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Oak Park Mortified by Election Upset

Russ Stewart 30 April 2013 No Comment

The greatest humiliation in politics is not necessarily losing, or even losing overwhelmingly; rather, it’s losing when you’re supposed to win.


Such events are called “mortification elections,” and they occurred in 2013 in suburban Oak Park, Maywood, Schiller Park and Morton Grove. They are differentiated from three other types:

* A “validation election,” in which the incumbent (or incumbent’s party) is re-elected by a healthy percentage, which exceeds the margin secured prerviously. These occurred in Park Ridge, Cicero, Arlington Heights, Harwood Heights, Roselle and Wheeling.

* A “benediction election,” in which the incumbent is unopposed; it’s a Soviet Union-style situation, where the “people’s choice” wins by acclamation, since there’s nobody else on the ballot. That occurred in Rosemont, Berwyn, Skokie, Evanston, River Grove and Northlake.

* A “temptation election,” in which voters are tempted to effect change, but the incumbent, using all the power of office, plods and stumbles to an unimpressive victory. Voter dissonance is clearly demonstrated, foretelling defeat four years’ hence. That occurred in Franklin Park and Elmwood Park..

Here’s an analysis:

Oak Park: One truism of American politics is that liberals constantly grow ever more liberal, and conservatives ever less conservative. This west suburban enclave is not only ahead of the curve, it actually creates the curve. Voters in Oak Park are beyond mere “liberal”; they inhabit a political netherworld where non-conformism is conformity, where outrageousness is normality, and where the leftist, politically-correct denizens of Manhattan or San Francisco look positively tame by comparison. How about a Muslim as mayor of Tel Aviv? Never. But a Muslim as mayor of Oak Park? It’s a done deal.

On April 9, in a predictably monumental upset, Anan Adu-Taleb, a local restaurateur, thrashed the vaunted political machine of state senator Don Harmon, the Oak Park township Democratic committeeman, and breached the hegemony of the long-dominant “Village Management Association” (VMA), the so-called “revolutionary peoples’ commune” which every election cycle finds some bleeding hearts to run the town, who usually run unopposed. Their 2013 candidate, John Hedges, ran as the “Oak Park Together” party candidate.

Back in the 1950s, during the post-War Eisenhower years, Oak Park was an upscale, all-white bastion of genteel Rockefeller Republicanism. Even in 1972, the year George McGovern and the New Left captured the national Democratic party, the Nixon-Agnew ticket still won Oak Park 20,557-10,724, and Oak Park had a Republican state representative, Vince Malloy. But, abetted by racial change, Oak Park’s leftward lurch was well underway.

Consisting of a perfect rectangle, abutting Chicago to the north and east, Oak Park runs from North Avenue to Roosevelt Road, between Harlem and Austin. Spacious 1920s-built homes on generous lots on leafy streets predominate north of Washington Street, but the south end, along the Eisenhower Expressway, primarily apartments and scruffy frame homes, was almost entirely black by the 1970s. So, too, was the Austin neighborhood, just to the east in Chicago. Oak Park was now an “integrated” community; minorities were much in evidence. Predictably, affluent conservative whites bothered by this proximity and scenario, and fearful of crime, moved out – or didn’t move in, opting for Lombard, Hinsdale or Wheaton in DuPage County. Predictably, affluent unbothered liberals moved in.

In 1980, Reagan topped Carter 11,645-10,860, but almost 10,000 1972 Nixon Republicans had disappeared; in the state’s attorney’s race, the perceived independent candidate, Bernard Carey (R), beat Rich Daley (D) 17,592-9,182. Clearly, an anti-Chicago Machine bias had developed. By 2000, the transformation was complete. In the Bush-Gore presidential race, it was 18,008-5,783 for the Democrat. Another 5,000 1980 Republicans had vanished.

* The 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary was a seminal event. Would white liberals vote for a black? You betcha. In Oak Park, it was a litmus test. If you didn’t vote for Barack Obama, then you were a shameful heretic, worthy of being exiled or subjected to electro-shock treatment. Obama got an astounding 10,340 votes (87.6 percent), to the rest of the field’s 1,463. In the 2008 Obama-McCain presidential race, Obama won 24,500-4,271 (84.3 percent); in the 2012 Obama-Romney contest, Obama won 23,267-4,405 (82.5 percent). Blame Obama for poor economic growth? Not a chance. The Obama vote was down a minuscule 1,233.

* When, in the 2012 primary, a white male from adjacent Galewood-Montclair, Mike Nardello, challenged appointed black state representative Camille Lilly, whose political base is in Austin’s 29th Ward. Nardello campaigned heavily in Oak Park. He got 22 percent..

If there are any non-liberals left in Oak Park, they’re hiding under a rock.

