In case you hadn't noticed, election season is upon us. If it seems to have arrived far earlier than usual, that's because it has—a couple years ago the state legislature rolled back the primaries from late March to February 2 to boost the presidential hopes of Barack Obama. Now he's in the White House and we're stuck with a compressed campaign season where money and clout are likely to have an even bigger influence than before. And around here, that's really saying something.
Amid the clutter of insipid TV ads and the increasingly common spectacle of Democratic regulars posing as reformers, some important and interesting races are under way. A few of them haven't even been decided yet.
Best Foes Forever
State rep John Fritchey and former 32nd Ward alderman Ted Matlak, who are running for Forrest Claypool's Cook County Board seat, are like an old married couple—they've been bickering for years, though it's really not clear what they're fighting over.
Both used their connections to rise up through the regular Democratic Party. Fritchey, nephew-in-law to former alderman and 36th Ward boss William Banks, got his first big break when alderman Richard Mell agreed to endorse him in his 1996 campaign for state rep. Banks then backed Mell's son-in-law, a guy named Rod Blagojevich, for Congress.
There was a legitimate alternative in that state rep race, a Logan Square activist named Kevin Lamm. After Fritchey unsuccessfully tried to bounce Lamm from the ballot by challenging the signatures on his nomination petitions, he relied on northwest-side payrollers loyal to Banks and Mell to help him get out the vote and win—all the while campaigning as an independent.
To his credit, Matlak has never even vaguely tried to pass himself off as a reformer. He clawed his way up through the 32nd Ward Democratic organization led by Dan Rostenkowski and Terry Gabinski, becoming alderman in 1998. During his nine years in City Council, Matlak voted loyally with Mayor Daley and signed off on just about every proposal from developers that hit his desk, all the while accepting thousands of dollars from them in campaign donations.
In 2004, when Gabinski announced he was stepping down as 32nd Ward committeeman, Matlak announced he was running. Then Fritchey said there was no way he was going to let Matlak have the job and announced he was running too. It took Mayor Daley himself—via Greg Goldner, one of his top political advisers—to broker a peace: Fritchey and Matlak both withdrew and Gabinski ran again.
Since then it's been rough going for Matlak. In 2007 he lost his aldermanic seat to Scott Waguespack, who was quietly backed by Fritchey. After that he made his love for development official and went to work in real estate. Fritchey, meanwhile, plotted a run for higher office as a reformer. Last year he lost a congressional bid to Mike Quigley.
Now the two rivals are at it again but finally going at it face to face. If Matlak loses—and we think he will—this should close the door on his political career once and for all. It should—but would anyone be surprised if he resurfaced again next year to challenge Waguespack?
Longtime Republican candidate Carl Segvich is undertaking yet another kamikaze mission against the 11th Ward Daley machine. "If you believe in David and Goliath, well, this is it," he says. "I've got the stones. I just need to get a better slingshot."
Segvich's conservative politics aren't for everyone—he's been known to rail against the moral turpitude of the Democratic Party for its embrace of gay rights, affirmative action, and gun control. But what's not to like about his eagerness to go after the Daleys?
In 2003 he ran for alderman, a job held by mayoral lackey James Balcer, and lost with just 15 percent of the vote. In 2006 he challenged county commissioner John Daley, the mayor's brother, picking up 18 percent of the vote. The next year he made another run at Balcer and lost with 21 percent of the vote. Along the way he also lost the 2004 race for GOP committeeman to George Preski, the ward's silent, inactive incumbent—a suspected Democratic plant.
In 2008 Segvich finally broke through with a 358-219 triumph over Preski, thus seizing control of the moribund 11th Ward Republican Party apparatus. By contrast, John Daley, running unopposed for Democratic committeeman that year, received 8,680 votes.
This year Segvich is running unopposed in the Republican primary for Cook County Board. If he manages to win the nomination (hey, you never know—the Daleys might run a write-in campaign for Minnie Minoso just to mess with him), Segvich will get to square off against John Daley yet again.
"It's all about justice," he told us on a phone call from a laundromat in Bridgeport, where he was introducing himself to voters. "It just makes me upset to see the blue-collar worker getting taxed to death."
If he actually manages to beat Daley, Segvich says, he'll "bring a hacksaw to the bureaucracy and get rid of the patronage jobs." But quite frankly, he's got about as much chance of beating Daley as the Massachusetts Republicans had of taking the Kennedys' old Senate seat.
Oh, wait . . .