Progressive Politics in Chicago and Cook County, Part 1

March 16th, 2016 by Phil Leave a reply »

[This was originally posted directly to Facebook and has been copied here. The spacing may be a little off.]

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on progressive politics in Chicago and Cook County. My focus in this part is on the broad lay of the land, which means I’m going to talk about Bernie, Chuy, Toni Preckwinkle, Kim Foxx, the CTU, Omar Aquino, Jaime Andrade, and a whole lot more:

As noted in the Reader article I posted earlier today, the guy running Bernie’s Illinois operation is Clem Balanoff. He was Chuy’s campaign manager. He comes out of SEIU Healthcare.
SEIU Healthcare and the CTU are the main entities which came together to form United Working Families, an organization which has been curiously invisible this election cycle. CTU itself has also been mostly quiet this election cycle, except that I’ve seen it get very involved in two local races. One is the ridiculous Ken Dunkin – Juliana Stratton race and I’m not going to dwell on that here. That race is so out of control that no less than President Obama intervened.
The race where I have seen CTU and education advocates really strongly converging is the 2nd Senate race, where people have been pushing hard for Omar Aquino. Aquino’s opponent is Angelica Alfaro and she’s outspokenly pro-charter. I will say, in very mild defense of Alfaro, that _she went to a charter school_ so at least she’s coming by her position more honestly than a lot of people would.

Of course, CTU and public education supporters and so on want nothing to do with a pro-charter candidate, so they’ve lined up to support Aquino. But the problem is that Aquino is also well-known to be a Joe Berrios surrogate. Berrios put up Aquino to run for 36th Ward Alderman last year. That race was won by Gilbert Villegas, who was backed by Luis Arroyo. A lot of wacky things went down in that part of the city, with another Arroyo backed candidate, Milly Santiago, knocking off Ray Suarez in the 31st Ward. That’s Berrios’s own ward, and he couldn’t protect his own guy.

More recently, the circumstances have changed. The two strongest people in the Cook County Democratic Party right now are Toni Preckwinkle and Michael Madigan – both even stronger than Rahm Emanuel _in the context of the functioning of the party_. Preckwinkle, as it so happens, has been propping up Berrios for a while. Berrios has been Madigan’s stooge for even longer.
So what we are seeing play out right now is a very complicated bargain.

As I noted, the CTU and its allies have fully lined up in support of Aquino. In so doing, they’ve essentially acceded to keeping Berrios around.

Madigan, meanwhile, surprisingly got on board with the Elected School Board bill, one of CTU’s most important pieces of legislation. Madigan and CTU of course have a common enemy in Bruce Rauner. But CTU also has an enemy in Rahm, who fiercely opposes the Elected School Board. The thing here is that Rahm is actually in a fairly weak position, relatively speaking. Rahm needs Madigan to be on the same page regarding everything going on with Springfield. Madigan has decided it’s in his interest to give CTU what they want on this. For all intents and purposes, Rahm is on the sidelines of the bargain at hand. (Of course, Tammy Duckworth is a Rahm surrogate, and the entire Democratic power structure did fall in line to support her Senate run. So maybe that’s what he’s getting out of the bargain.)

In the midst of all this is the appearance of Kim Foxx, who was of course already running for State’s Attorney before the Laquan McDonald video surfaced. She was Preckwinkle’s chief of staff. Preckwinkle has worked hard to back her. Getting Foxx elected is the utmost priority to Preckwinkle, as it will solidify her position as the main county-level power broker for the Democrats. Thing is, back in early November, this was looking like a tall order. Alvarez is a two-term incumbent who even now has a lot of important supporters, such as Ed Burke.
For Preckwinkle to get what she wanted out of this, a lot of bargaining had to be done. She needed Berrios and his people to fall in line – which meant that she needed to be involved in brokering a compromise between Berrios and Arroyo. After the Laquan McDonald video came out, it was also easy for her to get all of the anti-Rahm progressives and most of the black committeemen in line as well. CTU finally climbed on board too. Madigan didn’t, but nobody needed him to. Senate President John Cullerton is in the mix here as well, since the Aquino deal involves a State Senate seat. Madigan and Cullerton simply helped facilitate here.