* According to the 2010 census, Oak Park’s population of 51,878 is now 22 percent black; there are 35,578 registered voters, of which 8,112 voted on April 9.. Politically, Oak Park’s had a 45-year succession of non-descript and undistinguished white mayors: David Pope, Joanne Trapani , Barbara Furlong, Larry Christmas, John Philbin, Clifford Osborn, Sara Bode, Jim McClure and John Gearen. None had the talent to progress to a higher office. John Hedges, the 2013 insiders’ VMA candidate, was supposed to be a lock to win. Harmon did nothing to assist him. Both were humiliated and mortified.

According to final returns, Abu-Teleb, who spent $40,000, won 32 of Oak Park’s 38 precincts, and topped Hedges 4,674-3,324 (58.4 percent), who spent $22,000. Like Star Trek, Oak Park is the final leftmost frontier. If an LGBT had run to succeed Pope, then he/she/it would have won. But electing a Muslim is the next best statement.

Schiller Park: Try, try again. For Barb Piltaver, a newspaper publisher with a reputation as a gadfly, the third time’s the charm. If Hollywood scripted a sequel to its hit movie, “Dumb and Dumber,” the locale would have to be Schiller Park, circa 2013.

* According to official vote tallies, Piltaver, who lost in 2009 by 418 votes, is leading incumbent Anna Montana by 18 votes. A recount is underway. Schiller Park has a population of 11,793, and Montana, a Republican, has been village president since 2001. According to state records, she had $198,065 in her campaign account as of Dec. 31, 2012, including an “investment” of $152,943. As of April 1, 2013, she had raised $23,380, and spent $21,502.

* Leyden Township Republican bigwigs, especially committeeman (and Rosemont mayor) Brad Stephens, are understandably appalled. Spend it, don’t sit on it. That’s the purpose of campaign money. It’s not an IRA. Montana’s electoral base has been evaporating for a decade: She got 1,380 votes in 2009, and 1,186 in 2013. And, despite this trend, she left over $150,000 unspent in her account. I expect she will sue her campaign manager for malpractice – or for mortification.

* In a prior column, I disparaged Piltaver as a “goody-goody” candidate with nary a clue as to win. I was wrong. She was well-known, had a following, kept trying, and there was fatigue with Montana.

Maywood: It’s déjà vu all over. Kiss it goodbye. The shadow of Gene Moore, rather than Carol Moseley Braun and Jesse White, has suffused west suburban, heavily-black Proviso Township. Karen Yarbrough’s blossoming career is likely over before it’s begun.

* In 2012, Yarbrough, a protégé of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, was elected Cook County Recorder, the fourth black to occupy what is now deemed by Democratic insiders to be a “black office” – meaning no white will hold it, forevermore. Braun, White and Moore were her predecessors. Yarbrough, whose base is Maywood, was a state representative from 2001-12, and ousted Moore as Proviso Township Democratic committeeman in 2006, and re-elected in 2010. She was unopposed in the 2012 Recorder’s primary, after Moore retired. Her husband, Henderson Yarbrough, was elected Maywood’s mayor in 2005, thereby solidifying her Proviso base.

According to Democratic insiders, a titanic battle looms between Karen Yarbrough and black Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) to succeed White as Illinois’ Secretary of State in 2018. Burnett is White’s protégé.

* But, on April 9, Karen Yarbrough’s 2018 roadmap hit a serious speedbump. Proviso’s politics of erosion, as typified by Moore, erupted again. In Maywood, Henderson Yarbrough lost to Edwenna Perkins by 134 votes. In a field of five candidates, Henderson Yarbrough got only 966 votes, just 33.3 percent. An 8-year incumbent, whose spouse is a countywide officeholder, getting barely a third of the vote? That’s pathetic.

Expect the White/Burnett forces to make Proviso a 27th Ward adjunct. They will ally with Perkins, dispatch their office’s patronage, and build their own organization. They will field a black opponent to Karen Yarbrough in 2016, and oppose her for committeeman in 2018. She has shown mortifying weakness.

* Franklin Park: The voters’ temptation was there. The good news for village president Barrett Pedersen is that he got 1,551 votes on April 9, 69 more than in 2009, and wasn’t ousted. The bad news is that, after four years in office, he got only 52.4 percent. His principal opponent, Juan Acevedo, got 41 percent, and will run again.

* Acevedo tapped into Franklin Park’s growing Hispanic population, and was aided by the remnants of former mayor Dan Pritchett’s organization. In 2009, in a turnout of 3,824, Pedersen got 38.8 percent, to Pritchett’s 34.5 percent. Turnout was down by 864. Bye-bye Barrett looks likely in 2017.

Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer

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

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