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Reform or Regression

Don Rose 31 March 2009 4 Comments

In a few short days Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, winner of the special Democratic primary election of March 3, will be ratified as Democratic representative of the 5th Congressional District of Illinois.

His nomination was widely seen as a harbinger of political reform—a dubious precept, as I will demonstrate—but it’s likely to result in a serious regression for the County Board.

Quigley may not be the absolute reformer many believe him to be, but for years he usually played a constructive, independent role along with Democrats Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin in opposing the ongoing enormities of the late Board President John Stroger and his polluted heir, Todd Stroger.

Teaming up with several Republicans and an occasional vote from a regular Democrat, they threw the blocks to the machine hacks who run the county—and more frequently awakened the public and the press to the Strogers’ expensive political barbarities.

Quigley’s departure to Washington leaves the reformers another vote shy of civilizing the board. His replacement, until the next election in 2010, unfortunately will be appointed by the Democratic ward committeepersons in his lakefront district, which stretches north from Lincoln Park almost to the end of town, then turns west for a few miles.

You can’t see much in the line of reform coming from the most powerful committeemen, despite the lakefront’s liberal reputation. Only the 43rd Ward’s Michele Smith was elected as an independent reformer and even she sometimes has problems executing the role. The 44th Ward’s Tom Tunney, as alderman and committeeman, scarcely shows any independence, though he prefers not to be viewed as just another hack.

Let’s look back at the congressional primary, played out in a much larger geographic area.

Quigley won with more than 22 percent of the vote in a 12-person race without the support of any committeeman. His was the only name known district-wide because of his independent role on the board. He was endorsed by both papers and, more significantly, the extremely popular Claypool.

Second place, with a bit over 18 percent, went to State Rep. John Fritchey, the overwhelming choice of the west-side committeemen—some of whom actually lost their wards to Quigley. Surprisingly, State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a regular Democrat with the biggest bankroll, most TV spots and gender advantage, ran third with 16-plus percent. (Her poor public appearances and negative campaigning helped lose it for her.)

These were the expected top-tier candidates. With Quigley identified as the reformer (as were Tom Geoghegan, Charlie Wheelan and Paul Bryar, who finished way out of the money), it looked like a good day for reform. Fritchey was seen as pure machine and Feigenholtz substantially so but not totally.

The committeemen couldn’t deliver enough. Worst underperformance: Fritchey lost his own 32nd Ward.

But the real reason the machine lost is that it was split.

Alderman Pat O’Connor (40th), a genuine hack’s hack, stayed in the race despite the rejection of most committeemen and garnered about 12 percent of the vote with the help of the 39th Ward. A solid machine vote.

Also, the otherwise unknown Victor Forys, courting the Polish national vote, surprisingly pulled in ahead of O’Connor. It’s fair to say that most of this ethnocentric vote traditionally goes to a machine candidate.

Without a lot of algebraic hocus-pocus, the raw numbers indicate that if only the top three candidates were in the race, the machine-oriented vote would have carried the day by a substantial margin—somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent Fritchey, 33 percent Quigley and 27 percent Feigenholtz. Had they been running head to head, it probably would have been 55 percent Fritchey, 45 percent Quigley.

Reformers: thank O’Connor for staying in the race—and give a shout-out to Polish solidarity.

Now comes the bad part: replacing Quigley. On a weighted basis, the lakefront committeemen are in control. In addition to Smith and Tunney, there are Tom Sharpe (46th) and Carol Ronen (48th) with large votes. Any three of the four can name the replacement.

Quigley prefers his aide Kim Walz, totally versed in the issues, to replace him. She would unquestionably be a reformer. Smith also wants the job and would be okay.

On the machine side, Feigenholtz, who is hardly the brightest candle on the menorah, is angling for it along with lobbyist Bridget Gainer, said to be Rich Daley’s choice.

It’s a bleak outlook unless Tunney and either Sharpe or Ronen recognize that their constituencies really want a reformer and either join with Smith for Walz or actually name Smith.

Stranger things have happened, but don’t bet breakfast on it. Committeemen as a class are not interested in government but power. They always opt for deals.

Don Rose is a regular contributor to the Chicago Daily Observer


  • Pat Hickey said:

    As always, Don Rose understands the nature of the beast.

    ‘Committeemen as a class are not interested in government but power. They always opt for deals.’

    This is and always ‘may’ be the way of Democratic Government inCook County.

    The only real way to Reform lies along this ugly true path in our Forrest Preserve Us From All Harm Cook County Wonderland- Cut Spending and Eliminate Taxes. No bucks -No Buck Rogers!

    Until we get a genuine Reformer – Congressman Mike ‘Uriah Heep’ Quigley not withstanding – who will say ‘Cook County! I will not steal everything I can lay hands with pocket and coach change for the cousins, Reform will be shouted out by False Prophets and Captains of Progress!

  • Rob said:

    Once again a Chicago reporter can’t see past the machine, independent labels. If you did more homework you’d find everyone works wih the party and against it at times. Quigley was the endorsed candidate of Mayor Daley when he ran against Shiller. Tunney defied Daley by voting against the Childrens museum. Feigenholz chairs human services appropriations in springfield, providing millions for the least in our state – and she’s hardly a madigan hack.

    Break out of the box and start covering the real candidates and issues.

  • Pat Hickey said:

    \’ . .she’s hardly a madigan hack.\’

    Assuredly! Speaker Mike Madigan is far too smart and good a guy to have Sara \’hack\’ forhim in any way shape or form.

    Good catch!

    Sara is a Boiled Beet, Tin-foil Fat Progressive Hack, By Gobs!

  • rue t. day said:

    His speakership Madigan has called on that saucy boiled beet many times to carry his water. It\’s Easter Sunday, an appropriate time to talk about our former county board savior, Mike Quigley, an invention of the Tribune editorial board\’s McCormick, who also happens to be cousin to the Princess and heir to the throne, Kimberly Walz.
    The county board is nothing but a bunch of taxing buffoons. No place for a Princess.

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