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The party primaries: Rumblings of revolt among the bedrock?

Both major parties in Illinois are in trouble. The March 1990 Illinois primary elections reveal intraparty rivalries that are more intense and dramatic than usual. For the Republicans the differences are philosophical, for the Democrats, racial. Come the November general election, each party faces the possibility of internal revolt among its bedrock supporters, ranging from apathy (staying home on election day) to switchover (voting for selected opposition candidates). Unlike recent Illinois campaigns, statewide candidates may exert more effort to energize traditional party partisans than to win over independents and lukewarm supporters of their opponents.

Republican conservatives in Illinois are frustrated. Their last statewide champion was former U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen, who died in 1969. In the 1980s under the moderate GOP leadership of four-term Gov. James R. Thompson, Illinois conservatives have been forced to play "at least he's better than" politics. They supported him against totally objectionable Democratic alternatives, but under Thompson their philosophy, agenda and membership have stayed on the political back burner.

Both major parties in Illinois are in trouble .... Republican conservatives in Illinois are frustrated .... 'Melee polities' is what some Illinois Democrats are practicing ....

In the 1990 primary this Republican conservative dissatisfaction erupted over two issues, taxes and abortion. The result: Steven Baer, a little known spokesman for a right-wing organization called the United Republican Fund, received over one-third of the GOP primary vote against the state's most popular Republican, Secy. of State Jim Edgar. Edgar, clearly in the philosophical mold of Thompson, must now convince a large chunk of the GOP party faithful that "at least he's better than" the alternative, a Democrat.

To understand the impact of the 1990 primary on Illinois Democrats, the great naval historian A.T. Mahan provides an apt parallel. "Melee warfare" is the term he used when describing how 17th century warships broke a traditional unified line of attack and engaged the enemy individually without any command control or cohesion. "Melee politics" is what some Illinois Democrats are practicing; some Democrats in Chicago are already more concerned with 1991 mayoral elections than the November elections for statewide and Cook County offices. The preliminary mayoral maneuvering and the ongoing rift between black party-oriented Democrats and black movement community leaders threaten the party's base vote among blacks in Chicago, which is needed by statewide and Cook County Demcratic candidates to win in November.

African Americans are on the Democratic ticket in November running for the three most important elected legal positions in the state: Roland W. Burris for attorney general, Cecil Partee for Cook County state's attorney and Charles E. Freeman for Illinois Supreme Court justice. That fact has had almost no impact on the raging debate. Defeated Cook County board president candidate R. Euguene Pincham has accused his victorious opponent, Richard Phelan, of waging a racist campaign and has refused to endorse him. Other black leaders have filled the airwaves (especially African-American oriented radio stations) with charges that the local Democratic party is disrespectful of their community and that the party has not rewarded their loyalty. Though not up for the Democratic nomination until February 1991, the chief target of this rhetoric is Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. New state party chairman Gary LaPaille will have his hands full dealing with militant and outspoken movement blacks who come from the streets and not the party and have almost no political experience and little interest in forging

Table 1
1990 Illinois primaries voter turnout, by region*

Democratic Primary

Republican Primary

577,343 (51%)

City of Chicago

30,332 (4%)

214,446 (19%)

Suburban Cook County

152,908 (19%)

791,789 (70%)

Cook County Total

183,240 (23 %)

48,969 (4%)

Collar Counties

217,404 (27%)

283,214 (25%)

Other 96 Counties

404,737 (50%)

1,123,972 (100%)

Statewide Total

805,381 (100%)

*Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding.

July 1990/Illinois Issues/17

traditional compromises.

The statewide March primaries show that the geopolitical makeup of each party remains somewhat stable, with each party's traditional regional stronghold continuing to dominate its candidate selection process (see table 1). When compared to the 1986 primary totals, however, there is some movement in each party's voter turnout by region. Only one-third of the state's six million registered voters participated in the 1990 primaries (57 percent of those voting called for a Democratic ballot).

For Democrats, Chicagoans continue to make up over 50 percent of their primary turnout. Suburban Cook County's percentage of statewide Democratic turnout, however, jumped dramatically from 1986 (up 7 percent), which reduced percentages of the statewide vote in both Chicago (from 54 percent to 51 percent) and downstate (from 30 percent to 25 percent). The candidacy of suburban-based Phelan (a resident of New Trier Township) obviously boosted Demcratic suburban turnout, but ongoing demographic shifts (blacks moving to the suburbs from the city) and greater efforts by Democrats to organize suggest that suburban Democrats will continue to grow as a force in Cook County and statewide Democratic politics.

