The boundaries of the 49th Ward roughly stretch from the city’s northern border to Peterson Avenue, but the second runoff for alderman of the ward in April might as well encompass the whole city. That’s because more is at stake than who gets to serve as Rogers Park’s next alderman. It’s a battle of ideology and political allegiance, as well as a proxy fight between Mayor Richard Daley and Cook County Clerk David Orr, the former 49th Ward alderman and at the moment apparently the only potential mayoral challenger Daley and his handlers fear.

Of course, the two candidates–incumbent alderman Robert Clarke and challenger Joseph Moore–don’t see things exactly that way. Clarke adorns his literature with pictures of Daley, and Moore lets everyone know he’s backed by Orr, but both candidates would like to believe that they are the main focus of the race. (In the February 26 election, neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote; in the five-person race, Moore won about 47 percent and Clarke 39 percent.) “David Orr’s not on the ballot and neither is Rich Daley,” says Clarke. Adds Moore: “This is not a referendum on Mayor Daley or David Orr.”

Of course, the candidates have to say things like that; other observers can be more direct. “This election is about change,” says Mike Veske, a precinct coordinator for Daley and Clarke. “I think it’s time the 49th got more in tune with the rest of the city.”

Until 1979, the 49th Ward was the northern outpost of Richard J. Daley’s Democratic organization. The committeeman was Neil Hartigan and the alderman Paul Wigoda, who resigned after he was convicted of income tax evasion in 1974. He was replaced by another machine stalwart, former state senator Esther Saperstein. By the end of the 70s, enough blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and liberal whites had moved into precincts north of Devon to give independents a strong base; the south precincts remained a bastion for the regular Democrats. In 1979 Orr was elected.

Orr successfully defended his seat by large margins in two subsequent elections, all the time enhancing his reputation as a good-government liberal. But his popularity has always had short coattails. His chief rival in the ward, state representative and Democratic committeeman Lee Preston, has defeated Orr-backed challengers in several elections.

Orr’s independence won him little support among Democratic Party regulars, and Daley has never attempted to shield his contempt for Orr. In 1990 he had his council minions bottle up legislation that would have provided more money for fighting lead poisoning, allegedly because Orr had sponsored it. And when Orr was elected county clerk, Daley refused to slate Orr’s choice, Moore, to fill the 49th Ward’s aldermanic vacancy. An alderman who leaves office for reasons other than death or criminal conviction usually gets to select his successor, but not this time; Daley chose Clarke, who was Preston’s choice. (Preston and Clarke operate separate law businesses out of the same office.)

Most of the details of this particular Daley-Orr grudge match are murky, but this much is known: Orr and Daley met privately for about 45 minutes to discuss the vacancy soon after the November election. Daley contends that Orr never directly asked him to choose Moore.

That explanation of events, Orr counters, distorts the truth. “What Daley and I said at that meeting is our business; I won’t go into that,” says Orr. “I will say that I had been talking with Daley advisers for two months about the aldermanic vacancy. The major reason for meeting with Daley was for me to tell Daley why I thought Joe Moore was the best candidate. Did Mayor Daley know undeniably who my choice was? Yes. If he says otherwise, it’s ridiculous.”

Whatever was said, the flap pigeonholed the candidates into categories they don’t neatly fit. For one thing, Moore is not a bitter foe of Daley. On the contrary, he works for Daley, as a lawyer in the appeals division of the city’s corporation council office. True, he was hired under the Washington administration, but Daley never fired him even though his allegiance to Orr was well known. (He had no other cause to fire him; by all accounts, Moore has done a fine job.) “I must say that no one in City Hall has pressured me in any way,” says Moore. “They have been very good about that.”

As for Clarke, he never even met Daley until late last year. A criminal defense lawyer with a rumpled, almost professorial style, Clarke talks about the nobility of politics and running for office. “I think it’s the highest calling.”

Moore, 32, graduated from Evanston Township High School, Knox College, and DePaul University law school, and in 1988 he was elected chairman of Network 49, a political organization of Orr supporters that grew out of Harold Washington’s 1983 campaign.

