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City council turnover

Manuel Galvan


Five years ago, Chicago politics were entertainment at their best and an embarassment at their worst. Harold Washington was mayor. Ald. Edward Vrdolyak (10th) thought he was. And they engulfed the city in a political battle for clout that became known as the Council Wars. Today, politics are decidedly tamer. The council has changed dramatically in half a decade, even beyond the exits of Washington and Vrdolyak and the entrance of Richard M. Daley as mayor.

Of the 50 aldermen at the start of 1986, only 22 remain. Most were lost to retirement, death, higher office or prison sentences. Consider that incumbent U.S. congressmen and state legislators generally win reelection, and that both the Congress and the General Assembly experience little membership turnover. In contrast, Chicago's city council stands out as a competitive place, albeit mainly among Democrats. Eighteen of the 50 wards had run-off elections on April 2, and four of those 22 survivors of early 1986 were fighting for their political lives in runoffs.

In the south side 4th Ward, Ald. Timothy Evans, Washington's floor leader, faced Toni Preckwinkle, director of the not-for-profit Chicago Jobs Council.

In the 24th, Ald. William Henry, who was indicted five months ago on charges of racketeering, mail fraud, income tax evasion and extortion, faced Democratic Ward Committeeman Jesse Miller, who wanted to prove that the feds, not the west side, wanted "Wild Bill."

In the northwest side 38th Ward, a Cullerton has been alderman almost continuously since before the Chicago Fire. Ald. Thomas Cullerton used that legacy against general contractor Martin Serwinski, a flag-waving protege of state Sen. Walter Dudycz (R-7, Chicago).

In the nearby 41st Ward, Ald. Roman Pucinski has seen his daughter, Aurelia, become clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court. He has also seen mounting opposition from a largely Republican ward that pushed him into a runoff with Brian Doherty, a legislative assistant to state Rep. Roger McAuliffe (R-14, Chicago),

Eight other incumbents, who weren't in office at the start of 1986, were also in tough runoffs:

In the far south side 9th Ward, Ald. Robert Shaw couldn't get the 50 percent plus one vote margin in the February 26 aldermanic election, so he faced Chicago police officer Johnny O'Neal.

In the south side 20th Ward, after the death of Ald. Ernest Jones last year Arenda Troutman was appointed alderman but was tossed into a runoff with Harold Washington Party organizer Dino McNeal,

In the 25th Ward, if Ald. Juan Soliz ever won by more than a handful of votes, it would be tantamount to a landslide. In this runoff, he again wrestled Ambrosio Medrano, a former chairman of the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs,

In the 27th Ward, Ald. Sheneather Butler battled West Side Democratic Committeeman Rickey Hendon.

In the far west side 29th Ward, Ald. Sam Burrell, appointed to serve out the term of Cook County Commissioner Danny Davis, ran up against former Chicago Park District commissioner Iola McGowan.

In the 37th Ward, Ald. Percy Giles was pitted against former Streets and Sanitation superintendant John Baggett.

Even during the Washington days, 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller was considered radical. She softened her image but couldn't avoid a runoff in the lakefront ward against Michael Quigley, a former administrative Ald. to 44th Ward Ald. Bernard Hansen.

In the 49th Ward, the runoff battle was a classic City Hall versus lakefront liberals contest. Ald. Robert Clarke was

30/April 1991/Illinois Issues

appointed by Mayor Daley last year to fill the vacancy created when David Orr became Cook County clerk, but Orr backed attorney Joe Moore for alderman.

In the other six runoffs, there were those with and without city wide reputations:

Those familiar with the far south side 10th Ward know about the longtime feud between the Balanoffs and the Vrdolyaks. The latest twist had state Rep. Clem Balanoff (D-35, Chicago) seeking to replace Ald. Victor Vrdolyak, who had replaced his brother, Ed. But the Vrdolyaks backed John Buchanan, who was an Ald. to Victor and an alderman of the ward until Ed replaced him in 1971.

In the southwest side 15th Ward, incumbent Ald. Marlene Carter lost in February, and the runoff was between Clarence White, a Cook County sheriff's police officer, and Virgil Jones, a Chicago police evidence technician.

When Ald. Anna Langford retired in the 16th Ward, the two remaining contenders were former state Sen. James Taylor and Shirley Coleman, a manager for the city's Department of Human Services.

Another retirement, Ald. Robert Kellam in the 18th Ward, left the runoff battle to Joseph Lyman, an assistant superintendant in Streets and Sanitation, and attorney Thomas Murphy.

Ever since the northwest side 31st Ward became a regular Hispanic seat, it has bounced between City Hall insiders and outsiders. On April 2, it was "insider" Regner "Ray" Suarez, an assistant Streets and Sanitation commissioner, versus "outsider" Gloria Chevere, a former executive with the Chicago Transit Authority.

In the northwest side 35th Ward, retiring Ald. Joseph Kotlarz backed Michael Wojcik, a former assistant director in the city's General Services Department, against police officer Chester Hornowski.

Despite the turnover and the newfound competition for aldermanic elections in Chicago, at least two things can be expected from the new city council. Daley will continue to run the city while avoiding boisterous politics, and redistricting the 50 wards will dictate that musical chairs again be played with several council seats, as early as next year.

Manuel Galvan is a member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board and covered City Hall for the newspaper during the administration of Mayor Harold Washington.

April 1991/Illinois Issues/31

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