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Berrios Slate Sweeps in the Primary

Russ Stewart 5 April 2012 One Comment

Give the embattled and much-maligned Joe Berrios, the Cook County Democratic chairman and powerful assessor, credit. “Big Daddy” deserves a victory lap. In the March 20 primaries, an astounding 87.5 percent – 21 of 24 – of the party’s slated county candidates emerged victorious. Of that number, 8 were uncontested.

Of course, there were mitigating circumstances, like an extraordinarily anemic turnout. Only 422,816 voted countywide in the Democratic primary. “Change we need” sentiment, as was manifestly evident in 2008, when county turnout was 1,091,008, totally dissipated. With a smaller electorate, Democratic committeemen, augmented by union money and manpower, were dominant.

But locally, in Big Daddy’s Northwest Side, 31st Ward-dominated bailiwick, his daughter, State Representative Toni Berrios, foundered and almost lost to a “reformer.” As Big Daddy is cementing his power base throughout the county, it is quite rapidly eroding at home

Quite significantly, Berrios, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, swung the party apparatus behind a black, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, who soundly defeated South Side Alderman Ric Munoz, who is of Mexican heritage. Brown won 30 of 50 Chicago wards, and carried Chicago by 165,852-73,939 (69.1 percent) and the suburbs by101,399-55,420 (64.6 percent). Of the 11 Hispanic-majority wards, Munoz won ten. “Joe (Berrios) proved that he is a party chairman who happens to be Hispanic, not the Hispanic party chairman,” said one Democratic observer.

And there was a nasty Appellate Court contest fraught with overtones of a personal vendetta, in which Berrios engineered the dumping of a sitting Hispanic incumbent, Justice Rudy Garcia. Berrios’ slated candidate, Judge Jesse Reyes, emerged triumphant. Back in 2004, Garcia had the temerity to rule against an attempt to knock Toni Berrios’s primary opponent off the ballot. On March 20, despite a field which included two whites, two Hispanics and a black, Berrios cajoled and strong-armed enough committeemen into backing Reyes to enable Reyes to win by 26,130 votes (33 percent) – a notable achievement.

“He (Berrios) gets results,” said the Democratic strategist. “And he also gets even.” Already in Big Daddy’s cross-hairs are Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Rey Colon (35th) and John Arena (45th), who face voters in 2015.

Moreno actively and enthusiastically backed Munoz, Garcia and Will Guzzardi, the 24-year old former Internet journalist who came within 111 votes of ousting Toni Berrios in the 39th District state representative contest. Colon’s incompetence got him removed from the ballot for ward Democratic committeeman, and the Logan Square-based 35th Ward went for Guzzardi by 1,131-781 (59 percent). And Arena’s “sin” was that his 45th Ward sanitation superintendent, Adam Corona., spent an egregious amount of time working with Moreno to elect Guzzardi, and Guzzardi won the 45th Ward’s four 39th District precincts by 260-200 over Berrios. All three can expect consequences.

And Big Daddy cannot be pleased with the performance of 38th Ward Committeeman Patti Jo Cullerton, sister of Alderman Tim Cullerton. Of the 38th Ward’s 17 precincts in the 39th District, centered on Portage Park southwest of Six Corners, Guzzardi won 1,013-916. If Patti Jo hankers for any future slating for countywide office, those hopes are now Dead On Arrival.

Now back to countywide races:

* In the 18 judicial contests, including the critical 1st District Supreme Court primary, six Appellate Court and 11 Circuit Court spots, the slated candidates won 15 – an astounding 83.3 percent. “In a low-turnout primary,” observed Mike Tierney, a retired city plumber and consultant for judicial aspirants, “slating matters. In a race with a multitude of candidates, gender and Irish surnames matter. In a race with a number of Irish-surnamed women, then money, bar and media endorsements, union support and slating matter. In a race with a slated woman against an Irish-surnamed male, the woman wins. In a race with a slated man against a bunch of Irish-surnamed women, the man wins.” And, adds Tierney, renowned as the “judgemaker” because of his past successes, sometimes “nobody knows what matters.”

In other words, DNA, slating and sheer blind luck determine who sits in a court of law.

For Supreme Court, appointed Justice Mary Jane Theis, facing two women, Appellate Justices Aurie Pucinski and black Joy Cunningham, and white lawyer Tom Flannigan, won with 48.3 percent, in a 397,468 turnout. That’s still a minority, but enough in a low-turnout primary. “She (Theis) was the superior candidate,” noted Tierney, with bar and media endorsements, plus money and union and party backing. But her 192,328 votes would have doomed her had she run in 2008, when the turnout was twice as high.

Of the Appellate Court contests, the slated candidate won all six. In addition to Reyes, the slated Judge Mathias Delort, facing black Judge Pamela Hill-Veal and 4 Irish-surnamed opponents (three female), won by 7,611 votes. Hill-Veal’s vote of 82,691 was almost identical to Cunningham’s 90,940, suggesting an upper-limit “black” vote. But in another race, slated black incumbent Scott Neville got 157,936 votes (44.3 percent) against two white Irish-surnamed foes, one a woman (Marguerite Quinn). How did that happen? The answer: slating, meaning Neville votes in white wards.

