For as long as I can remember, every political thinker from Milton Rakove to Mike Royko divided Chicago politics into two main factions: independents and regulars. Independents being the handful of elected officials who were unafraid to stand up to the boss—usually a powerful mayor—and the regulars being the loyal troops in the boss’s army.
But after this last election, it looks like we’re going to have to rewrite our Rakove and Rokyo, as the Democratic Party’s undergoing a realignment. These days it’s more of a three-way split, as progressive independents join with Machine regulars against corporate Democrats.
If you want to put faces on these factions, think of progressive independent Jesus Garcia and Machine regular Michael Madigan teaming up against corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel.
Now, look, I realize that some of these alliances are marriages of convenience brought about by a universal revulsion for Governor Rauner, a Republican who’s sort of like a corporate Democrat on steroids. Still, this realignment of Chicago Dems is a big deal—at least for political geeks like me. Before I get to some examples from last week’s election, let me set the stage for this shake-up so you’ll see why it matters.
The Machine—as created by the old bosses such as Mayor Richard J. Daley—is rooted in an alliance between Democratic Party and union powerhouses. On Election Day, this bunch was hard to beat, thanks to an army of patronage workers who had to get out the vote if they wanted to keep their jobs.
At times the Machine’s leaders and their minions were ruthless, arrogant, and racist—to put it mildly. As a result, they were opposed by legions of progressive-minded independents, like longtime Hyde Park alderman Leon Despres, who led what fight the city could muster against the old Mayor Daley on everything from open housing to budget reform.
The modern-day equivalents to these independents of the 80s are progressives like state rep Will Guzzardi and aldermen Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Sue Sadlowski Garza, and David Moore, who push for things like TIF reform in the face of mayoral opposition.
Over the years the Machine lost some of its strength due to antipatronage court rulings that cut back on its Election Day army. And over the last few years powerful Democrats have been filling this gap by drawing their support—and campaign contributions—through corporate connections.
Think Mayor Rahm, who came to office determined to show corporate donors how much he loved them.
Corporate Democrats tend to be liberal on social issues—like marriage equality—and primordial on economic issues, like collective bargaining rights. Or making good on obligations to retirees. Or fairly divvying up the pie so the 1 percent doesn’t eat it all up. Or . . .
That brings us back to last Tuesday’s primary. Whereas in the past the progressives and the Machine were at odds, in last week’s election, progressives and the Machine joined forces to beat up on corporate Democrats—and even some opponents who weren’t part of the corporate crowd.
Take the most obvious example: house speaker Michael Madigan’s race against rookie candidate Jason Gonzales.
In that race, a multimillionaire former trader named Blair Hull poured in more than $300,000 to back Gonzales, who was running as a progressive.
Even though most progressives—starting with Jesus Garcia—backed Madigan, the big papa of Machine bosses.
In that race, Madigan responded with such time-honored Machine tactics as putting dummy candidates on the ballot to confuse the anti-Madigan voters.
Generally, these tactics stir outrage from progressives. But in this case the progressives seemed to cheer louder with each and every one of Madigan’s heavy-handed tactics.
OK, maybe I was the only one cheering. The point is that Madigan-for all his tyrannical bossiness-is looking pretty good to progressives these days.
Despite all the money that Hull and his ilk poured into the race, Gonzales only got about 27 percent of the vote, which was 10 percentage points better than Michele Piszczor got when she ran against Madigan in 2012 without any money from corporate Dems.
Look on the bright side, Governor. At this rate, you’ll be able to topple Madigan in about 20 years.
A similar coalition of progressives and regulars came together on the northwest side when Guzzardi and Ramirez-Rosa joined forces with party chairman Joe Berrios in a couple of legislative elections. In some ways, this was even more astounding than the Garcia-Madigan alliance, because progressives and Berrios have been fighting for years. Why, it was just two years ago that Logan Square progressives were practically turning over cars on Milwaukee Avenue in jubilation when Guzzardi ousted Toni Berrios—Papa Joe’s daughter.
Now it’s like I love you, man between these two factions, as Guzzardi and Ramirez-Rosa helped Omar Aquino, a Berrios protege, defeat Angelica Alfaro, a Noble School employee and a darling of the antiunion charter school crowd.
During that campaign, I got many calls from Alfaro backers outraged at “the hypocrisy” of Guzzardi and Ramirez-Rosa aligning with Berrios. These calls were matched by the ones I got from Aquino backers gleefully noting that Alfaro had misspelled “school” in one or her mailings.
Hey, man, no one’s perfect.
OK, it’s understandable that progressives would join with Berrios to help the Chicago Teachers Union—which also supported Aquino—beat a candidate favored by the charter school crowd. But many of these same progressives also signed on with Berrios against one of their own—Harish Patel, who was running against state representative Jaime Andrade, also backed by CTU.
Andrade racked up about 60 percent of the vote against Patel, running strong even in progressive Logan Square.
Say this about Patel: he didn’t leave any F-bomb-laced messages on Ramirez-Rosa’s voice mail after he lost the election. Unlike Eddie Acevedo Jr., of the infamous Acevedo clan, who had some choice words for alderman Danny Solis.
In that case, the Acevedos were upset by a variation on the new alliance that helped Theresa Mah defeat Alex Acevedo in the second legislative district in Pilsen and Chinatown.
Actually, in that race it was more like progressives teamed with some Machine types to help beat another Machine clan. So it’s not really the best example of the trend of tag-teaming against corporate Democrats. But I couldn’t resist another opportunity to quote some of Acevedo’s stirring words: “We lost the election because of your bitch ass, motherfucker.”
And who says poetry is dead?
In short, here’s my advice, Mayor Rahm, which, as always, you’re free not to take.
If you want to salvage your legacy, make like Madigan and Berrios and move left. v