In the Cook County suburbs, Thornton and Proviso townships (with their significant black populations) were top vote producers. The big news for Democrats was the coming of age of Worth (16,452) and Niles (15,173) townships which now can produce, for certain candidates, primary majorities equal to those in any city ward.

Chicago is still the Democratic powerhouse. Of Chicago's registered voters, 43 percent voted in the March primaries, with 95 percent asking for a Democratic ballot. House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's 13th Ward led the turnout parade (22,304). The other wards in the top 10 include five ethnic wards (northwest and southwest side wards 19, 23, 41, 45, 36), three southside black middle-class wards (6, 8, 21) and the racially mixed southwest side 18th Ward.

The big news for Democrats was the coming of age of Worth and Niles townships which now can produce . . . primary majorities equal to those in any city ward

Outside of Cook County, Democrats have their perennial downstate twin powerhouses. St. Clair and Madison counties. which together generated 16 percent of the party's downstate vote (45,528). That was slightly less than the combined Democratic vote from all five collar counties: DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHcnry and Will.

Republican turnout was heaviest downstate, but collar county and Cook County suburban Republican strength was greater in 1990 than in 1986. Those increases pushed down the down-state percentage of the statewide GOP vote by 7 points. (In part, the downstate decrease was due to the 1986 surge to support downstater Judy Koehler in the hotly contested U.S. Senate primary battle with Chicagoan George Ranney.)

The GOP continued to get only a trickle of votes in Chicago. Of note in Chicago is the southeast side 10th Ward, home of former Democrats Sam Panayotovich and Ed Vrdolyak, which harvested 3,272 votes, or 11 percent of the total citywide GOP vote.

In the traditional Republican stronghold of Cook County suburbs, the northwestern townships led the way as usual in turnout. Spurred by heated contests for state representative and township committeeman, Maine Township (16,107) was the clear frontrunner. Its votes combined with neighboring Schaumburg and Wheeling townships produced nearly one-fourth of the total GOP suburban turnout.

The story in the collars was again DuPage County. This massive GOP vote-yielding county contributed 101,845 votes, 47 percent of the GOP collar county total and 13 percent of the GOP statewide turnout.

Downstate, Sangamon County (30,447) has become an old-fashioned Chicago-style river ward of Illinois Republican primary politics. It had the fourth highest GOP statewide turnout (behind Cook, DuPage and Lake), producing a prodigious victory margin for Edgar (12,003) and demonstrating clearly that longtime GOP control of the Executive Mansion and the secretary of state's office generates big numbers among state

Table 2
1990 Republican primary for governor, by region

Total vote cast: 767,695

Jim Edgar

Steve Baer

Robert Marshall

City of Chicago

18,516 (67%)

7,934 (29%)

1,211 (4%)

Wards Won




Winning Margin


Suburban Cook County

99,436 (69%)

41,195 (28%)

4,382 (3%)

Townships Won




Winning Margin


Total Cook County

117,952 (68%)

49,129 (28%)

5,593 (3%)

Winning Margin


Collar Counties

127,535 (61%)

73,714 (35%)

6,892 (4%)

Counties Won




Winning Margin


Other 96 Counties

236,954 (61%)

134,046 (35%)

15,880 (4%)

Counties Won




Winning Margin


Slate wide Total

482,441 (63%)

256,889 (33%)

28,365 (4%)

Counties Won




Winning Margin


18/July 1990/Illinois Issues

employees for endorsed party candidates.

On the surface the GOP gubernatorial contest in March looked like a political "laugher": Jim Edgar v. two no-names Steven Baer and Robert Marshall. Edgar, a popular and personable secretary of state since 1981, is a former state representative from Charleston. He has longstanding alliances with GOP leaders throughout the state and is a champion fundraiser with access to campaign dollars beyond the dreams of his primary foes. Edgar had it all going for him entering this primary. However, Edgar had geared his campaign not to his little-known primary opponents but to his November Democratic foe, Illinois Atty. Gen. Neil F. Hartigan, whose nomination was uncontested. At the time the strategy seemed logical and historically correct.

Edgar's game plan was simple: If it worked for Thompson, he would make it work for him. What had worked for Gov. Thompson was to campaign as a moderate Republican but to govern as a conservative Democrat. As long as Republican conservatives accepted this style of politics and governance, Thompson was free to court big labor, push tax increases for worthwhile services and pursue voters often aligned with the opposition party.

Edgar's positions on abortion and taxes would play well in November. He was pro-choice on abortion and in favor of maintaining the temporary income tax increase passed in June 1989. As Thompson had done previously to his opponents, Edgar's strategy on both issues was to force Hartigan to be on the defensive. It would also make the Democratic candidate spend a good deal of campaign time trying to win back or keep Democratic voters in his camp.

