the White House,” said Fritchey. “Whoever represents this district will be listened to.”

The point is this: The Illinois political environment is toxic. Voters have had an overdose of lies, evasions, stupidity and duplicity. Felonious conduct by politicians seems to be the norm, not the exception. So who believes what any congressional candidate says? And who cares who goes to Washington?

Third, endorsements are critical, as they generate workers and money. Feigenholtz has Emily’s List, a feminist political action committee, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and state Comptroller Dan Hynes. The SEIU was a big booster of Blagojevich. Fritchey has the Chicago Teachers’ Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, and IVI-IPO. “Political independents support me,” said Fritchey. Quigley has the Sierra Club, Chicago Sun-Times, county Commissioner Forrest Claypool and county Assessor Jim Houlihan.

Fourth, geography is critical. The district extends from Lincoln Park at the Lakefront to the DuPage County line, taking in parts of 19 Chicago wards and precincts in Elmwood Park (23), Franklin Park (19), Schiller Park (9), Northlake (13), River Grove (9), Melrose Park (18) and Maywood (1). The suburbs account for 16 percent of the district, but less than ten percent of the vote. More importantly, only 89 precincts lie east of Ashland (15.3 percent of the district), and 124 lie east of Kedzie (21.4 percent of the district).
The East End is the political base of Quigley, Feigenholtz and Fritchey. Quigley is from the 46th Ward, where he once ran for alderman; it has 12 precincts in the 5th District. His county board district covers less than ten percent of the congressional district. Feigenholtz is out of the 44th Ward, which has 45 precincts in the district. Her Illinois House district overlaps less than five percent of the congressional district. Half of Fritchey’s House district, east of Sacramento and north of Armitage, is in the 5th, but he is committeeman of the 32nd Ward, which has 30 precincts in the congressional district.

O’Connor’s 40th Ward, east of Kedzie and north of Foster, has 27 precincts. He should get half his ward’s vote, and will be humiliated if he doesn’t.

The outlook: To win districtwide, one of the four East Enders must come roaring out with 50 percent. That won’t happen. Each will get 20-30 percent. So the West End vote will be decisive.

Fifth, ideology is irrelevant. Feigenholtz is wrapping herself in the Obama mantle, as the “change” candidate. Obama beat Clinton in 2008 by 14,828 votes, with his heaviest margins in the East End, demonstrating a definite liberal bias. But nobody is running as the anti-Obama candidate, nor is anybody posturing as the “send-me-to-Washington-to-support-Obama” candidate. There is no sense of urgency. If there is an outpouring of Obama liberals, they will likely gravitate to Feigenholtz.

The outlook: Can the committeemen deliver their “controlled” vote? The 2004 Illinois Senate primary is illustrative. Obama beat Hynes, but Hynes got 3,553 votes in the 36th Ward, 2,019 in the 38th, 1,140 in the 43rd, 3,259 in the 45th, and 2,799 in the 47th. That’s a base “machine” vote of 12,770; add another 1,000 each from Dick Mell’s 33rd and Fritchey’s 32nd, and Fritchey has close to 15,000. Add another 1,000 from the suburbs, and knock off 25 percent for turnout drop-off, and Fritchey still gets over 10,000 votes.

Had this primary occurred in Feb. 2008, with a turnout of 124,098, Feigenholtz would have surely won, buoyed by an East End pro-Obama vote. But most of those 67,499 Obama voters will be MIA (Missing in Action), the East End “liberal” vote will be fractured and diminished, and the West End’s ward committeemen’s “ground game” on March 3 will crank out enough votes to nominate Fritchey.

My prediction: In a turnout of 35,000, Fritchey will win with 10,250 votes (29.2 percent), to Feigenholtz’ 9,000, Quigley’s 8,000, O’Connor’s 3,100, and the remaining 4,650 scattered.


  • Art Howe said:

    Russ, the Chicago Tribune also endorsed Quigley. Mike was leading in the polls even before the Trib\\\’s endorsement.

  • Phil Krone said:

    Russ is a good numbers cruncher. But the Royko endorsement added to Claypool, Houlihan, the Sun Times and the Tribune could provide the kind of llth hour impetus and enthusiasm for a slight Quigley win. Sam Royko said the top three will be Fritchey, Feigenholtz and Quigley. I didn’t know Dan Hynes had endorsed Feigenholtz until I read it in Stewart’s column. With Royko and Claypool for Quigley, Hynes for Feigenholtz, Don Rose for Geoghegan, and the committeemen for Fritchey I’m glad I don’t live in the district. I hope a few people will be kind enough to call me election night here in the warmth of Miami to tell me what happened at (312) 371-5648 or pkrone1@earthlink.net.

  • Mike said:

    We are ignoring the other primaries? I, for one, am pulling a Green ballot and voting Matt Reichel, http://www.mattreichel.us, who is running an impressive activist campaign. He tells me that his goal is 1,000 votes, and guarantees 500 votes in victory. If you consider that he will win progressive dem votes in the general election and turnout will remain low, we might see a major upset on April 7th. It would be about time!

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