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Forty First Ward Welcomes Political Cash

Russ Stewart 29 April 2011 No Comment

“Money,” famously observed Jesse Unruh, onetime boss of the California legislature, “is the mother’s milk of politics.”

To expand upon and embellish that apt metaphor, Maurita Gavin lost the 41st Ward aldermanic race because she lacked enough political lactose.

According to official results, Mary O’Connor, the ward’s Democratic committeeman, edged Gavin on April 5 by 7,354-7.104 (50.9 percent), a meager margin of 250 votes. From July 1, 2010 through March 31, O’Connor raised $98,763, had $17,933 in in-kind contributions, and spent $109,780; Gavin raised $77,836 and spent $68,713.

In the five-week runoff campaign, O’Connor had eight wardwide mailings, three of which were paid for by the SEIU Illinois Council, a union political action committee; five by the candidate’s Friends of O’Connor; and one by Alderman Pat O’Connor’s (40th) Citizens for O’Connor. Gavin had just one mailing.

“We lacked the money,” acknowledged outgoing Alderman Brian Doherty, whose political operation backed Gavin, his top aide for 15 years. “We had a superb field organization. But she (O’Connor) had the money for more mailings. Had the election been held a week or so later, we would have won.”

Added Doherty: “Her negative mailers featured unflattering photos of Maurita, and blamed Maurita for every ward problem. Voters, especially women, resented it.”

Overall, O’Connor’s mailers were more positive than negative, highlighting her endorsements by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, emphasizing her ownership of a small catering business, claiming that experience “in putting people to work” will enable her to treat ward residents “like customers,” and promising a “trained, courteous staff” to provide services. She also pledged to seek “tough reform to change politics as usual in Chicago,” a “crackdown on pay-to-play politics,” and an effort to “identify wasteful spending.”

Wait a minute. Hasn’t Rich Daley, a Democrat, been Chicago’s mayor for 22 years? Aren’t the feds investigating pay-to-play politics in the Daley Administration? That’s what the Hired Truck scandal was all about. Doesn’t the city bureaucracy control the dispensation of city services? In the 41st Ward, police manpower in the 16th District is being deployed elsewhere, garbage trucks are down to one collector, and property taxes are increasing while property values are decreasing.

So who does O’Connor blame? Not our beloved mayor. Three O’Connor mailers ripped Gavin, one for “promising to continue the level of service you’ve come to expect from Maurita Gavin’s office,” blaming her for potholes, Doherty’s lack of an aldermanic website, and no recycling program; a second for having “worked in the Alderman’s office” but opposing “having the (city) Inspector General track corruption in Aldermanic offices”: and a third for allegedly opposing such investigations “in a city where 31 aldermen have gone to prison.”

As circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum once said: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” And, in the 41st Ward, O’Connor sucked up the sucker vote.

Doherty is the council’s only Republican, and is not allied with the Daley Machine. O’Connor is. Despite a Democratic mayor, 49 Democratic aldermen of 50, and a 311 call line for city requests, O’Connor successfully demonized Doherty and Gavin as the purveyors of “lousy city services.”

That also occurred in 2010, when Illinois Senate Democrats spent close to $1 million attacking Doherty in the state senate race for “supporting the parking meter lease” and for being responsible for city “waste, mismanagement and corruption.” Democrat John Mulroe, O’Connor’s ally, beat Doherty for senator in the 10th District, and lost the 41st Ward to Doherty by just 1,036 votes (46.6 percent).

What’s O’Connor’s take? “Voters did a cost-benefit analysis,” explained Jason Hernandez, O’Connor’s press spokesman. “She’s run a business, managed a budget, has experience.” Hernandez said that Doherty and Gavin ran a “cowardly and negative campaign” and circulated a flyer attacking O’Connor’s voting history. “I’m not surprised their ragtag outfit couldn’t raise money,” he added.

In the Feb. 22 primary, an eight-candidate field, coupled with the mayoral primary, boosted turnout to 20,109 (54.3 percent), in a ward with 37,025 registered voters. O’Connor finished first, with 30.5 percent, to Gavin’s 25 percent. O’Connor ran first in 36 of the ward’s 57 precincts, getting a majority in none, but more than 40 percent in five; Gavin ran first in 18 precincts, and got more than 40 percent in one; they tied in one precinct, and Dan Lapinski was first in two.

In the primary, no candidate was well-defined. It was a friends-and-neighbors campaign or, in the case of O’Connor and Gavin, a deliver-the-base-vote campaign. The other nine contenders got 8,967 votes (44.5 percent).