The strategy was spoiled by Baer, a 30-year-old conservative political organizer with no elective office experience. He said no to Edgar's game plan. After searching unsuccessfully (if not diligently) for a primary challenger to Edgar, Baer assumed the role himself. Baer promised to lower taxes and outlaw abortion. He put out a videocassette challenging Illinois Republicans to compare Edgar's position on key issues with the party's national platform and, in a very subtle manner, searched out the Christian fundamentalist anti-abortion voters in the collar counties and downstate Illinois.

It was the latter tactic that Baer hoped would bring him an upset victory or at least political respectability. His clever campaign brochure featured a warm letter of endorsement from his attractive wife who among other things called her husband "a loving father to our children . . . [who possesses] a wonderful Christian sense of duty to his fellow man." Baer believed this blatant appeal to the so-called "Pat Robertson voters" and tangentially to a growing number of conservative Catholics inside the GOP could give him 300,000 votes and a chance to win a low-turnout Republican primary. The primary vote totals proved that Edgar was too popular and strong among statewide Republicans for Baer's underfinanced and often abrasive campaign style to overcome. In key regions of the state, however, Baer showed surprising strength against the highly organized and efficient Edgar campaign effort (see table 2). The big question is: Where will Baer's vote go in November?

Edgar swept all 50 wards in Chicago and all 30 Cook County suburban townships. In the city only the 26th Ward gave him less than 50 percent, and the 10th Ward gave him his highest ward vote percentage (87 percent) and 14 percent of his total citywide primary vote. In the suburbs, Edgar won overall by more than a 2-to-l margin.

Baer showed his most significant strength in the collar counties and downstate. Although he lost all five collar counties, Baer received over 40 percent of the vote in Kane and McHenry counties. Downstate he carried four counties Effingham, Iroquois, Jasper and Tazewell and received more than 40 percent of the vote in 17 others. These 21 downstate counties were scattered generally throughout the state except in deep southern Illinois, where Edgar ran like a whirlwind. Edgar's best downstate county, however, was the state capital's Sangamon County.

For Democrats, the statewide primary contests were for the two little publicized offices of treasurer and comptroller, which in recent years have been the private preserve for Illinois Democrats. With Democratic incumbents seeking

Table 3
1990 Democratic primary for three executive offices, votes by region

State Treasurer Total vote: 879,252

State Comptroller Total vote: 842,113

Patrick Quinn

Peg Breslin

Dawn Clark Netsch

Shawn Collins

Woody Bowman

Bill Sarto

City Of Chicago

227,476 (53%)

205,094 (47%)

209,040 (49%)

113,532 (27%)

72,046 (17%)

27,930 (7%)

Wards Won







Winning Margin



Suburban Cook

89,635 (49.5%)

91,355 (50.5%)

91,489 (53%)

40,642 (24%)

24,553 (14%)

15,626 (9%)

Townships Won







Winning Margin



Total Cook County

317,111 (52%)

296,449 (48%)

300,529 (51%)

154,174 (26%)

96,599 (16%)

43,556 (7%)

Winning Margin



Collar Counties

20,474 (49%)

21,069 (51%)

17,803 (44%)

13,967 (35%)

3,877 (10%)

4,386 (11%)

Counties Won







Winning Margin



Other 96 Counties

111,857 (49.9%)

112,292 (50.1%)

83,596 (40%)

62,748 (30%)

34,827 (17%)

26,051 (13%)

Counties Won







Winning Margin



Statewide Total

449,442 (51%)

429,810 (49%)

401,928 (48%)

230,889 (27%)

135,303 (16%)

73,993 (9%)

Counties Won







Winning Margin



July 1990/IIIinois Issues/19

Cook County contests:
Democrats v. Democrats

Here is a snapshot of the big political players who emerged from the March Democratic primary in contests for top Cook County offices and two Illinois Supreme Court scats elected from Cook (1st Judicial District).

Cook County Board President. Richard Phelan, the "outsider," turned the four-way race into a two-way contest between himself and R. Eugene Pincham, the black candidate, by using negative TV commercials early against the two "insiders": party-endorsed Ted Lechowicz and Stan Kusper, county clerk for 16 years. Phelan, the first county Democrat to tap the potential Democratic suburban vote power, ran well in the city's ethnic wards and crushed his opponents along the lakefront.

Runner-up Pincham won the city, but the weaker-than-expected black turnout ended any hope of a county victory. Pincham's showing keeps him alive as a potential mayoral player for 1991.

