This year will be big for Chicago politics as races at nearly every level will be on the ballot. Scanning this year’s political spectrum reveals a number of contests that could result in hard-fought battles with game-changing outcomes.
Take Illinois’ 2ndCongressional District, which U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. has represented since 1995, for example. The son of the famous civil rights leader faces his first serious challenger in Debbie Halvorson, a former congresswoman and state representative.
Halvorson is a white candidate running in a district that has elected an African-American congressman for more than three decades. But ethics scandals are likely to dog Jackson. So is a new district map that includes a larger, rural white population. Halvorson also appears to be peeling away support from key figures in Chicago’s black faith-based community. Only time will tell if Halvorson--a one-term congressman who was ousted in 2010 by Republican challenger Adam Kinzinger--will pose a threat to Jackson’s re-election.
Paul Green, head of Roosevelt University’s school of politics, noted that the district's black vote, which was once Jackson’s “for the taking,” is now up for grabs because of all these factors. Under the new political map, the district now stretches south of Kankakee, but it is still largely made up of black voters on Chicago’s South Side.
Danny Davis is another veteran African-American congressman running in a tough race, though he’ll likely have more competition vying for the job of 29th Ward committeeman than maintaining his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Davis, who has represented Illinois' 7th Congressional District since 1996, is running against 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham for the committeeman job. Davis held the seat previously but lost it to Graham’s predecessor in Chicago City Council, Isaac “Ike” Carothers, when he was first elected to Congress.
Carothers was convicted of corruption charges in 2010. Graham, who was once part of Carothers' ward organization, was tapped by former Mayor Richard M. Daley to fill the disgraced council member's seat the same year.
Both Davis and Graham are powerful political players on the West Side, so the race will no doubt be a hard-fought one.
Another scrappy committeeman’s race taking shape is the 32nd Ward contest on the North Side, which pits 12th District Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey against 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack.
Fritchey supported Waguespeck’s first successful aldermanic run in 2007, but their relationship has since soured because of a political favor Waguespeck says he was unable to grant Fritchey.
Now the two pols are at odds and will face off for the 32nd Ward committeeman’s post in March.
At the county level, 22ndWard Alderman Ricardo Muñoz will challenge Dorothy Brown’s three-term reign as Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court. He told the Chicago News Cooperative in January that he is doing so to bring the office "into the 21st century."
Brown said, in that article, that she will seek a fourth term and added that she was “surprised” by Muñoz’s decision to challenge her.
“As proven progressives and reformers, we should be looking at how to increase our numbers throughout city, county and state government rather than running against each other,” she told the Chicago News Cooperative.
There are also a number of contentious races taking shape in the Illinois General Assembly.
Will Guzzardi, an ivy-league educated former journalist, is taking on Toni Berrios, the daughter of Democratic powerhouse Joe Berrios, for the 39th District state House seat, which includes part of Chicago's Northwest Side.
In an op-ed in the Huffington Post, Guzzardi said he’s running to clean up unethical behavior and cronyism in state politics that he alleges Berrios has been party to as a state representative.
According to polling numbers from Guzzardi’s camp, only 28 percent of likely primary voters believe Berrios deserves re-election.
Neither Berrios nor her staff has said much about Guzzardi, though.
On the Southwest Side, longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan has raised the ire of at least one local activist in the 22nd District.
Madigan has three challengers in the March Democratic primary, but candidate Michelle Piszczor claims they’ve been planted in the race by the Madigan camp to dilute the Hispanic vote.
Madigan’s staff disputed this and told WBEZ that Piszczor is not “registering a blip on the radar screen.”
Morfin ran unsuccessfully for alderman in 2007 and 2011 and was a major proponent of the city's still-pending Clean Power Ordinance, which calls for power plants on the South Side to cut emissions.
If elected, Morfin said he will involve state government in that fight.
And in the state Senate, 5thDistrict state Sen. Annazette Collins is trying to win her first full term, after being appointed to the post last year, following the retirement of Rickey Hendon.
Collins is up against activist Patricia Van-Pelt Watkins, who ran an unsuccessful mayoral bid last year.
This race is shaping up to be a slugfest, with Van-Pelt Watkins accusing Collins of lying about living outside the West Side district--a violation of state House and Senate rules--and illegally obtaining an federally backed mortgage on a South Side property Collins owned.
“She didn’t bother to be truthful with people on the West Side,” Van-Pelt Watkins said in an interview.
In January, the Chicago Board of Elections overruled a challenge to Collins’ West Side residency, though.
It did so despite the fact that between 2002 and 2009, while Collins was serving in the Illinois House, she reported in her taxes and when applying for a mortgage that she lived outside the 10thDistrict she was representing.
© Community Renewal Society 2012
Tags: Annazette Collins, Chicago, Commiteeman, Danny Davis, Debbie Halvorson, Deborah Graham, Illinois, Jesse Jackson Jr., John Fritchey, Michael Madigan, Michelle Piszczor, Patricia Watkins, Rickey Hendon, Scott Waguespeck, Toni Berrios, Will Guzzardi