In honor of this special issue dedicated to what’s lost and gained over the last year, allow me to say a few words about Chicago’s legendary Democratic machine.
Talk about a rough year. Man, it’s been getting a shellacking from all corners—and you can’t even blame the pandemic.
Two of its greatest icons have been ousted or are just hanging on—we’ll get to you, Michael Madigan and Alderman Ed Burke.
Moreover, it’s getting pummeled by Hollywood.
In the last year there have been two highly praised movies lambasting the wretched behavior of Chicago’s political bosses.
That would be Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of theChicago 7, which definitely falls into the category of fiction, since Sorkin more or less made things up as he went along his merry way.
And there’s Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, about the assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by a consortium of agents from the Chicago Police, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the FBI.
Great movie. But, at the risk of sounding like a local version of Donald Trump—what, you couldn’t find a Chicago actor to play Fred Hampton?
Back to the struggles of machine politicians . . .
Madigan, Burke, Alderwoman Carrie Austin, the late state senator Martin Sandoval, the Acevedos of the near southwest side—all have been bounced from office or caught in scandals.
I thought Madigan would last forever. But, no, the federal investigation into what he knew and when he knew it about Commonwealth Edison putting his cronies on the payroll eventually caught up with him.
Earlier this year, he couldn’t get reelected house speaker. So he decided to step down from the seat he’d held since 1972.
I felt kind of bad to see him struggle at the end. I know, he’s an old machine boss. But Madigan had the guts to stand up to former Governor Rauner’s assault against unions when other Democratic chieftains (like a certain Mayor Rahm) cowered under the table.
Boy, it was a rough ending. Madigan maneuvered to have local Democratic committeemen select Edward Guerra Kodatt to replace him as state rep.
Kodatt served for all of three days before stepping down due to unrevealed “alleged questionable conduct.”
Democratic committeemen then selected Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, a protégé of 23rd Ward alderwoman Silvana Tabares—who’s the answer to the following trivia question . . .
Who’s the only alderperson in the history of Chicago to be a student in a class taught by my old partner in crime, Mick “the professor” Dumke?
Yes, years ago, Mick taught a journalism class at Columbia College, and a very young Tabares was one of his scholars. I don’t know if that makes her a good alderwoman, but I’m sure she’s a heckuva speller.
As long as I’m losing you in a flurry of names, let’s go crazy and turn that flurry into a snowstorm . . .
Nothing symbolizes the end of the machine as the comings and goings of Democratic officeholders on the southwest side.
Almost all of the officials who owed their positions to Burke have been replaced by those who owe their seats to Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García, the machine defeater.
In 1998, García was a state senator when he was ousted by Tony Muñoz, part of the Hispanic Democratic Organization.
HDO was as machine as you can get. It was created by Mayor Richard M. Daley primarily to make sure that only puppets of Daley got elected from Hispanic wards.
Actually, HDO also sent goons to campaign on behalf of Rahm Emanuel when he ran for Congress on the north side. As you can see, you didn’t have to be Hispanic to get backed by HDO—just a Daley puppet.
Muñoz is still a state senator. But García has long since recovered from that loss.
In 2010, he was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. In 2015, he forced Mayor Rahm into a runoff. And in 2018, he was elected to Congress after Luis Gutiérrez stepped down.
And now almost all of the offices on the southwest side are filled by people who owe their starts to Congressman García. Get ready for the deep dive . . .
García’s old county board seat is filled by Alma Anaya, who defeated Angeles Sandoval, Martin Sandoval’s daughter, in the 2018 primary.
That same year, Aarón Ortíz, another García ally, defeated state representative Dan Burke, Ed Burke’s baby brother.
Last year Ortíz doubled down by beating Ed Burke himself in the race for 14th Ward Democratic committeeman.
So you might call him the Burke beater.
Meanwhile, Democratic committeemen selected Celina Villanueva to replace the aforementioned Tabares when she was named to replace Michael R. Zalewski (aka, the father) when he stepped down as alderman.
Coincidentally, Tabares got her start in politics in 2012 when she was elected to replace Michael J. Zalewski (aka, the son) when he was redistricted to another house seat.
So you might call her the Zalewski replacer.
Wait, I’m not done.
Last year committeemen selected Villanueva to replace Martin Sandoval—father of Angeles—after he stepped down as state senator, having got caught up in a bribery scandal.
After that Edgar Gonzalez Jr.—a Harvard grad—was named to fill Villanueva’s legislative vacancy.
Hold on. Let me catch my breath. That was exhausting.
By the way, Gonzalez wrote for the Harvard Crimson, his college newspaper. And, like Tabares, he clearly had enough sense not to go into journalism.
Last we saw of Alderman Burke he was criticizing Mayor Lightfoot for the very machine tactic of spending $281.5 million in federal COVID relief on police. If Burke keeps talking like a “reformer,” maybe García will let him stay on as alderman.
As you can see, the machine’s been trounced. But is it dead?
Well, that old transactional you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours mentality is clearly still very much alive in Chicago politics. My guess is it will flourish for years to come. v