State's Attorney. Incumbent Cecil Partee garnered more than 70 percent of the vote from the 19 predominantly black city wards. He received a plurality along the lakefront and in key southwest side ethnic wards. His main opponent, 40th Ward Ald. Pat O'Connor, never built a big enough Chicago base vote to add to his strong suburban numbers.

County Clerk. David Orr, 49th Ward alderman and acting mayor for a week following Harold Washington's death, combined a strong showing in the black community with his expected and impressive base vote along the lakefront to win almost 60 percent of the city vote. He was a slightly less effective vote-producer in the suburbs, but neither opponent had a chance in a three-way race.

Sheriff. Michael Sheahan, 19th Ward alderman, annihilated two [cont. on next page]

other offices (Treasurer Jerry Cosentino for secretary of state and Comptroller Roland W. Burris for attorney general), the primary was wide open, except for gender balance. With two women assured spots on the Republican ticket in November (Lynn Martin for U.S. Senate and Sue Suter for comptroller), the Democratic state central committee endorsed two prominent women state legislators for treasurer and comptroller. Peg Breslin, a state representative from downstate Ottawa and an assistant majority leader in the House, was the party's choice for treasurer. Dawn Clark Netsch, a respected state senator from Chicago, who had earlier announced for the attorney general's spot, was endorsed for comptroller. Opposing Breslin was longtime referendum advocate and part-time populist politician Patrick Quinn of Chicago. Facing Netsch were Evanston state Rep. Woody Bowman, Joliet lawyer Shawn Collins and Kane County Democratic Chairman Bill Sarto. Though these two offices have their roles in running state government, neither lends itself to great debate. Yet the 1990 Democratic candidates for both posts traversed the state suggesting all types of programs, many of which had almost nothing to do with the offices. Breslin tried to out-populist Quinn by denouncing "corporate greed," stating that as state treasurer she would combat any Illinois company's attempt to use its employee pension funds to finance corporate takeovers. Quinn responded by proposing a recall amendment to remove elected statewide officers. The same strategy prevailed in the comptroller's race. Rhetoric aside, these two Democratic nomination battles tested state and Cook County organizational strength where race was not a critical issue. The numbers tell a dazzling story (see table 3). The Breslin-Quinn race was a squeaker. What the vote totals do not reveal is that Quinn, the longstanding anti-party politician, won because three stalwart Democratic ward committeemen in Chicago (U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski in the 23rd, Ald. Bill Banks in the 36th and Ald. Ed Burke in the 14th) went against their slate and delivered "big time" for Quinn. These three ethnic wards gave Quinn his best margins in the city. If they had gone the other way, Quinn would have lost.

Still, Breslin had a good shot at winning the primary. (Such diverse Chicago ward leaders as Speaker Madigan in the 13th, John Daley in the 11th and Eugene Sawyer in the 6th did deliver for Breslin.) With her home downstate turf yet to be counted, Breslin was down by only 20,000 votes. She was unable to put big vote numbers on the board, however, except for her home base of LaSalle County and a few other central Illinois counties. Quinn, with a political lifetime of publicity, voter frustration over taxes and excellent name recognition, had enough

Table 4
1990 Cook County Democratic primary, for five county offices and two Illinois Supreme Court seats (elected by Cook County)

President of the County Board

State's Attorney

County Clerk

Richard Phelan

R. Eugene Pincham

Ted Lechowicz

Stan Kusper

Cecil Partee

Patrick O'Connor

Raul Villalobos

Ray Smith

David Orr

Calvin Sutker

Joanne Afrer

City of Chicago

168,731 (33%)

204,104 (40%)

101,968 (20%)

37,752 (7%)

268,482 (55%)

157,374 (32%)

38,281 (8%)

24,587 (5%)

262,717 (59%)

103,725 (23%)

82,031 (18%)

Wards Won












Winning Margin




Suburban Cook County

108,952 (54%)

32,368 (16%)

36,601 (18%)

24,612 (12%)

70,756 (37%)

92,548 (48%)

16,663 (9%)

11,161 (6%)

91,055 (49.5%)

40,358 (22%)

52,529 (28.5%)

Townships Won












Winning Margin




County Total

277,683 (39%)

236,472 (33%)

138,569 (19%)

62,364 (9%)

339,238 (50%)

249,922 (37%)

54,914 (8%)

35,748 (5%)

353,772 (56%)

144,083 (23%)

134,560 (21%)

Winning Margin




20/July 1990/Illnois Issues

unknown opponents and appears poised to give incumbent GOP Sheriff Jim O'Grady a tussle in November. Sheahan's far southwest side city ward totals reached over 90 percent, while in neighboring suburban Worth Township, he won over 80 percent of the vote.

