Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Illinois's fractured Democrats. Offbeat results of Tuesday's primary show just how deep split is

The old-line Democratic Party is stumbling in Illinois. Cracks in the armor had been apparent before, but Tuesday's primary showed how wide and deep those cracks were.

Two party-backed candidates in statewide races -- George Sang-meister for lieutenant governor and Aurelia Pucinski for secretary of state -- were defeated in the Democratic primary. The victors, who will run against Republicans in November, are supporters of ultra-conservative Lyndon LaRouche.

About these ads

``Unbelievable,'' says Paul M. Green, director of the public policy institute at Governors State University. ``It's certainly a big indictment of leadership of the Democratic Party.''

``No one was paying any attention to either of these races,'' says political analyst Don Rose.

Little party effort plus poor or negative name recognition hurt the candidates, he adds, but the major reason was the feuding between the old guard and the progressives within the party.

The victory of LaRouche supporter Mark Fairchild in the lieutenant governor's slot left the party's gubernatorial candidate, Adlai Stevenson, uncertain how to deal with his potential running mate. Mr. Stevenson initially indicated he might run as a third-party candidate.

The feuding within the party has been most evident in Chicago itself. And it was here that the pundits had focused attention to see who would win the latest round.

On Wednesday, the smoke of political battle still lay heavy in the city. But through the haze, it appeared that the two major Democratic blocs -- Chicago Republicans being about as rare as the horse and buggy -- had fought to a draw.

It is a very temporary draw for a very rich prize -- eventual control of the fractious City Council.

About these ads

Currently, Chicago's political power is split between Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor, and Alderman Edward Vrdolyak, who leads a majority faction of 29 aldermen, mostly white, in the City Council.

This week's seven special aldermanic elections promised to shift that balance toward Mayor Washington -- but instead of getting the four seats he needed to gain control of the council, he got two outright and is almost certainly assured of another after a runoff election next month.

His fourth potential seat, in the largely Hispanic 26th Ward, is in doubt, however. By one count, eight votes separated the candidates, one backed by Washington, the other by Mr. Vrdolyak and the regular Democratic organization -- the remnants of the city's old Democratic political machine.

As is still typical in this city's politics, voting irregularities -- including precincts staying open later than usual and the impoundment of votes -- virtually assured a recount.

The special aldermanic elections were ordered by a judge late last year after he ruled that ward boundaries had to be redrawn to reflect the increased black and Hispanic populations.

Whatever happens between the major factions, the biggest winners in Tuesday's primary may well be Chicago's Hispanics, political analysts say.

``It's a clear Hispanic victory,'' says William J. Grimshaw, chairman of the social science department at the Illinois Institute of Technology. ``They had successes across-the-board.''

In one striking example, the 31st Ward, Hispanics voted in the regular Democratic organization's candidate, Miguel Santiago; but in the overlapping race for the Illinois Senate, voters threw out the organization's white candidate to elect a Hispanic challenger, Miguel Del Valle.

The city's current political polarization is so great that analysts do not expect Hispanics to form a powerful bloc immediately.

``It took the blacks 75 years to achieve it,'' says Leon Despres, parliamentarian of the City Council. He predicts Hispanics will need 10 to 15 years to become a bona fide, self-confident voting bloc.

``The conciousness is just being raised'' in the Hispanic communities, Mr. Green adds. ``This is just the first step in a long road.''

But it seems clear that increased Hispanic power within the City Council could become another trouble spot for the Democratic Party's old guard.

The Hispanic voters are not yet an active player, Mr. Rose says. But it is a harbinger, he adds, of a new force that will have to be reckoned with in the future.

In county and statewide races, some challengers of the regular Democratic organization did well but failed to defeat party-backed candidates.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.