Now, Alvarez, of course, simply has to go. It doesn’t much matter if Foxx is the greatest thing since sliced bread – this is one of those situations where you have a real cancer in an extremely dangerous office, and the cancer needs to be removed. That Foxx has decent progressive credentials _for a State’s Attorney candidate_ – remember, this is someone running to be the county’s chief prosecutor – is really just a bonus.

One other thing to keep in mind here is that it really helps Rahm out if Alvarez is the chief public official who takes the fall for the Laquan McDonald case. Make no mistake: Rahm wants to see Alvarez go down. He might actually like her personally, but it’s to his political benefit for Foxx to win. He can then continue to separate himself from the “mistakes” made in the State’s Attorney’s office. His goal is to never meaningfully be held personally accountable for anything associated with the Laquan McDonald case.

In the midst of all this bargaining, there are other situations at play as well. Jaime Andrade, trying to hold on as 40th State Representative, wound up getting the endorsements of numerous progressive aldermen, perhaps most importantly the endorsement from Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. His opponent Harish Patel also got some aldermanic endorsements (from Scott Waguespack and Ameya Pawar) but Andrade is clearly in good shape in that election.

Andrade emerged out of thin air as a big CTU champion, and even picked up their endorsement. He started hanging around other progressives. All of this, even though he was given the seat by Dick Mell, and completely owes allegiance to Mell. Mell’s daughter Deb is of course now the 33rd Ward Alderman. (Mell’s son-in-law is in federal prison, but that’s a story for another day, isn’t it?)

Even armed with the support of his benefactor Mell, and with the endorsements of multiple important aldermen, Andrade’s campaign nevertheless has also taken big cash from Michael Madigan, and has used that money to absurdly attack Patel as being a surrogate of Rauner, which is just total crap, but precisely what one would expect from Madigan’s playbook.

Oh also: Chuy and Mell go back. The Garcia-Preckwinkle is perfectly fine letting Mell have what he wants here. After all, Mell is one of the committeemen who helped Preckwinkle with the Foxx endorsement, isn’t he? Because that’s how these things work.

And then there is yet another race where we see a lot of complicated posturing happen. On the near southwest side, there’s a quasi-open seat for 2nd State Representative. Theresa Mah has now been endorsed by Chuy, and by Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and by Alderman George Cardenas and his own surrogate, Alderman Raymond Lopez. See? All of the important Latinos are playing nice. They’re all jockeying for position.

The Andrade-Patel and Aquino-Alfaro races, and to a lesser extent the Mah-Acevedo race, are where we can most clearly see what’s happening in terms of aligning forces. The CTU, the bulk of the Progressive Caucus, Chuy Garcia, Toni Preckwinkle, Joe Berrios, and Michael Madigan are all lining up on the same side. Attaching themselves to that grouping are hangers on like Luis Gutierrez and George Cardenas. The whole thing is increasingly absurd, because there isn’t really a coherent other side to this. Preckwinkle and Madigan aren’t fighting Rahm. CTU isn’t fighting Arroyo. You just wind up with “outsider” unaligned candidates like Patel getting beaten up for daring to get involved at all.

Bernie Sanders, of course, has many other things to concern himself with. But even Bernie has now gone on record supporting the teachers in Chicago. And Chuy is his main campaign surrogate. And Balanoff is running his state operation. And Bernie himself came to Chicago early last year to help get Sue Garza elected as 10th Ward Alderman. Even Bernie has a little skin in the game here.

Now. I’m not trying to disparage Bernie at all when I say that. I’m really just trying to describe the lay of the land. It’s not like Joe Berrios and Michael Madigan are out stumping for Bernie Sanders!

But what people should see in all of this is an attempt being made to say: Hey, look, the Democrats in Cook County are really the good guys. Isn’t Chuy a good guy? Look who all Chuy is hanging out with. Isn’t Toni Preckwinkle very smart and very competent? She wouldn’t line herself up with fools.