Treasurer. Incumbent Ed Rosewell, an amiable ethnic, proved that not all Chicago aldermen were unbeatable in the 1990 Democratic primary. He swamped 29th Ward Ald. Danny Davis in a one-on-one racially charged campaign. Davis was hurt by three factors: low black turnout, a thoroughly disorganized and underfinanced campaign and too little effort in the suburbs.

Illinois Supreme Court. (two of Cook County's three seats on the seven-member court are up for election). The outcome is potentially a black-and-white lining in a cloud of racial politics. Charles E. Freeman, a noted black judge and personal friend to former Mayor Harold Washington, won a relatively easy victory. Keys to his triumph were his expected support from black Chicago and his unexpected strength in certain strong ethnic wards. Freeman, the organization's endorsed candidate, received his fourth biggest city-wide margin from Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan's 13th Ward and captured plurality victories in other white wards across the city.

In the other Supreme Court contest, former Mayor Michael A. Bilandic benefitted from a split black vote to win the three-way contest.

If Cook County Democratic "melee politics" rages into November, look for two possible GOP victories: GOP county board president candidate, state Sen. Aldo DeAngelis, over Phelan and incumbent Sheriff O'Grady over Shehan.

Paul M. Green

ammunition to hold back any downstate surge for Breslin. He carried almost twice as many of downstate's 96 counties as Breslin and lost downstate by a mere 435 votes.

In the four-way primary race for comptroller, Netsch's victory was convincing and easy. In Chicago both ethnic and lake-front wards gave her over 70 percent of their vote. In the Cook County suburbs she walloped her foes, especially in the northern townships (Bowman's home area of Evanston was the only exception and Netsch's only township loss.). In the collars only Collins' strong support in his home, Will County, kept Netsch from a massive victory. Downstate she ran respectably everywhere but did extremely well in counties with major state universities. She will be tough, if not impossible, to beat in November.

None of the other nominations were contested in the party primaries, and the campaign is on for November. That line-up pits Netsch against Republican Suter for comptroller; Suter was formerly public aid director for Thompson. For treasurer, Quinn faces Republican Greg Baise; Baise was a campaign director and secretary of transportation for Thompson.

At the top of the ticket is the U.S. Senate seat: Martin, GOP congresswoman from the Rockford area, v. incumbent Paul Simon, Democrat from Makanda. For governor, of course, it is Republican Edgar v. Democrat Hartigan. For secretary of state, it is Republican George H. Ryan, the incumbent lieutenant governor, v. Democrat Cosentino, the incumbent treasurer. For attorney general, it's Republican Jim Ryan, state's attorney for DuPage County, v. Democrat Burris, the incumbent comptroller.

Republicans need to find a method or a gimmick to relabel the Democrats the "tax and spend party." It would rally their dispirited conservative wing back into the battle and paint over the fact that their gubernatorial candidate and their current governor advocate the continuation of the temporary state income tax hike.

Democrats need unity, not "melee politics" in Cook County. A unified and energized Cook County Democratic party can generate enough vote power to give statewide and Cook County Democratic candidates victories in November. New Democratic state chairman LaPaille and new Cook County party chairman Tom Lyons will be hard-pressed to find a satisfactory unity formula when some Chicago Democrats are only looking forward to the 1991 mayoral and aldermanic races.

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


County Treasurer

Supreme Court (Simon vacancy)

Supreme Court (Ward vacancy)

Michael Sheahan

Philip Morris

John Flood

Edward Rosewell

Danny Davis

Charles Freeman

Mary Ann McMorrow

Dom Rizzi

James Bailey

Michael Bilandic

William Cousins

Blanche Manning

280,407 (69%)

82,596 (20%)

44,425 (11%)

242,573 (53%)

218,297 (47%)

171,606 (41%)

98,578 (24%)

70,362 (17%)

73,738 (18%)

207,340 (48%)

141,989 (33%)

82,129 (19%)

















122,227 (72%)

23,641 (14%)

23,025 (14%)

130,904 (72%)

51,972 (28%)

36,108 (21%)

54,826 (32.5%)

49,132 (29%)

28,392 (17%)

94,015 (53%)

36,438 (21%)

45,628 (26%)

















402,634 (70%)

106,237 (18%)

67,450 (12%)

373,477 (58%)

270,269 (42%)

207,714 (36%)

153,404 (26%)

119,494 (20.5%)

102,130 (17.5%)

301,355 (50%)

178,427 (29%)

127,757 (21%)





July 1990/Illinois Issues/21

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