“I’m an independent, though the word means a lot more to me than just standing up to a strong mayor,” says Moore. “It also means good government and a commitment to human needs, like housing and caring for the homeless. I’m interested in neighborhood-based issues, whether it’s crime, making streets one-way, or fixing the local schools. In a real way, you can affect people’s lives as alderman. Trim a tree and suddenly it’s not dark and shadowy on the block and someone is grateful because they’re not so scared to walk home at night. It’s those simple things that have the most meaning.”

Clarke, 47, who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, moved to Chicago in 1968 to attend Loyola University, and for three years ending late last year he served as president of the Rogers Park Community Council.

“I’m very concerned about the state of politics in this country,” says Clarke. “We are so apathetic, and that can lead to authoritarian rule. Throughout the country we see an apathy that borders on hostility toward politicians. Taxes can be raised by Ronald Reagan, who then runs on a ‘we-won’t-raise-your-taxes’ platform. And Reagan gets away with it. That indicates an utter lack of interest by the voters in larger affairs, and it’s scary.”

Having said that, Clarke is not afraid to advance his cause by engaging in a little old-fashioned political distortion. “Crime is the issue” reads a flier distributed by Clarke’s campaign. And wherever he goes, Clarke recites local crime statistics. “Public safety is a legitimate issue in this campaign,” says Clarke. “It’s what’s on people’s minds.”

Maybe so, but Clarke’s fliers and rhetoric show no attempt to initiate a reasoned debate on the matter. Instead, it seems he’s trying to imply that Orr and Moore are somehow at fault for an upswing in murder, rape, and robbery.

The notion that liberals are soft on crime is an issue Republicans have successfully exploited in every presidential election since 1968. Still, it seems a little strange coming from Clarke’s direction–he is, after all, a criminal defense lawyer. And it overlooks the fact that Moore has organized at least one anticrime block watch in the ward. “There’s no question that crime is on everyone’s mind,” says Moore. “But it’s very irresponsible to fan these flames and these fears.”

Clarke is also running on this slogan: “Bob Clarke believes the 49th Ward needs an alderman who’ll put the 49th Ward first.” His accusation is that Orr spent (and Moore would spend) too much time advancing such citywide issues as ethics legislation and tenants’ rights. It’s as though he thinks voters believe they would be better served by an alderman who pays most of his attention to potholes and leaves meatier matters to the mayor.

Moore and Orr, meanwhile, have seriously distorted Clarke’s machine affiliations. “If you look at Clarke’s income disclosures you’ll see he has almost no local support,” says Moore. “And most of the guys working for him come from outside the ward.”

It’s true: Daley has contributed workers and money (about $25,000) to Clarke. But most of Clarke’s chief organizers, including Veske, are longtime ward residents. And many of Moore’s campaign contributions have come from outsiders like Christie Hefner, developer Judd Malkin, and lawyers Judson Miner and Lowell Sachnoff. In other words, the issue of local support cuts both ways.

“Joe Moore comes out of Network 49; there isn’t a more tightly knit, disciplined political organization in the city than Network 49,” says Clarke. “But they have the nerve to call me a hack because I have the support of Daley–which Joe Moore also sought. I tell you, there’s an aura of self-righteousness about some liberals that drives me nuts.”

Clarke and his supporters also feel that Daley’s endorsement does not make Clarke less independent than Moore. “When Orr supports Washington and gets political jobs for doing so the so-called independents can call it reform,” says Veske. “But when Daley hires someone they call it patronage. The way they see it, Orr’s guys don’t have city jobs, they do public service. Give me a break. Yeah, I work for the city. I’m a sheet-metal worker in the Department of Aviation. But what the hell do you think Joe Moore does for a living? He’s on the city payroll, and Orr and Washington put him there.

“There was a time in my life when I wanted to fight everything. I was out in the park for the ’68 convention. But you keep that up and you’ll never get anything done. The system has changed. We have a mayor who marches in the gay parade. There’s enough room for everyone. It’s not 1968 anymore.”

Clarke says he will not be Daley’s puppet. The question is whether voters believe him, or even care. Moore, for his part, says, “I’m not running against Mayor Daley; I know he’s very popular in this ward. But we shouldn’t send to office an alderman who owes his election to the mayor. If that happens, there won’t be anyone willing to challenge the mayor in any way. I don’t think that’s the kind of City Council the people of the 49th Ward want.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.