Saturday, January 15, 2011



Thursday’s (and Tuesday’s, really) “official” endorsement of Gery Chico for mayor of Chicago by 14th Ward Committeeman and Alderman, City Council Finance Committee Chairman, and uber-ward boss Ed Burke was not news, but it was news.

Ed Burke’s endorsement of Gery Chico was not news because anyone who follows the politics of the world’s greatest city even remotely closely knew that Eddie Burke was behind Gery Chico. Burke’s backing Chico made all the sense in the world for a host of reasons: Burke gave Chico his first job with the city, as a Finance Committee staffer, when Chico was in law school. Chico grew up around 35th and Ashland, in reasonably close proximity to Ed Burke’s 14th Ward. Some of Chico’s family members live in the 14th Ward. The 14th Ward is, similar to Gery Chico, majority Hispanic (“Similar to,” rather than “like,” because Chico’s mother was (is?) Greek and Lithuanian, making him only half, rather than majority, Hispanic.) Chico, like Burke, is a masterful practitioner of the art of the deal, Chicago style. Gery Chico’s resume indicates to any objective observer that he is clearly the most qualified of the four remaining real candidates to run the city. And Gery Chico lives in Chicago.

So why is Eddie Burke’s endorsement of Gery Chico news? When Richard II retired, it became clear that a group of committeemen, whose wards are more or less white and form an arc around the geographic fringes of the city from the lake on the south to the lake on the north, were forming a “Stop Rahm” movement out of a desire to prevent power from winding up in the hands of a guy they perceive as a younger version of Richard M. Daley, who has spent his mayoralty trying to emasculate those ward organizations that are not directly tied to him (mostly 11 and 19). Initially, these committeemen were split between Tom Dart, whose 19th ward roots didn’t help with this crowd in the first place, and Gery Chico. When Tom Dart dropped out of the race, the Stop Rahm crowd united behind Gery Chico. However, these committeeman, like one Chairman Eamon DeValera Collins in the brilliantly insightful The Chairman, A Novel of Big City Politics and The Chairman’s Challenge, A Continuing Novel of Big City Politics, by yours truly, are primarily businessmen and, as such, are always open to a deal if it makes sense for them and/or for their constituents. Hence, these ward bosses were, and in most cases are, playing it close to the vest, seeing what Rahm Emanuel was or is willing to exchange for their support and determining if it’s worth opposing, and incurring the wrath of, a candidate whose election is a foregone conclusion. Ed Burke’s official endorsement indicates that this period of living cautiously is coming to an end, definitely in his case and probably in the case of a host of other such committeemen.

So what we might be starting to see develop is something I predicted some time ago (See, inter alia, my 11/25/10 piece, “OPEN THE DOOR, RICHARD.”): a fight between the old ward based machine and the new machine centered on the mayor’s office. Such a scenario assumes, of course, that Chico gets the open backing of the old time ward bosses like Burke and that Carol Moseley Braun doesn’t make it to the April run-off. Prognosticating on either is, like everything else involved with this campaign, precarious at this point, but both look more likely today than they did a few weeks, or even a few days, ago. And if we get such a fight, parallels to the Claypool/Berrios race for Assessor last year, in which Forest Claypool, uber-yuppie, darling of the media class who inhabit the trendy areas of the north side (sound familiar?), got trounced by nominal Cook County Democratic Party boss and old time politician Joe Berrios, are easy to draw. That Claypool was once close to Richard M. Daley, even once serving, like Gery Chico, as his chief of staff, somewhat muddles the parallel, but the most salient points are not obscured at all.

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