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Why the Far North Side Should Be Called a 'Democracy-Free Zone'

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Why the Far North Side Should Be Called a 'Democracy-Free Zone'
Jack Higgins

The ward committeemen on the Far North Side are looking for a new state representative to replace Harry Osterman, who was elected alderman earlier this year.

It’s a great way to get into politics, because you don’t have to campaign and face the voters. Osterman’s district runs from Foster Avenue to Touhy Avenue, along the lakefront, taking in most of the 48th and 49th wards. It ought to be named the Democracy-Free Zone, because it’s been 15 years since a new state representative or senator was chosen in a competitive election.

Usually, the old ones resign in mid-term when they get sick of the job, and the ward committeemen appoint a replacement. Here’s a short history of how the neighborhood’s politicians have chosen their successors without getting the voters involved. In politics, this is called “eliminating the middleman.” Choosing elected officials is too important to leave up to the public.

1999: Sen. Arthur Berman, tired of life in the Senate minority, resigns his seat. State Rep. Carol Ronen is appointed to take his place. Harry Osterman, son of the late Ald. Kathy Osterman, is appointed to take Ronen’s place.

2006: After winning the Democratic primary, State Rep. Larry McKeon resigns in July. Ward committeemen choose Greg Harris to take his place on the ballot. Harris wins easily in November.

2007: 48th Ward Committeeman Mike Volini resigns a year before his term expires. The 48th Ward Regular Democratic Organization names Ronen as his successor.

More 2007: On Oct. 22, Ronen announces she will not be a candidate for re-election to the state. This is only two weeks before the filing deadline -- too late for independents to mount an effective campaign, claim her critics. But not too late for Heather Steans, heiress to a North Shore fortune and generous Democratic Party donor. Steans’ instant candidacy is quickly endorsed by Ronen and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

2008: After Steans wins the Democratic primary, Ronen resigns and Steans is appointed to the Senate seat. Ronen then works as aide to Gov. Rod Blagojevich for eight weeks -- just long enough to increase her pension $38,000 a year.

2011: Osterman is elected to his mother’s old aldermanic seat, creating yet another vacancy for ward committeemen to fill. Actually, it will be filled by just one ward committeeman: Carol Ronen. Ronen controls more than half the votes necessary to name a new successor. Trust her. She knows how this game is played.

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