Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Are Cook County Democrats Victims of Their Own Success?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In Chicago, partisanship has traditionally been about more than politics. It’s helped define our identities, too.

    South Siders often talked about their holy tetralogy of associations: they were Catholics, White Sox fans, Notre Dame fans and Democrats. Being a Democrat is practically synonymous with being a Chicagoan: over 85% of us voted for Barack Obama.

    But Forrest Claypool’s qualification as an independent candidate for assessor -- along with Green Party Senate candidate LeAlan Jones’s strong showing in the polls -- may be signs that lifelong Democrats are no longer willing to vote for any candidate the party tries to shove down their throats.

    Claypool needed 25,000 signatures to get on the ballot. He collected over 90,000 -- more than enough to overwhelm Democratic nominee Joe Berrios’s hopes of challenging his petitions.

    “It would be irresponsible to subject either the public authorities or our opponent to the cost, time and effort of litigation, perhaps all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court,” Berrios spokesman Manuel Galvan told Chicago Current. It was the campaign’s way of admitting that Claypool had the signatures.

    Often, effective independent movements are led by charismatic outsiders. Think of Ross Perot for president, or Jesse Ventura for governor of Minnesota. But the bland-faced Claypool isn’t charismatic, and he’s no outsider, either. He’s an apostate Democrat who currently sits on the Cook County Board.

    Claypool’s independent candidacy is benefiting from the Democratic Party’s extraordinary success in Chicago. As late as the 1990s, Republicans could still win countywide offices here -- Jack O’Malley was elected state’s attorney in 1992. But now even the suburbs are Democratic. Voters dissatisfied with Berrios aren’t going to take the drastic step of voting for his Republican opponent, Sharon Strobeck-Eckersall. But they do seem willing to vote for Claypool.

    They also seem willing to vote for the Greens. As Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney told Ward Room last week, “One of the biggest problems we always face is that of the reflexive voter, people who say, ‘I always vote Democratic.’ But that’s breaking down.”

    When one party achieves excessive dominance in a city or a state or a nation, it often breaks up into factions. That seems to be happening this year in Cook County, where the Democrats may become victims of their own extraordinary success.