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Northwest Side Aldermen Show Distance from Daley

Russ Stewart 29 May 2008 One Comment

Just as beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, so, too, does the perception of political power depend on the eyesight of the viewer.

Most Chicagoans, as well as national observers, perceive Mayor Richard M. Daley at the pinnacle of his power, untouched by a profusion of political scandals, creator of a glorious City on a Hill, and a beloved and benevolent dictator who will reign forevermore.

But aldermen, especially from the northwest side, have a starkly different perspective – namely: that King Richard’s days are numbered, that he may yet be indicted, that he may not run for re-election in 2011, that he may not win if he runs, and/or that, if he wins in 2011, he’ll certainly retire by 2015.

Citizens look as far ahead as next week. Politicians look to the next election, and beyond, and their conclusion is clear: Being a Daley toady has no rewards, as the mayor can’t punish or benefit them now, and may be gone later.

As detailed in a study I have made of aldermanic voting, at least ten of the northwest side’s 12 aldermen were not total toadies during 2007-08. The two who rose to toady status, backing Daley on every key issue, were Dick Mell (33rd) and Arial Reboyras (30th). Five others – Bill Banks (36th), Tom Allen (38th), Marge Laurino (39th), Pat O’Connor (40th) and Pat Levar (45th) — fall into the semi-toady category, opposing only on the 2008 property tax increase of $83.4 million, but backing the mayor on other issues, including the $5.9 billion city budget, and fee and tax hikes.

The most contrary of the aldermen were the 41st Ward’s Brian Doherty, the council’s only Republican, who opposed the budget and all tax hikes, Rey Colon (35th) and Bernie (who wants his name to be spelled Berny) Stone (50th), who bucked the budget and two tax hikes. Gene Schulter (47th) opposed the budget and property tax hike. And “independent” Scott Waguespack (32nd), who beat a pro-Daley incumbent in 2007, backed the mayor on two tax hikes and the budget, but not on revising the public art program.

The 2011 city elections will be run within the current ward boundaries since 2010 census results will not be available until the end of that year. New ward boundaries will be drawn in 2011 by the sitting aldermen, effective in 2015.

* In assessing future aldermanic contests, two factors are paramount: family ties and money. For most incumbents, their job is the family business. They want to pass it along to somebody with the same DNA. Here’s a look at some developing contests:

36th Ward: Banks, age 58, alderman since 1983, is chairman of the council’s zoning committee. Rumors swirl that he will retire in 2011. Banks’ nephew, James Banks, a principal in the development company of Sergio and Banks, has built a lucrative law practice handling rezoning matters in the 36th and adjacent wards; Uncle Bill abstains whenever nephew James’s cases come before his committee.

Given his knowledge and connections, Bill Banks could earn millions as a full-time zoning lawyer, teaming up with nephew James or brother Sam Banks. He could focus in the suburbs, and every development company with a brain would hire his firm. At present, his chairmanship is a conflict-of-interest, and an impediment to big bucks.

The alderman is unbeatable, and has long harbored aspirations to be county assessor. That won’t happen. In the 2007 election, Banks clobbered firefighter Nick Sposato with 76 percent. So Banks has several choices: Be alderman for life, quit in 2011 and make money while he’s still at the top of his game. Or stay as alderman until his 25-year old son, Joe, a law student, is ready to take the baton.

According to sources in the ward, Bill Banks will retire as alderman in 2011, retain the Democratic committeeman’s job, and insert somebody to keep the seat warm for his son. His choice for alderman is likely to be his former driver, Mike Tinerella, now an assistant zoning administrator in the city zoning department. Other possibilities include attorney Larry Andolino, who lost two races for judge; John Donovan Jr., the ward sanitation superintendent, and son of a key political advisor to Banks; and John Rice, Banks’ current aide and driver.

Whatever the situation, Sposato is determined to run again in 2011.

