As the temperature rose and the March 19 primary approached, election posters bloomed like spring flowers in the fighting 47th Ward. In the front yards and on the porches along the quiet side streets of Ravenswood and Lincoln Square, Kaszaks and Emanuels, Madigans and Schmidts, Claypools and Lechowiczes jostled for precious sunlight. Amid this fierce competition one sign faced no opponent, one dominated the landscape like a sunflower--the large white sign for Fifth District congressman and Democratic candidate for governor Rod Blagojevich. And on nearly every sign was a dark blue sticker in the lower right corner that read "Endorsed by Alderman Gene Schulter."
But someone took offense at these stickers. By a week before the primary dozens of the Blagojevich signs throughout the 47th ward had been vandalized. The MO was always the same--a quick but heavy application of white spray paint. Sometimes the paint covered the entire sticker, sometimes just the alderman's name. Either way, the intention was clear.
The 47th Ward is the site of one of the north side's most bitter political rivalries, between Schulter and ward committeeman Ed Kelly. Kelly got his political start in Richard J.'s machine and has been the committeeman since 1968. He's served in the marines, taught boxing, run the Chicago Park District, and for more than three decades been one of the most influential power brokers on the north side. For the last two decades he's chaired the Cook County Democratic Party's nominating committee.
Schulter came up under Kelly and in 1975, with Kelly's support, wrested the aldermanic seat from the late John Hoellen, at the time the city's only Republican alderman. But eventually Schulter moved his aldermanic office six blocks south on Lincoln Avenue, away from Kelly. And two years ago Schulter, with the backing of Mayor Daley, ran against Kelly for ward committeeman. It was a natural move for the ambitious Schulter, since the most powerful aldermen are often also their wards' committeemen. Kelly hung on to his post by a narrow margin, but the fierce battle--one Schulter sign was strategically painted over to spell "SHIT"--didn't end in peace.
"If you stand still long enough in this ward he'll put a sticker on your back," said Kelly of Schulter. "This guy loves to see his name up. [Alderman Dick] Mell asked me if I wanted to put my name on the Blagojevich signs that our people were putting up. I told Mell I don't want my name on any signs. My ego time is gone. I don't need my name on my signs."
"The political shenanigans of the 1960s have been revisited on the 47th Ward again," said Schulter of the vandalism. He said his people were given permission to put stickers on the signs, and that he was disappointed by the "childish pranks" that defaced them. He declined to name any names, but he has his suspicions. "All I know is that when I ran two years ago, someone--around the same time in the election--painted over my large outdoor advertising. We all can speculate who those individuals might be."
A Schulter person assumed they were Kelly's people. "We don't have any proof or anything. We just suspect it's him because there's bad blood. Who else would do it? Nobody else would take the time."
Kelly laughed. "I'm going to tell you the truth because I'm too old to lie," he said. "Our guys are absolutely not doing that. We've already got too much. We're working on Kaszak, we're working on Lechowicz, we're working on Madigan. We don't have any time to do that crap. That's a joke." Kelly said that he'd heard people in the ward were "hot" about the Schulter stickers, and said Schulter had made a lot of enemies in the community since running against him. He said the spray paint might have been the work of angry residents voicing their displeasure.
They're around. Last year a spate of antigentrification, anti-Schulter graffiti appeared on houses, businesses, and signs across the 47th Ward. The police eventually arrested an area teenager but the graffiti continued, and an anonymous group of anti-Schulter residents (who have not been linked to the van