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Bernie..or as he says Berny Stone’s Citadel Crumbling

Russ Stewart 30 October 2007 No Comment

As the Oct. 29 filing deadline approaches, area political circles are awash with rumor, bluff, duplicity, deceit, and creeping paranoia – all the usual political nonsense.

Here’s an early summary:

In Chicago’s 50th Ward, which encompasses West Rogers Park, basic instincts are unsheathed and unrestrained.

From the perspective of 79-year old Bernie (who spells his name Berny) Stone, a fading political icon who has been alderman since 1973, the 2008 Democratic committeeman race is all about self-perpetuation. If he loses his committeeman’s post, he’ll be a political eunuch, unable to either plausibly run for re-election in 2011, or to hand off the aldermanic job to his daughter, Ilana Stone Feketitsch, who is his chief-of-staff.

From the perspective of ambitious, 47-year old State Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8), who proudly claims that “Berny has been my mentor,” the 2008 committeeman’s race is all about self-preservation. Silverstein aspires to the Illinois Senate’

The concern is that his political base in the 50th Ward is eroding as the area becomes less Jewish and more independent. “If I don’t replace Berny, and rebuild the organization, we will lose the aldermanic seat (in 2011),” said Silverstein.

What he really means is this: I could lose my senate seat.

From the perspective of Naisy Dolar, who came within 661 votes (47.1 percent) of beating Stone in the April 2007 runoff, the squabbling between Stone and Silverstein is all about self-promotion. Although 2007 aldermanic loser Greg Brewer has endorsed Silverstein, Dolar has not and will not. The ill-will engendered in 2008 will benefit her when she runs again in 2011.

Not surprisingly, Stone’s people are accusing Silverstein of making a deal with Dolar – namely: she backs him for committeeman, and he backs her for alderman.

“Absolutely not,” said Silverstein, who fears that Stone, if he remains as committeeman, will run – or run his daughter — and lose to Dolar in 2011. Stone’s sources say that Silverstein really wants to be alderman, and that’s why he’s running against Berny. “I have no desire to be alderman,” said Silverstein.

The early outlook: Rumors persist that Dolar’s organization will field a candidate for Democratic committeeman. If so, that helps Stone and hurts Silverstein, splitting the anti-Stone vote. If it’s just Stone-versus-Silverstein, the senator has the edge, especially in a high-turnout Feb. 5 primary with thousands of 50th Ward liberals flocking to the polls to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

In Chicago’s Northwest Side 41st Ward (Edison Park, Norwood Park, Oriole Park, part of Edgebrook), where Ralph Capparelli was state representative from 1970 to 2004, it’s still unclear how many challengers he will face for Democratic committeeman in 2008.

But Mary O’Connor and Frank Coconate are in, Mike Marzullo is likely, and another Irish-surnamed woman is a possibility.

Coconate, chairman of the Northwest Side Democratic Organization, is a fierce critic of Mayor Daley, much reviled by local Democrats, and was fired from his city job. He claims that O’Connor is a “plant” by Republican Alderman Brian Doherty (41s) and Republican State Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20), the ward’s Republican committeeman, who, he said, are “aided and abetted” by 36th Ward Alderman and Democratic Committeeman Bill Banks and State Senator Jim DeLeo (D-10). “They want to keep the party (in the ward) weak and feeble,” said Coconate.

O’Connor and Coconate blast Capparelli for letting the Democratic ward organization deteriorate. “We could be the best in the city, but we’re the worst,” said Coconate, who claimed that Marzullo is a “shill” for Capparelli, running to split the anti-Capparelli vote. “I haven’t seen him (Marzullo) for two years,” retorted Capparelli.

This much is certain: Against a bunch of Italian-surnamed men, O’Connor has a chance to win, especially if Hillary Clinton draws a large female vote in the ward. But you can’t beat somebody with nobody. “I’ve got lots of friends,” said the 82-year old Capparelli. “I got over 3,000 petition signatures.”

Because he’s been around, it seems, since Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Capparelli is favored to win again.

In Chicago’s Northwest Side 20th Senate district (Argyle to Bloomingdale, Damen to Laramie), incumbent Democrat Iris Martinez, seeking a third term, isn’t intimidated by political rumors. “I have a good record. I’ve been an effective advocate. I’ve won tough races in the past, and I’m not worried that I will lose (in 2008),” said Martinez.

