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After Todd Stroger won the Cook County Board presidency last month, his mentor and spokesman, alderman-turned-county commissioner William Beavers, said it was evidence that Democratic Party regulars could still get people to the polls and elect anyone they chose. “This was the machine rolling,” he said.
No one disagreed. Before the week was out, congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez had announced the end of their exploratory campaigns for mayor. While both cited the Democratic takeover in Congress as the reason they couldn’t leave their current jobs, observers widely assumed they had noted Stroger’s 69 percent victory in Chicago and decided they couldn’t come close to beating Daley come February.
It may be true that neither of them could beat Daley, but a close look at election numbers suggests that the machine didn’t roll with all of the fury Beavers and others claimed it had. Only part of the machine rolled for Stroger—the part in the city’s black wards. Elsewhere, Democratic Party leaders either coasted or lost their wards outright to Republican Tony Peraica. More to the point for mayoral election watchers, many of the places Stroger romped in November offered Daley only lackluster support in his last election four years ago. Maybe the party workers push their own kind harder than others, maybe it’s how the voters size candidates up, or maybe it’s both, but race and ethnicity still affect how people vote in Chicago.
Consider: In 2003, Daley won every single ward and 78 percent of the total against three weak black challengers. In the eight wards where he did worst, he polled between 58 and 61 percent--nice numbers in most elections, but arguably not impressive for a sitting mayor given the lack of competition.
Last month, those same eight wards--the south side's 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 21st, and 34th and the west side’s 24th--accounted for eight of Stroger’s ten biggest margins of victory, ranging from 92 to 96 percent. The 7th is Beavers's ward and the 8th is Stroger's home base.
Looking at it the other way, Stroger lost 12 wards, mostly on the north or northwest sides. None of these wards delivered less than 83 percent of the vote to Daley in 2003.
Not even the traditional machine strongholds of the 11th and 19th wards produced equal results for the two candidates. The 11th ward, Daley’s old home, was his best in 2003, at nearly 96 percent, but it gave Stroger just 58 percent in November. Daley took about 84 percent of the votes in the 19th ward four years ago, but voters there didn’t even give Stroger a majority.
So here’s the point: Depending on the turnout, Daley may lose a handful of wards on the south side to the combo of Dorothy Brown and Dock Walls, stronger competition than he faced in 2003. If so, whoever wins the aldermanic races in these areas may feel emboldened--or at least pressured by discontented constituents--to speak out against him over the next four years.
If anyone’s going to beat Daley, ever, he or she will need to get another machine rolling--really rolling--from these independent-minded wards on out to the black west side and into Latino areas to the southwest and northwest. He or she will also have to reduce Daley's margins on the north lakefront. The odds of this happening seem better for 2011, or at some other point later in the millennium, than for 2007.