The quasi-movement that has sprung up around Bernie, though, has not done so because of any particular affinity for the likes of Joe Berrios or Michael Madigan! If the liberal wing of the county organization thinks that all of these people are just going to roll in line, they’ve got another thing coming. The reality is that Bernie is running a campaign _decidedly to the left_ of anything any of these people here in Cook County are doing. Chuy campaigned for putting 1,000 more police on the streets! Supporting an Elected School Board is not some kind of fringe left-wing idea – it’s called _basic democracy_. Absurdly, we now have a situation where moderate/centrist Democratic officials are indirectly trying to associate themselves _with Bernie Sanders_, even though not a single Congressman from Illinois has endorsed him! Again, none of this I’m holding against Bernie. Chicago is one place among many where crazy shit is happening for him, and he has no chance to control it. He knows how nonsensical Cook County politics are. They take on a life of their own.

So set aside Bernie for the moment, and let’s get back to some cold reality. Michael Madigan is the person most responsible for running the state into the ground. Joe Berrios is widely known to be incredibly corrupt. While it is understandable that an entity like CTU needs friends, for CTU to have gotten so close to the establishment here means that they’re in no position to effectively challenge that same establishment. This is not to knock the CTU, or at least, not to knock them too much. The point here is simply that CTU can’t be expected to provide coherent political leadership on anything else. They’re boxed in, and doing what they can with what play they think they have.

Consider that while the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Elected School Board bill, there are almost no co-sponsors of the bill to allow for the recall of the Mayor. (Although: One very interesting exception to this is Jaime Andrade!) The Democrats in Springfield have for years and years had numerous opportunities to fix the state’s structural deficit and to ensure that the state is pumping in its fair share of dollars to schools. It was always Madigan who refused. Aside from Daley and Emanuel, no single politician has done more to HARM the public school system in Chicago than Michael Madigan. But CTU and Madigan perceive that they need each other right now.

Very few of the Chicago-based legislative races are even being contested. One of the reasons why the Andrade-Patel race has gotten as much attention as it has is because almost none of the neighboring districts are at all contested. Now, one which is – for 15th House – is pitting an even more entrenched family dynasty Machine Democrat in John d’Amico against Jac Charlier. But this has not gotten nearly the same level of outside attention. Perhaps it’s because the district is almost half suburban. Or perhaps it’s because d’Amico isn’t directly involved in anything I’ve noted above… except, of course, that Madigan is giving him gobs of money, even more money than Andrade is getting.

One of the essential problems here, and it is a particularly thorny one to overcome, is that as soon as The Right Person wins an aldermanic seat, the political alignment changes around that person, and they simply become part of the overall Democratic Party process. Look at all of the most progressive aldermen in Chicago. Every single one of them is either also the Democratic Ward Committeemen, or soon will be. Even though we’re not talking about Machine politicians per se, what we _are_ talking about is the continuation of the Machine processes.

There’s no obvious “back door” to get into all of this. Ironically, the way in is through the “front door” – by running an insurgent campaign for Alderman and winning. Even though the aldermanic seats are the most coveted, ironically, the Machine is the most susceptible in those races, because the ward is the smallest electoral unit, and there’s the potential for the runoff (which has treated some incumbents very poorly in recent elections), and because the race is nonpartisan, with the bizarre but accepted protocol that the Cook County Democratic Party doesn’t get involved in the aldermanic races.

Your other alternative to getting in is of course to be a loyalist to a boss and just bide your time. That’s how Andrade got to where he’s at, and that’s how Aquino is going to wind up a State Senator. But these aren’t rational or acceptable ways for progressives to get involved. And so, inexplicably, it seems like the best way for progressives to pry their way in is by running for alderman.

It is possible that the Elected School Board will change this some, because those will be nonpartisan seats covering fairly large areas (2.5 times as large as a ward), and the nominal demand will be necessarily lower since it won’t be a “job”. CTU will of course eagerly pursue getting their own allies in to school board seats. Charter proponents will as well. But what direct stake does someone like Toni Preckwinkle or Michael Madigan have in who’s on the school board? The nature of the stakes are different. The power structure will largely sit it out. And yet those school board members may very well wind up aligned with some faction or another along the way.

That’s the lay of the land, and I didn’t hardly go into details on a lot of it. There are so many nuances, so many weird temporary alliances, it would make a professional wrestling booker’s head spin.

Part 2 will come in the next couple of days, and will talk about what Bernie supporters, progressives, Greens, socialists, anyone who sees all of the above and cringes, might actually try to do under the circumstances.

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