Before we start this laundry list of Tier Two aldermanic races, there are two significant updates. First, Sandi Jackson, wife of Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., has announced she will challenge Darcel Beavers for the seat vacated by Beavers' father, William Beavers, in the 7th Ward. Beavers has, over the last 10 years, built a fearsome black political machine, aligning himself with Mayor Daley and the Stroger family. Jackson's challenge of Beavers will go along way towards weakening that organization, thus making a possible Jackson mayoral run in 2011 easier. Also, having a "celebrity" alderman, as Sandi Jackson would become if elected, would create an ideal political center for opposition to Daley and the Regular Democrats in the City Council.
Secondly, Alderman Theodore "Ted" Thomas, whose 15th Ward race was listed as Tier One, announced on Monday that he would be retiring. This is not surprising, given that ACORN and labor was going to make this a high-priority race. Thomas has also faced severe health problems over the last five years, such that his campaign and ward operations were in complete disarray. Despite the presence of former 15th Ward alderman Virgil Jones — who was convicted of several felonies the last time he held the seat — I have to bump the candidacy of ACORN activist and union member Toni Foulkes to the top of the list in this contest. Foulkes will likely have considerable organized support and she is a charismatic and energetic organizer in her own right. Still, the long list of candidates (there are currently 15) means this is really anybody's race. "Coach" Shawn Monroe, a Chicago cop and former CTA bus driver, could also be competitive.
What makes a race a "Tier One" or "Tier Two" race? Well, obviously it's very subjective, but mainly I asked these questions: Is there more than one viable candidate? Has the incumbent had trouble avoiding run-offs (or come close to facing one)? Has the ward changed sufficiently to make solid predictions difficult? Is there a good chance of highly entertaining antics? And finally, are there high levels of special interest interest in the candidates?
As a quick reminder, the Tier One races: 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 15th, 18th, 42nd, 50th.
Now, to Tier Two:
6th Ward - Grand Crossing, Park Manor, East Englewood
Freddrenna M. Lyle is not wildly popular in her ward, which suffers from high unemployment and higher-than-average crime; in 2003, she was only able to manage about 40 percent of the vote against three challengers, including track star Willye White. Lyle held off the challenge and wisely supported the Big-Box Living Wage Ordinance this year, ensuring that none of her challengers can go to labor for seed money to run a decent campaign against her. Still, expect challenger Norington-Reaves to force a run-off in this contest. Norington-Reaves is a life-long Chicagoan who attended Disney Magnet and Northwestern, is young, attractive, and has deep roots in the ward. Norington-Reaves is an attorney and can likely come up with the seed money to try and raise some funds; if she can, there's no reason she can't beat Lyle. Still, Lyle is a fighter, both for her own career and her ward, so Norington-Reaves will have to run a perfect campaign to seriously jeopardize her.
16th Ward - Englewood
Shirley Coleman was able to hold off a run-off last time around by getting 54 percent of the vote, but in a low-turnout ward, that can easily change. Furthermore, her strongest-running opponent last time around, Hal Baskin, has filed to oppose her again, although his viability is compromised by the fact that it doesn't appear he's done any serious fundraising since his 2003 loss. JoAnn Thompson, who also filed against Coleman, is reportedly being supported by Frank Coconate, founder of the Northwest Side Democratic Organization and an anti-Daley, pro-labor crusader.
19th Ward - Beverly, Mt. Greenwood, Morgan Park
Virginia "Ginger" Rugai has had trouble maintaining her once-immense popularity in this Southwest Side ward due to her support for developments that have threatened the character of a few neighborhoods. In 2003, that disapproval was expressed through a strong run by John Somerville, who did a serious amount of organizing and fundraising, enough that his voters weren't "merely" protest voters; the third candidate in '03 managed less than 5 percent of the vote. Somerville could easily force a run-off between his candidacy and that of Tim Sheehan. Sheehan by virtue of his name alone could increase the universe of voters and pull voters away from Rugai as well as Somerville.
24th Ward - North Lawndale
Alderman Michael Chandler is a lackluster campaigner and an even more lackluster fundraiser, although the condition of home-grown businesses in the West Side 24th Ward — centered on K-Town and Lawndale — makes aldermanic fundraising pretty difficult. That alone could be reason enough that Chandler wins the day, although his 52 percent of the vote in 2003 does not speak well of his performance. The remaining 48 percent of the vote was dispersed among many challengers, an indication that voters are dissatisfied with the incumbent rather than intrigued by any challenger — although his strongest opponent, Joe Ann Bradley, won nearly 20 percent of the vote and is running again this time around.
