Well, our review of the Illinois Primary has gotten down to the local level of McHenry County, the most northwestern of the traditionally Republican Collar Counties that surround Chicago and Cook County, for you outlanders who may not be conversant with the Prairie State’s geography. A few years ago we used to say it was where the suburbs meet the corn fields and the suburbs won. That was when the county was one of the fastest growing in the nation with subdivisions larger than most of its municipalities a few years earlier springing up like mushrooms.
All of that ended abruptly with the housing crash of 2008 and the onset of the Great Recession. Tens of thousands lost their homes to foreclosures and some of those new subdivisions became virtual ghost towns. Retail constructed to serve the population collapsed leaving empty strip malls, big box stores, and hollowed out downtowns. Most of that never returned and another wave of closings is ongoing now as brick and mortar yield to e-commerce. Much local industry has closed or shipped most of its production to low wage states and Mexico. With growth stagnant, population actually declining, and a near bankrupt state government slashing support for infrastructure, education, and social services, property taxes have grown more and more burdensome.
To borrow Jimmy Carter’s term, that has led to a malaise that fed the Tea Party and made Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again spiel resonate with some of the disempowered, downwardly mobile middle class. On the other hand many younger folks, Gen Xers and Millennials have given up worship of capitalism and were stirred by Bernie Sanders and his Democratic Socialism. They became activists along with middle class women who felt their interests particularly under siege, and the county’s growing minority population, mostly Latinos.
The recent primary can be viewed as a clash between those to disaffected groups. Guess who came out ahead. Hint, they weren’t wearing slogan emblazed red ball caps.
Symbolic of the shellacking that the right wing took is what happened to Recorder of Deeds Joe Tirio’s dream leading an insurgency against the old guard—Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) he would call them—and becoming the central power broker of the captured party. If you read our pre-election post you may recall his machinations which included inducing the sitting County Clerk, Mary McClellan to opt out of a run for re-election in favor of a run for a judgeship with his backing. That paved the way for Tirio to run for Clerk and complete his plant to consolidate the Recorder’s office into the Clerk’s with him as master of the patronage rich combination. It would also give him influence over the conduct of elections and voter registration where the highly partisan Tirio could press the GOP’s voter suppression agenda.
|Regulars hit back hard against Joe Tirio with mailings like this showing up at the homes of registered Republicans.|
Tirio did win the Clerk nomination, albeit by a much narrower than expected margin over a deeply flawed candidate, Janis Dalton who filed for personal bankruptcy the same day she filed her nominating petitions listing “$10,000 in cash loss due to video gambling” and $30,000 in money she withdrew in her husband’s name from his annuity fund. His it-sounds-good referendum handily passed, approved by voters who hardly understood what they were voting on. Although his plans for consolidation can now go forward, the rest of his plans went up in smoke.
The right-wing ideologues he tried to get on the Bench lost badly to Bar Association recommended incumbents, Judges Tiffany Davis and Robert Wilbrandt won retention handily. And poor duped Mary McClellan, who Tirio essentially abandoned, also lost.
But the damage and embarrassment didn’t end there. All of Tirio’s allies in the Republican civil war lost their bids for County Board nominations, mostly by substantial margins. That included the duo in District 6—the unapologetic former right-wing paramilitary terrorist and church bomber Orville Brettman former Board member Ersel Schuster whose home computer was the source of a threat to County Board Chair Jack Franks that said he needed killing and that the writer knew someone who would do the job for $5,000. They lagged far behind establishment incumbents Michelle Aavang and Peter M. Smith.
In District 4 former McHenry mayor and state Senator Pam Althoff, loathed by the right as a moderate and RINO “came home” to run for County Board ran up a landslide margin against Steve Bellemore and incumbent Chuck Wheeler took the second Board slot. In District 5 John Jung, Jr., one of Tirio’s chief targets handily led the field while from while a second incumbent, conservative Michael Rein held a slim 11 vote lead over Jung’s running mate Lesli Melendy. In other districts incumbents were un-opposed.
The so-called country club Republicans routed the right-wing insurgency everywhere leaving Tirio the last man standing instead of the commander of legions. Not that the old guard are either liberal in any sense or shining heroes. All are generally old school conservatives and a couple are themselves reactionary. But the good news is that even Republicans in McHenry clearly reject the extremism represented by the Trump era.
Even better news is how well Democratic candidates did in their unopposed bids. In all but one race in which Democrats had candidates, they drew more votes than any Republican candidate. And in District 6 the virtually invisible Buffy Brasile who may as well have been labeled “generic Democrat” fell only 265 votes shy of Republican leader Michelle Aavang.
In District 2 the impressive Suzanne Ness not only was the top vote getter in either party, but she led running mate Timothy O’Neill in a combined Democratic vote of 5,110 compared with the two Republicans combined 4,996. A very impressive show of strength in the county’s most urbanized District centered on Crystal Lake.
|Carlos Acosta's performance was a highlight of the McHenry County primary|
One of the most impressive showings in the County Board races was by Carlos Acosta in District 5 who led all candidates in both parties, including top Republican John Jung, Jr. with 2,129 votes. Acosta, best known as the former head of the Latino Coalition is particularly despised by the white nationalist tinged elements of the Republicans.
In the only county-wide race with a Democrat in it, the hard working Andrew “Drew” Georgi topped both Joe Tirio and his opponent in their runs for County Clerk. He got 17,428 vote as opposed to would-be king maker Tirio’s 13,312, a better than 4,000 vote advantage. And many of Tirio’s enemies in the Republican Party will not hold their noses to vote for him this fall. Tirio is clearly vulnerable and Georgi is the man who can beat him.
|Drew Georgi showing of his nominating petitions as he files to be placed on the primary ballot.|
About 21.6 percent of registered voters in McHenry County cast ballots in the primary, up from 17 percent in the 2014 primary election, according to the McHenry County Clerk’s Office. About 7,344 voted early. Those numbers are more typical of Presidential year primaries, and probably herald a big turnout in the fall. Democrats always benefit by large turnouts.
Given the over-all success of progressives and Dems in the county this spring and strong interest in the Governor’s and Congressional races in what look like a Democratic wave year candidates are likely to come forward to seek placement on the General Election ballot by caucus for the open County Board slots in District 4, some of the open county-wide positions and legislative seats.
And on a final note in a rare instance of voters agreeing with my endorsements in local races, progressive pick Peter Janko won his race for 14th Congressional District State Central Committeeman while the energetic McHenry Count Democrats Vice Chair Kristina Zahorik retained her seat as Central Committeewoman. Congratulations to both. I trust that both will try to shake things up on the Central Committee which has been a subservient creature of Party Chair Mike Madigan and not responsive to the progressive trends in the party.