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A fable: the Republican party of Cook County



Once upon a time, there was a Cook County Republican organization. It fought with local Democrats with vigor and tenacity and more than occasionally won city and county elections.

Then came Anton Cermak (1930s) and his galloping multi-ethnic Democratic organization. A master tactician (the best ever in Cook County's history), Cermak used classic machine-style politics to smash into the Republican ranks and sent them scattering to Chicago's periphery and suburban Cook County. With only a few notable peaks (Eisenhower carrying Chicago in 1956), Republican Cook

The moral of this fable?
It should not come as a shock
to them, given this history,
that they helped create a
GOP political vacuum
in the state's largest county

County fortunes have languished mainly in the "valley of the doldrums."

In 1990 this valley may deepen into a great gorge. Why? Let's look at the key "D's."

Demographics: Cook County Republicans have been reduced to political counter-punchers hoping that Democrat racial divisiveness in Chicago will give them an opening to win a few county wide offices. Democrats are making vast inroads in the once solid GOP suburban townships because of ethnic and racial change, as well as lazy and uncoordinated Republican party local resistance.

Daley: Mayor Richard M. Daley has sealed off any major ethnic Democratic leakage to the Republicans. His popularity among the city's lakefront residents (a traditional GOP financial base and sometimes a source for its candidates) has reached unprecedented heights. The Daley style of strong family values, managerial competency and fiscal integrity has left the Republicans little firepower to hit their favorite target — the mayor of Chicago. Certainly, the O'Hare expansion controversy and other specific issues will give Republicans some ammunition, and many Chicago residents will split their tickets for important national and state races, but the GOP's main problem with Daley is that most of its rank and file like him.

Dvorak: Jim Dvorak is Cook County Republican party chairman. A former Democrat, Dvorak is closely allied with the party's only elected county or city officeholder, Sheriff Jim O'Grady (another former Democrat). Some disgruntled Republican township committeemen claim that this is the problem: Dvorak is too close to O'Grady, and in 1990 he will concentrate limited resources to reelect his longtime buddy. However, Dvorak's critics

December 1989 | Illinois Issues | 32

miss two important points: (1) in pre-Dvorak days, the Cook County Republicans also lost almost every election, admittedly perhaps a bit more politely; (2) trying to recruit credible candidates to run countywide as Republicans is like trying sell return tickets on the post-iceberg Titanic. Dvorak is not the reason for Republican misfortune in Cook County; he is the result. A party that needs free agents from the opposition to guide it reveals the lack of efficiency and commitment of traditional party members.

Dough: Starting with Cermak and culminating under the leadership of former Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 1950s, Cook County Democrats have had a strong alliance with Chicago's business community. Businessmen look for stability and dependability in local government. Even die-hard conservative CEOs do not want to waste dollars on GOP local candidates who are "deadbang" losers. Moreover, many of these business leaders have developed strong mutual friendships with Chicago's mayors (especially the Daleys) and other Democratic leaders. Thus, Cook County Republican fundraising efforts resemble those of a downstate economically depressed county that is always looking for the personal organizations of prominent statewide GOP leaders to give it some "walking around money."

Under severe prodding from the 1990 statewide Republican candidates, Dvorak may yet put together a respectable Cook County Republican slate of candidates. However, the political problems will remain. For decades, Illinois Republicans have been the party of personality and not organization. They have pilloried Chicago and Cook County as the devil in order to win support downstate and in the collar counties. The moral of this fable? It should not come as a shock to them, given this history, that they helped create a GOP political vacuum in the state's largest county. Nor should they be surprised that many city Republican party officials, suffering from an incurable second-class mentality, have been reduced to political welfare clients — receiving patronage, recognition and respect only from the dominant Democrats. □

Paul M. Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University.

December 1989 | Illinois Issues | 33

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