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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 02:34 pm

Election shockers

The big surprise came in Chicago and Carbondale

Untitled Document The real electoral surprise last week was not in Chicago, where five tired old incumbent hack aldermen went down to defeat. The big shocker was the Carbondale mayor’s race, where Sheila Simon — daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon — was trounced by Republican incumbent Brad Cole. Simon lost by a dozen points. Back in the multicandidate February primary, Simon scored well over 50 percent, and Cole finished in the mid-30s — but Cole staged a remarkable rebound with the help of the Illinois Republican Party and top state legislators. House Republican Leader Tom Cross had made the race a priority because he was worried that Simon might run for the House if and or when state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, moves to the Senate. The GOP dumped a ton of money and staff into the race — a move that was almost completely ignored by the local media, which instead concentrated on Simon’s high-visibility support from people such as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Cole ran a very good, professional race, but Simon’s effort was exposed as amateurish and underfunded. Simon’s campaign generated support from Democrats from all over Illinois who were excited about the possibility of watching her move up the ladder, but Cole was endorsed by both the Southern Illinoisan and Southern Illinois University’s student paper.
Simon waited way too long to go negative, and when she finally did she muffed the charge; immediately after criticizing Cole for some questionable expenses as mayor, she was forced to admit that she had approved those same expenses herself as an alderman. Cole was a deputy chief of staff for George Ryan and had even defended Ryan during the campaign on a Chicago radio show, but Simon failed to use that hefty political bomb. In Chicago, the five hack aldermen — Madeline Haithcock (2nd Ward), Dorothy Tillman (3rd), Shirley Coleman (16th), Michael Chandler (24th) and Ted Matlak (32nd) — all lost their runoff bids. The biggest surprise may have been Matlak, whose ward was flooded with precinct workers from just about every white political-machine organization in the city. The 32nd has been controlled by the machine for almost 80 years, going back to former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski’s father, but Matlak didn’t bother much with constituent services and was no longer a good fit in a ward that had been completely gentrified.
Tillman lost by about eight points, despite being endorsed by just about every black political leader in the city of Chicago, including U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. Haithcock was trounced by more than 30 points. Ald. Berny Stone (50th) held on to defeat the hard-charging Naisy Dolar 53-47. Stone ran a pathetic campaign in February’s first round, but he brought in some top-notch people (including former House staffer and Statehouse lobbyist Mike Noonan) and strongly defended his record, something he didn’t do before the February vote. The biggest Chicago winner was probably the unions, which backed several victorious candidates by financing their races and providing precinct workers and direct mail. Although their candidates won, specific union issues weren’t really part of the actual campaigns — so the unions have some new friends but no clear mandate for passing their agenda.
The biggest loser was the old-time black political machine, which suffered devastating losses with the ouster of Haithcock, Tillman, Chandler, and Coleman and the loss of Darcel Beavers during the first round of voting, back in February.
Obama, who styles himself as the epitome of a young, black “new politics” candidate, did not endorse a single one of the bright, new, independent-minded aldermen who will be taking the helm of black wards on the South and West sides. Count him as a big loser. Mayor Richard M. Daley is also generally counted as a loser, mainly because of Matlak’s defeat. Daley had made that a race a top priority, sending in gobs of troops and money. Daley did balance that loss by helping the broken-down warhorse Stone hold on to power for another term. Mostly, though, the mayor, buffeted by scandals and several ongoing federal investigations of his administration, had no political coattails. For the first time in his entire career, he may have even been a liability.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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