I'd like to believe that the victory of Mike Quigley in the Democratic primary to replace Rahm Emanuel in Congress is a victory for reform, but the real lesson may be that reform can only win when the multiple status quo candidates split the rest of the vote. [Click here for election results]
I mean, this is the same district that sent, um, Rahm Emanuel to Congress.
This is to take nothing away from Quigley; I'm surprised that he won, but not unhappy about it, though I would have loved to see Tom Geoghegan pull off a whopping upset. In fact, I hope I'm wrong and this is just the start of reform in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois. I'm just not persuaded yet.
It appears to me that Quigley won the same way that, gulp, John Kerry won the Iowa caucus in 2004 - prevailing over two other warring candidates who turned off the public. According to AP's unofficial figures, Feigenholtz and Fritchey won a combined 18,666 votes to Quigley's 11,910. Throw in Patrick O'Connor's 6,190 votes and that's an awful lot of folks not voting for reform.
Now it's true that supporters of Feigenholtz and Fritchey will say they represent reform and change in their own way, but Quigley clearly was perceived as the reformist candidate of the bunch. Had either Feigenholtz or Fritchey not been in the race, some of their votes would have gone to Quigley, but more than those going to the other?
Tom Geoghegan was the next most reformist candidate, endorsed by the Progressive Democrats of America and national writers such as James Fallows, Mickey Kaus, and Hendrik Hertzberg. He pulled in 3,253 votes - about half as many as O'Connor got.
Now you can play with the numbers any way you want and come up with your own interpretations of what the vote "means." Quigley apparently had a strong showing in internal polls from the start, though prognosticator extraordinaire Nate Silver tabbed Feigenholtz as the favorite last week. The explanation that name recognition was the key for Quigley also falls flat to me - and doesn't support the argument that the vote was for reform. How many people really know who Mike Quigley is? In a low-turnout election, the main candidates had equal name recognition, given that Fritchey and Feigenholtz are veteran North Side pols and spent more on advertising than Quigley did.
In another look at the numbers, the Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos reports that:
- "Quigley won the most votes of any candidate in the 12-way race in the 47th, 43rd and 44th Wards, known as 'lakefront liberal' bastions. He also enjoyed a plurality in the affluent 32nd Ward, where rival John Fritchey was elected the Democratic Party's committeeman last year."
That says to me that Fritchey isn't particularly well-liked on his home turf - and he could be vulnerable to a challenge now that he's been exposed, though he probably has enough institutional muscle to stave that off.
- "Quigley didn't need to win every ward or even win a majority in any of them, given the size of the Democratic field. In the 10 wards with the highest vote totals Tuesday, Quigley won five and finished second in four."
My guess is that Quigley was the second choice for a lot of Feigenholtz and Fritchey supporters - and some of them went that way once they entered the voting booth.
- "Of those wards, Fritchey won only the 45th and 36th Wards, where he enjoyed the support of local Democratic bosses. But Fritchey finished far short of the vote totals that he needed there. He did best in the 36th Ward, run by his in-laws, the Banks family. Even there, however, he managed less than one-third of the vote."
Fritchey wasn't able to move beyond his base - and relatively speaking didn't do that well inside it either.
- "Feigenholtz did not win any of the 10 most vote-rich wards - at least not with fewer than 10 precincts left uncounted late Tuesday."
Ouch. Feigenholtz was the campaign's leading spender and had the support of the clouty Service Employees International Union and Emily's List.
So why did Quigley win and what does his victory mean? Who knows. But I wouldn't argue that it isn't necessarily the best outcome given the alternatives.