32nd Ward - West Lakeview, Bucktown, Ravenswood
Ted Matlak is, partially, a victim of circumstance. When he was handed control of the ward by his former boss, Theris Gabinski, and Gabinski's boss, Richard M. Daley, in 1999, this Bucktown and Lakeview ward was beginning a process of massive development and gentrification that Gabinski had masterminded. As a result, by the time Matlak's reelection came around in 2003, the ward had changed dramatically and many residents were furious at the amount of development-and-construction detritus they had to deal with. The situation was so dire that state Representative John Fritchey filed to run against Gabinski as Ward Committeeman in an effort to get Matlak to start really paying attention to his constituents' concerns. According to Fritchey, he and Matlak "worked it out," and Fritchey withdrew his candidacy. In 2003 Matlak faced mildly whack-a-doo challenger Jay Stone, son of 50th Ward Alderman Berny Stone — who endorsed Matlak. Stone still managed nearly 30 percent of the vote, and this time around Matlak has much more serious competition. Scott Waguespak has real, brawling election experience and is waging a serious bid, with his main weapon being shoe leather. Waguespak has been working the ward hard, introducing himself to his neighbors personally and trying to blunt Matlak's enormous cash advantage with real organizing. Matlak voted with labor on the Big Box Living Wage ordinance but is being targeted anyway, because, according to Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, he is "beatable." That could actually work slightly in his favor, as it will certainly cast his opponent as completely captive to labor as a special interest. Also, Matlak's ability to raise money on-demand from the economic concerns in his ward should not be discounted — that's what makes this a "second tier" race, rather than first.
35th Ward - Logan Square
Rey Colon has angered many of his original supporters by moving closer to the Mayor; his campaign against Vilma Colom in 2003 was a symbolic anti-HDO race and Colon benefited from a huge army of volunteers eager to face down the machine. This nascent resentment against Colon would be more problematic for him if his only real competition wasn't coming from none other than Vilma Colom herself, who has filed to take back her old seat. It isn't likely that those who may be upset at the gentrification of Logan Square will cast their protest vote for the woman they ousted only four years ago. Still, Logan Square is the new frontier in the on-going development and "de-neighborhooding" of the city's Northwest Side, so this race could be volatile. Expect Colon to hold his seat, but given a crowded field, a run-off is not out of the question, and even with a weakened HDO, that could be trouble for the incumbent. This race is Tier Two only because it will likely be pretty entertaining, especially if the HDO tries to scrape together a revenge showing on Election Day.
37th Ward - North Austin, Cragin
Emma Mitts should be the most endangered incumbent out there, given that she sparked labor's fury with the City Council with her highly polarizing pro-Wal-Mart, anti-worker crusade first launched in 2004. Community groups, labor and the anti-Daley forces on the West Side would love to send a message by ousting Mitts, but she has become a symbol and therefore can count on huge support from her political sponsor, 29th Ward Alderman and West Side powerbroker Isaac "Ike" Carothers, as well as the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce and, of course, Wal-Mart and the big box stores. The 37th Ward is actually somewhat diverse, incorporating as it does North Austin and part of Cragin with its Latino population, as well as the industrial areas thereabouts. Currently, Mitts' most high-profile challenger is former Alderman Percy Giles, who was charged in 1999 with racketeering, extortion conspiracy, extortion, attempted extortion, mail fraud and filing false tax returns. Giles was subsequently sentenced to 39 months in jail, although many felt that the federal government was unfairly targeting — and entrapping — minority public officials in Chicago. Giles almost certainly won't get any of the anti-establishment vote, but his mere presence on the ballot could peel away enough votes from Mitts to force a run-off — still not very likely unless a viable independent candidate, with serious logistical backing, emerges in the next few weeks.
49th Ward - East Rogers Park
Joe Moore bravely took on Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's and Home Depot by introducing the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance, and as a result he may face a bruising race. Just as labor and reformers view Mitts as a symbol, big business and the Chamber of Commerce see defeating Moore, or at least beating him up a bit, as the perfect way to discourage any such legislation in the future. The big target on Moore's back is more worrisome because he was only able to manage 54 percent in 2003, in a traditionally low-turnout ward (some 7,000 total votes cast). The 49th Ward suffers from very lopsided development, beyond terrible parking situation, constant traffic snarls, and serious crime and drug problems. Moore cannot be said to have done a great job "managing" development in the ward, and ultimately that may hurt him more than the money his challengers will be able to raise from business. However, the fact that development is such a major issue means that any candidate in big business' pocket will lose significant credibility in the eyes of this ward's very liberal voters. Tellingly, of Moore's current challengers, two — Don Gordon and Chris Adams — are campaigning to the left of Moore. The other, Jim Ginderske, looks to be the most likely "business" candidate, but even Ginderske is hardly a free-market firebrand. Ultimately, this race is Moore's to lose and it isn't likely that he'll be ousted — he's still quite popular there and his brave and dogged opposition to the Mayor has made him a hero of sorts to the politically aware, and that is who votes in municipal elections. But just like Mitts, the fact that this campaign is so symbolic makes it Tier Two, despite Moore's likely victory.