45th Ward: Levar, age 57, alderman since 1987, is chairman of the aviation committee. Like Banks, Levar would love pass along his job to son Pat Jr., who works for the Chicago Park District. In February, Levar was elected unopposed as Democratic committeeman, succeeding his mentor, the late Tom Lyons. He’s in a position to dictate his successor. But, unlike Banks’ 36th ward, the 45th ward is not as pliant.

In 2007, Levar was re-elected with 56 percent, getting 818 more votes than a majority – and resultant runoff. As 2011 approaches, there is voter fatigue with Levar, and Levar fatigue with the job. The alderman suffers from diabetes and back disc problems. The ward’s demographic has changed. In the upscale areas around Portage Park, there are many more independent voters. And Jefferson Park, Gladstone Park, and Forest Glen are no longer filled with Democrats who vote as their precinct captain instruct.

“I love the job,” said Levar. But voters no longer love him. If Levar runs again, he will be beaten. The alderman, however, qualifies for the maximum city pension, and already gets a county pension. A tough 2011 campaign is a tremendous incentive to retire.

38th Ward: Allen, age 56, alderman since 1993, is chairman of the transportation committee. He sought the 2008 Democratic nomination for county state’s attorney, losing to Anita Alvarez by just 9,562 votes. Had Allen been nominated, he’d have been elected. Will Allen run again for alderman in 2011?

Allen lives in the 11th judicial sub-circuit, which includes liberal areas (Oak Park) and black precincts. Andolino, despite Banks’ support, lost primaries to liberal, independent women in 2004 and 2006. If Allen has a clear shot at a judgeship in 2010 – countywide or sub-circuit — he’ll take it. Otherwise, he’ll run again for alderman.

The Cullerton Clan has dominated the ward since its creation in 1931. A Cullerton has been alderman for 73 of the past 77 years. Allen’s wife is the sister-in-law of Tim Cullerton, brother of ward Democratic committeeman Patty Jo Cullerton, and son of the late Alderman Tom Cullerton. If Allen resigns as alderman, Patty Jo would be his certain successor.

41st Ward: Doherty, age 50, alderman since 1991, has become a veritable political maestro. His ward is filled with tax-hating homeowners, and Daley-hating police and firefighters. By visibly and consistently opposing Daley, Doherty – even though he is a Republican – is a hero. He won with 72 percent in 2007. Daley has chosen not to funnel jobs and money to some Democrat who could build an anti-Doherty organization in the ward. As long as Daley is mayor, Doherty is safe.

50th Ward: Stone, age 80, was re-elected alderman in 2007 by 661 votes (52.9 percent) over Naisy Dolar, and then got obliterated by State Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8) in the 2008 Democratic committeeman’s race, losing by 3,086 votes, and getting just 32.5 percent. Stone owes his 2007 win to an infusion of pro-Daley workers.

The alderman is in a lose-lose situation. Bucking the mayor won’t take any 2011 votes away from the anti-Daley Dolar, who is already running. And the mayor now has no incentive to rescue Berny again in 2011. Say bye-bye to Berny.

33rd Ward: The career of Mell, age 71, alderman since 1975, and chairman of the rules committee, has been all about three words: Me, me and me. He decided that he wanted to make daughter Patti’s obscure husband, Rod Blagojevich, a somebody. So, under Mell’s tutelage, Blagojevich went from state representative (1992) to Congress (1996) to governor (2002) – and has performed much to Mell’s distress. In 2008, Mell made his other daughter, Deborah, a state representative.

In 2011, if Mell retires, Chuck Lomato, his longtime chief-of-staff, is the heir apparent. But sibling rivalry may dictate otherwise. If Patti is no longer the state’s First Lady, she may want her daddy’s job. And Mell will give it to her.

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Russ Stewart is a regular columnist for The Chicago Daily Observer and a member of its editorial board.

One Comment »

  • Jim Bowman (author) said:

    I know from nothing in these matters, but I’d like to hear from Russ S. about the Mayoral Son recently returned from Af-stan and whether he looms as the Air Apparent.

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