April 18, 2006

Chicago has hot political summer ahead

As our South Side boys of summer took the field yesterday, the other boys of summer had already set their lineups and begun playing ball. With the primaries now complete and the Democratic and GOP slates set for the November elections, it is shaping up to be another interesting political summer in Chicago.

Oddly enough, at the top of the ticket is not a boy at all but State Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka. The Topinka/John Birkett (Governor/Lt. Governor) ticket took top honors in an amazingly wealthy GOP primary, while Rod Blagojevich/Pat Quinn expectedly passed Edwin Eisendrath without difficulty. Given that Blagojevich had a minimal challenge in Eisendrath, it is not surprising that his war chest of nearly $15.5 million dollars is virtually intact. While none of the winners were surprising, Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz (partnered with Elgin conservative politician Steve Rauchenberger) finished a distant fourth in the GOP primary, garnering just under 11 percent of the vote, despite his impressive spending. At the end of the day it was calculated that Gidwitz paid $163 for each vote. He later stated that he in no way regrets his campaign spending.

The battle that Topinka must fight is going to be particularly difficult. Although Blagojevich has not been a popular governor, it will be tough for Topinka to attack his administration as a whole, given that she was very much a part of it. As the only Republican in the Illinois Executive, attacks that she would make criticizing the governors “pay to play” ways could easily be shot right back at her. This was the line of logic that many of Topinka’s primary opponents vocalized throughout the winter.

Blagojevich, who has historically had strong showings downstate, especially around the quad cities, must face the fact that job growth outside of the Chicago region has been nonexistent and that his office, rightfully is seen as one that shifts with the opinion polls. Nonetheless, Blagojevich has already begun running positive advertisements on television toting his increase of the minimum wage and his expansion of preschool programs. Additionally, any inroad that Topinka might want to make into the Democratic stronghold of Cook County will be difficult given the funding that the governor has recently poured into new toll road improvements and the massive Dan Ryan reconstruction.

Perhaps one of the most interesting battle grounds in the state lies just west of Chicago in DuPage County. Although the region is traditionally Republican (where Joe Birkett is the district attorney), Democrats have recently been paying more attention to the area. It is the second largest county in the state, with a population that is much younger, more diverse, and more transient than in previous decades. Successful Democratic politicians such as Secretary of State Jesse White and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, U.S. Senator, both put a significant amount of effort into this district on their inaugural campaigns and are still reaping the benefits.

DuPage County is going to be interesting from a gubernatorial as well as a U.S. congressional standpoint. After decades of service, the GOP favorite Henry Hyde is stepping down and making way for Peter Roskam, a popular state senator and law partner Al Salvi, Dick Durbinís original opponent. Fundraising for Roskam has hit high gear, and Dick Cheney has already made appearances despite the lack of primary competition. Urgency by the GOP in such a heavily conservative district is largely because of the push the Democrats have now put into this district.

Two years ago a Democratic businesswoman named Christine Cegelis won 44 percent of the vote, following a campaign by lawyer Brent Christiansen, who won 40 percent of the vote two years earlier. Looking for a final push over the top, many national Democrats, including Dick Durbin, John Kerry, and Rahm Emmanuel, North Side Congressman and former Clinton aide, decided that leaving small town politics to the locals would not cut it. Enter Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who became a paraplegic in a helicopter attack during her tour of duty. She is a political novice in the district, given that she did not live in the district before the primary. Although Duckworth will be running against Roskam in the fall, Cegelis did not bow out and is running a tough campaign against the nationally supported Duckworth. Such a split could be detrimental to any chance the Democrats may have in this district, given that it was the grassroots effort that brought the tally up to 44 percent two years ago.

The campaign that many on campus had their eyes on, the Claypool-Stroger race, turned out to be expectedly tight. Low voter turnout allowed for Stroger, bedridden following a mid-March stroke, to carry the election by just over 16,000 votes. Despite having support in the suburbs, Claypool could not win over the necessary Chicago voters. It was in this vote that they displayed their appreciation of having a county board president who was well recognized and powerful (as shown by his campaign ads featuring Bill Clinton), even if his performance as of late left something to be desired.

It is with great hopes that all baseball fans will support their teams this summer, yet as our boys in black hit at 35th and Shields, the boys (and girl) in red, white, and blue will also be aiming for that fall championship.