O’Connor’s 6,132 votes were more than her 5,744 votes for Democratic committeeman in 2008, but less than Mulroe’s 7,266 votes in 2010. Gavin’s 5,030 votes were barely half Doherty’s and State Representative Mike McAuliffe’s (R-20) prior votes.

My pre-April 5 column, which predicted a 30 turnout decline from Feb. 22, and a 7,400-6,600 O’Connor win in a turnout of 14,000, was close-to-the-mark. Turnout on April 5 was 14,458, and O’Connor won 7,354-7,104. O’Connor carried 35 precincts, eight with more than 60 percent. Gavin won 21 precincts, 5 with more than 60 percent, and her home precinct with more than 70 percent.

The line of demarcation was Bryn Mawr. O’Connor’s political and geographic base is to the north, primarily in Edison Park and Edgebrook, with strong support in Norwood Park and the apartment complexes south of the Kennedy Expressway between River Road and Cumberland. In the primary, O’Connor finished first in 30 of the 36 precincts north of Bryn Mawr. Gavin’s (and Doherty’s) political and geographic base is to the south, in the 21 precincts centered in Oriole Park and the Union Ridge/Nagle-Foster area., where Gavin finished first in 12 precincts.

On April 5, O’Connor triumphed because she ran stronger in Gavin’s base than Gavin ran in hers. North of Bryn Mawr, O’Connor piled up a 674-vote margin, getting 5,503 votes (53.3 percent) to Gavin’s 4,829 in a turnout of 10,322; O’Connor won 28 of the 36 precincts in her base, and carried 8 by more than 60 percent. In the precincts around Saint Juliana parish, where Mulroe is popular, O’Connor won only narrowly; around her business at Avondale-Devon, she won with over 55 percent; in Edgebrook, she won four precincts with over 60 percent; and she won five of 6 of the apartment precincts along Cumberland. In the primary, O’Connor topped Gavin in the north by 4,681-3,302, which O’Connor hiked by 822 votes in the runoff, and Gavin by 1,527 votes. By 2-1, those who backed others in the primary broke for Gavin, but almost half didn’t bother to vote.

South of Bryn Mawr, Gavin won by a 424-vote margin, getting 2,275 votes (55.1 percent) to O’Connor’s 1,851 in a turnout of 4,126. Gavin won 9 of 12 precincts in Oriole Park, and six of 8 in the Union Ridge/Nagle area. In the primary, Gavin won her base by 1,728-1,451, which she hiked by 547 votes in the runoff, to O’Connor’s increase of 400 votes. By only 55-45 percent did those who backed others in the primary gravitate to Gavin, and nearly half didn’t vote

In the primary, 8,947 voters backed somebody other than O’Connor and Gavin. In a runoff turnout of 14,500, where the goal was 7,250 votes, O’Connor needed another 1,118 votes — or 15 percent of those 8,947 voters; Gavin needed another 2,220 votes – or 25 percent.

Because of her repetitious mailings, endorsements, funding and precinct organization, O’Connor got 1,222 more votes on April 5 than on Feb. 22. Gavin, by contrast, got 2,074 more votes. In the brief runoff, exposure was critical, and O’Connor had the money to buy the exposure.

Will O’Connor be a one-termer? Three developments, over which O’Connor has minimal control, will decide.

First, Chicago’s population has declined by 182,066 according to the 2010 census, but the 41st Ward’s population hasn’t. At least seven of 57 precincts must be sliced. Expect the 13 precincts south of the Kennedy Expressway and west of Harlem, including the Doherty/Gavin base in Oriole Park and the Cumberland apartments, to be attached to the 36th Ward. That kills the McAuliffe-Doherty organization as a factor in future ward politics.

Second, expect the five precincts in the northwest sector of the 45th Ward, in the Nagle-Devon area, stretching east to Austin, where aldermanic loser John Garrido resides, to be attached to the 41st Ward. That removes Garrido as a possible 2015 opponent to John Arena, and means he has to start anew to build an organization to challenge O’Connor.

And third, the legislative remap will necessitate attaching the 41st Ward to a suburban district, putting Republicans McAuliffe and Rosemary Mulligan in the same House district, and Democrats Mulroe and Dan Kotowski in the same senate district. Expect Mulroe to be “promoted” to a judgeship. Should that occur, it removes a vital cog in the O’Connor-Mulroe political machine.

E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.

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