But a plethora of past and present enemies are sharpening their knives. Martinez, with the vigorous support Mayor Rich Daley’s Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO), was nominated in 2002 over then-Alderman Mike Wojcik, getting 61.5 percent. But she infuriated the HDO hierarchy when she took a Senate leadership post last year, blocking fellow Senator Tony Munoz. “I was supported by (Senate President Emil) Jones,” she said.

With Deborah Mell, daughter of Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), running for the Illinois House in the north half of Martinez’s district, the wily Mell persuaded State Representative Rich Bradley (D-40) to run against Martinez – thereby giving Deborah a clear path.

“(Dick) Mell said he would support me for re-election,” said Martinez. “I trust him and expect him to keep his word.” The 20th District, according to the 2000 census, was 53.2 percent Hispanic, and probably 60 percent now. In 2002, Martinez prevailed over a white candidate. “I will beat Bradley,” Martinez predicted.

The district is largely Puerto Rican, as is Martinez. In 2007, Mell deployed over 300 workers from his ward into the largely Puerto Rican 35th Ward to support Vilma Colom, who was alderman from 1995 to 2003. But, in a monumental upset, Alderman Rey Colon won with 62.3 percent. Known as “Old Gringo” among Hispanic politicians, Mell’s surreptitious support of Bradley will not necessarily translate in Hispanic votes for Bradley.

But an infusion of HDO workers in Hispanic precincts, armed with negative information about Martinez, could be critical.

The 2008 situation is all about money: Bradley, age 52, is an assistant general superintendent of the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation; he’s been a state representative since 1996.

To get his maximum state pension, to supplement his city pension, he needs one more Springfield term. But Debbie Mell wants his job now, and wants her daddy to make it happen – and not wait until 2010.

If Bradley is elected senator in 2008, he serves until 2012, and he gets his maximum pension. So Mell tells Bradley: Get out of my daughter’s way. And Bradley does.

My early prediction: Do not underestimate Martinez.

The 20th Senate district and the 39th and 40th House districts are majority Hispanic. And now Dick Mell wants to elect an Anglo senator (Bradley) and his Anglo daughter as a state representative. Old Gringo will fail. Expect Martinez and Debbie Mell to win.

In the northwest suburban 33rd District, which encompasses Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Elk Grove, the “Kotowski Machine” is sweeping away all opposition. Democrat Dan Kotowski, a veritable Energizer Bunny, campaigned himself into the Illinois Senate in 2006 in a historically Republican district.

Now a protégé is trying to duplicate that feat in the House district being vacated by Republican Carolyn Krause, as Kotowski himself faces desultory Republican opposition.

Kotowski won by just 1,434 votes (51.3 percent), defeating appointed Republican incumbent Cheryl Axley; each spent about $1 million. Kotowski’s modus operandi was precinct work. He campaigned door-to-door for eight hours a day, working westward from Park Ridge to Elk Grove. Since his election, Kotowski has continued his outreach.

The key is this: If somebody campaigns in Chicago, voters make demands. They want something done. When Kotowski campaigns in the suburbs, as either a candidate or senator, voters are hugely impressed. They don’t want anything; they’re just flattered. Since he started door-knocking in April 2005, Kotowski has built an army of loyalists who think he’s just great. Kotowski is obsessive about gun control, but is otherwise quite moderate, and disdains Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Axley won’t run again, so the 2008 Republican nominee will be Elk Grove Township clerk Mike Sweeney, who is busily trying to duplicate Kotowski’s precinct pace. Forget it. Kotowski’s been there and done that. Kotowski will win with 60 percent in 2008.

The 65th and 66th House districts, in Kotowski’s senate district, are held by two pro-choice, popular, moderate Republican women: Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines and Carolyn Krause of Mount Prospect. Krause is retiring, and is backing Elk Grove Village trustee Christine Prochno as her successor. Mark Walker, a Kotowski protégé, who ran for Wheeling Township supervisor in 2005, will be the Democratic nominee. Prochno is slightly favored, but Walker will campaign ferociously.

In Mulligan’s district, Democratic attorney Aurora Abella-Austriaco will spend lots of money. But, on social issues, she can’t get to Mulligan’s left. Mulligan is safe.

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Russ Stewart is a political analyst for The Chicago Daily Observer and a member of its editorial board. E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.

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