Eight of 11 Circuit Court slatees won. The “curse” of the white Irish-surnamed female surfaced again. Two appointed/slated white male Circuit Court judges, Mike Forti and Al Swanson, lost, respectively, to Jessica O’Brien (by 48,877 votes) and Elizabeth Mary Hayes (by 16,706 votes), and one appointed/slated male black judge, Stanley Hill, lost to Karen Lynn O’Malley by 4,794 votes, largely because a black female was also running and got 46,564 votes.
But, as Tierney noted, Irish-surnamed men have no edge, even against slated non-Irish-surnamed women. The slated Erica Reddick, who is black, beat Kevin Cunningham by 34,637 votes; the slated Cynthia Ramirez, a Hispanic, beat Gerald Cleary by 82,559 votes; the slated Diann Marsalek beat Kevin Horan by 33,701 votes; and the slated Lorna Propes beat Ed Maloney by 19,030 votes. One anomaly was the blow-out win of slated judge Pam Leeming, of Asian India heritage, who, in a field of 7, topped Mary Margaret Burke by 47,970 votes.

Theis’ win was especially important, as the Democrats’ 4-3 state Supreme Court majority would have been jeopardized had the “uncontrolled” Pucinski or Cunningham won. Interestingly, Cunningham’s racial appeal fizzled, as she got only 44,532 of her overall 90,940 votes from black-majority wards, and her Irish surname didn’t produce dividends in the white areas.

Of Chicago’s 50 wards, Theis won a plurality in 37, Cunningham in nine, and Pucinski in four. “The (Democratic) party showed muscle,” said Tierney. Theis won the Southwest Side white ethnic 10th, 11th, 13th, 19th and 23rd wards by an average of 55 percent. In the black wards and townships, Theis finished with a solid one-third of the vote, and she won nine of the 11 Hispanic wards. Big Daddy’s “Big Hammer” did the trick.

* In the Circuit Court clerk race, Munoz laid out his roadmap. First, a turnout of at least 500,000 was projected, with 300,000 white voters, 150,000 black, and 50,000 Hispanic. Second, position himself as the “reformer,” with endorsements by the Chicago Tribune, Toni Preckwinkle and a phalanx of liberal politicians and organizations. Third, exploit public discontent with Brown’s stewardship of the 2,066-job Clerk’s office, and politicians’ discontent – both black and white – with her relentless ambition, which culminated in embarrassing losses for Chicago mayor in 2007 and county board president in 2010.
Munoz thought that if he amassed a third of the black vote (50,000), 60 percent of the white vote (180,000) and 75 percent of the Hispanic vote (37,500), he would win. That didn’t happen – largely due to Berrios’s effort to keep committeemen focused on pushing the slate, not on foisting punishment upon past miscreants (like Brown).

In the black-majority wards, Brown thumped Munoz by 108,206-13,644 (88.8 percent). Brown won over 90 percent in black areas, even in those where the alderman and/or committeeman was allied with Preckwinkle, whose popularity was not transferable to Munoz. In the Hispanic-majority wards, where Munoz expected a huge outpouring of Brown Power, turnout was 28,546, and Munoz won by an unimpressive 15,711-12,835 (55 percent). On the North Side, with Berrios marshalling support for Brown, Munoz won every Hispanic ward, but just barely. He took Berrrios’s 31st Ward by just 464 votes.

In the white ethnic areas, Brown won half of the wards; on the Lakefront, Brown won 4 of 10 wards; and in the suburbs, Brown won in the middle-class white townships, but not in liberal Evanston and Oak Park. Overall, Munoz got barely a 45 percent of the white vote.

* In the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District contest, the three slated candidates triumphed, which is a rarity. Berrios worked to insure all committeemen backed the three slated candidates – incumbent Debra Shore, Kari Steele, the daughter of a black judge, and Patrick Daley Thompson, nephew and grandson of former mayors Daley. Instead of expected “bulleting” and dealmaking, they ran in relative unison. The final vote was 193,454 for Shore, 180,896 for Steele and 160,961 for Thompson. The losers were Patty Young (128,640), a former commissioner; Pat Horton (127,437), who was dumped by Berrios as a commissioner; and Stella Black (124,050).

The next battle is to replace Terry O’Brien, who is retiring as MWRD president. Shore wants the job, but Berrios and the party insiders are backing Commissioner Mike Alvarez. A majority vote among the nine commissioners is needed. In this race, Berrios is supporting the Hispanic over the white liberal.

Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer

image Jan Schakowsky’s house, denied a property tax abatement by Joe Berrios

One Comment »

  • *Joe Berrios’s Good Night | News-ON Chicago (author) said:

    […] Russ Stewart points out in the Chicago Daily Observer, Berrios, the County Assessor and chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, actually had a very […]

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