By MATT LYNCH AND LOGAN MOLYNEUX , Medill News Service
Just as the November election resulted in a major shakeup in Congress, some local election experts are predicting a high turnover for the Chicago City Council following the city election in February.
However, there will be no shift in power from one party to the other, as happened in Washington. The present makeup of Chicago’s City Council is 49 Democrats and one lone Republican, and is expected to remain just as lopsided after the Feb. 27 primary.
Even so, a politically weakened Mayor Daley and a city government fraught with scandal have experts projecting one of the most dynamic city elections in decades.
“This could be a very significant election for a real change in the council,” said Greg Brewer, an architect and community organizer running against Ald. Bernie Stone (50th). “A lot of factors are adding up to make this a year where we will see some new blood and new ideas.”
The intersection of several factors could lead to 15 or more competitive races involving incumbent aldermen, according to Dick Simpson, a former alderman and current political science professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. These factors include a strong pool of candidates and increasingly active unions and community organizations, he said.
With recent trouble at City Hall, outside campaigns have more of a chance to gain momentum.
“The patronage sentencing and cases have tended to disrupt Mayor Dale’s campaign organization,” Simpson said.
According to Simpson, the strong showing of Republican Tony Peraica in a number of city wards during his heated contest against former alderman Todd Stroger for the Cook County Board presidency is one indication of this disruption. Peraica won 12 of the 50 wards outright, and carried a significant percentage in many others. Stroger beat Peraica in the contest for president of the Cook County Board.
While not directly linked to the city elections, the unusually strong support for Peraica could be taken as a sign that voters are seeking a change in the status quo within local government.
Even if the current political tides might make life more difficult for incumbents, defeating one is still a tough proposition. A successful challenge requires a well-qualified, well-organized and well-funded candidate.
The fact that many wards have one or more challengers exhibiting these qualities is another reason 2007 could be a high-turnover year, Simpson noted.
“You have to have a credible challenger and there are better challengers than there have been since the ’80s,” he Simpson. “Most of them have had time to position themselves and do the early fundraising, which is different from most years.”
From the 2nd ward all the way up to the 50th, many races began filling up with well-credentialed challengers even while the November elections were dominating the political landscape. Just recently, Tumia Romero, a political advisor to Cong. Danny Davis, announced her challenge to 29th Ward Ald. Isaac “Ike” Carothers.
Also running is David Askew, one of several challengers to West Side Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd). Askew spent three years in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) and recently served as the deputy chief of the Civil Rights Bureau at the Illinois Attorney General’s office until taking a leave to campaign full time.
Simpson said finding issues that resonate with citizens is critical to mounting a successful campaign. Responsible government and accountability are two issues being raised in many wards.
Identifying those key issues is also a critical factor in winning the support of community groups and organizations that can help mobilize support.
The Service Employees International Union is one organization trying to flex its muscle in February. It has targeted incumbents in several wards -including Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) for opposition to the Big Box ordinance – and plans to place its support behind candidates considered more supportive of key union issues. SEIU officials are still in the process of determining which candidates will receive their attention.
The SEIU is also recruiting “block captains” from its 78,000 Chicago members to canvass their neighborhoods for the elections, the first time the union has done so.
While SEIU spokeswoman Marianne McMullen said the growth of the SEIU, rather than the political climate in Chicago, drove the decision to take more of an active role in the city elections.