Chicago Sun-Times

Political Brawl Brewing On Southwest Side

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January 2, 2010

BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist

The primary is only a month away. Bring your brass knuckles if you happen to live on the Southwest Side.

There's a brawl in the making.

In what otherwise seems like a passionless, dispirited electorate disinterested in the looming, frigid Feb. 2 primary, we could use a real fight.

And we're guaranteed to get it in that part of the city controlled for decades by clans named Madigan, Burke and Lipinski.

Consider two pitched battles.

One involves Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a 53-year-old former alderman and state senator. At issue is whether he can evict Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, 57, from the seat he has held since 1995 on the Cook County Board.

Moreno is a loyalist of the embattled president of the board, Todd Stroger.

The other involves 33-year-old Rudy Lozano Jr., whose community activist father, a supporter of Mayor Harold Washington, was murdered in 1983 just weeks after narrowly losing a race for 22nd Ward alderman.

In question is whether Lozano Jr. can end the 19-year tenure of state Rep. Dan Burke, 58, in the Illinois House.

Burke is the brother of the most powerful alderman in the world, 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke.

The two challengers are what you might call "progressives" or "reformers." The incumbents are what you would definitely call "regulars" or "Machine guys."

Rep. Burke scoffs at the progressive label and proudly flies the flag of the Chicago political establishment.

"Yeah, I'm old school and quite proud of my track record," Burke said by phone last week, pointing out that for almost two decades his districts have been either majority African American or Hispanic. "I've always represented constituencies who looked other than myself."

And had no real opposition.

Until now.

Which is why Burke is, for the first time, out knocking on doors and shaking hands. "At the last count, 1,787 hands," he said, adding he's never "had to run a campaign. We take this very seriously. And Speaker Madigan [recommended] that he get involved. I trust and defer to the experts."

Ah, Speaker Madigan. You know this is a big deal when the speaker whistles himself in. And when he gives the hook to the previous adviser, former Daley patronage boss and Hispanic Democratic Organization kingpin Victor Reyes.

HDO, thanks to the feds and a few indictments, is gone now. But its goals are alive and well. That is, to kill any whiff of reform and elect regulars.

Jesus "Chuy" Garcia was HDO's first trophy back in 1998, when he was state senator targeted for defeat. Defeated, he was. Eleven years later, he says, "I have decided to come back to the political fray to usher out the administration of Stroger and Moreno."

It's not going to be a cakewalk. As Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a reform-minded member of the minority, puts it, "The system is rigged against the voters [because] the chairman of the Democratic Party [Mike Madigan] has orchestrated this primary for the coldest, bitterest day."

The incumbents have the advantage here. They've had family mem- bers and friends on county and city payrolls for years. (Moreno's well-publicized brother and sister.)

They have powerful, moneyed supporters with vast war chests. (Burke's alderman-brother's campaign kitties hold an eye-popping $6.6 million).

So this race will be a hard test for challengers Garcia and Lozano of whether, beyond the amazing 2007-2008 Obama voter registration surge in their heavily Latino districts, there has been a rebirth of the movement politics that propelled Harold Washington into office decades ago.

Moreno believes, with Madigan's support, he and Rep. Burke will do just fine.

"Am I ready for a fight?" said Moreno with a bit of a laugh. "I am."

Bring it on.

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This page contains a single entry by Carol Marin published on January 2, 2010 6:15 AM.

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