As ballot nomination petitions hit the streets for 47th Ward Democratic Committeeman, incumbent Comm. Eugene Schulter is not telling anyone if he plans to run, Ald. Ameya Pawar is contemplating a run, a powerhouse Springfield lobbyist has tossed his hat into the ring and Democratic precinct captains are wondering who to back in the next election.
Although election day for Ward Committeeman is not until March 20, 2012, candidates could begin gathering the hundreds of signatures they need to get on the ballot on September 6. While the petition deadline is not until December 5, prospective candidates jockey for position early to clear – or sometimes pack – the field with other candidates to change the ballot makeup.
Once the chief distributors of patronage jobs, Democratic Ward Committeemen have lost their power and luster as Chicago’s patronage system has steadily eroded. Yet, today’s Democratic Committeemen still have influence over lower ballot positions who have trouble raising funds and voter interest, like circuit court judge and Water Reclamation District Commissioner. An unpaid party position, Ward Committeemen also get to brush shoulders with various political bigwigs, as Democratic candidates of all levels vie for Committeeman endorsements and volunteer armies every election season.
Until his retirement last April, Eugene Schulter was a City Council member since
1969 1975, and has held the 47th Ward Democratic Committeeman position since 2004. But he set the stage for a battle over the committeeman spot last Spring when he announced his retirement from City Council and supported a Democratic precinct captain, Tom O’Donnell for Alderman. Meanwhile, Schulter also vied for appointment to an open slot on the Cook County Board of Review, a powerful property tax adjudication board. O’Donnell narrowly lost to political newcomer Ameya Pawar and Schulter was passed over for the Board of Review slot.
At the time, some political observers believed Schulter was nixed for the Board of Review position because it was formerly held by Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios. In 2010 Schulter supported 47th Ward resident Forrest Claypool’s independent campaign for Cook County Assessor against Berrios, the Democratic nominee. During the campaign, Berrios’ operatives let it be known that Democratic leaders who supported Claypool’s independent campaign would be blacklisted. Some believe Berrios worked to block Schulter from Board of Review as payback.
Schulter’s rumored enmity with Berrios has led political activists to believe that Berrios would happily support an alternative candidate to Eugene Schulter for Committeeman. Berrios’ political director, Scott Cisek, did not respond to requests for comment.
Another potential Committeeman candidate, Ald. Ameya Pawar, is now considering a run, despite his aldermanic campaign pledge not to run for Democratic Committeeman. Pawar’s promise was unusual, since a majority of Chicago’s Ward Committeemen are also Aldermen. But Pawar’s and Schulter’s relationship has soured in recent months, says Pawar, and some political activists are urging him to run.
“I’ve got Gene who has basically said he’s going to run a shadow government on me,” said Pawar referring to an email sent to 47th Ward constituents last Saturday. “Every opportunity he’s got, Gene has been trying to undermine me.”
Democratic precinct captains in touch with Schulter say that he met this week with Mayor and 47th Ward resident Rahm Emanuel to discuss the Committeeman election. According to captains who have spoken to Schulter, the Mayor has offered to support Schulter for Ward Committeeman if he will run for reelection, but Schulter is telling supporters that he has not made a decision.
“A lot of people’s lives have been put on hold and that’s not fair,” said one captain. “I don’t know if he’s angling for Board of Review.”
“He’s never been known for his decisive leadership,” said another captain. “He holds his cards really close to his vest and never really tells anyone what he’s doing. He’s not telegraphing his punches.”
Tom Bowen, Emanuel’s political director, would give no indication of the mayor’s plans. “The Mayor has many more important governmental things to do than get involved in committeeman races,” Bowen said.
On Monday Paul Rosenfeld, a 47th Ward resident and powerhouse Springfield lobbyist, announced his candidacy via email. In his message, sent to hundreds of Illinois lobbyists and political operatives but few 47th Ward activists, Rosenfeld said he plans to raise $100,000 for the campaign and to begin gathering ballot nomination signatures this Sunday.
“I’m doing this with friends and neighbors,” Rosenfeld told Center Square Journal. “I sent out an email [telling people] that I’m throwing in my hat. I’ll have zero precinct captains. It’ll be all on my own.”
Rosenfeld says he does not expect an endorsement from Berrios or Emanuel, and may run against Schulter if he decides to run again.
“My decision to get moving is not going to be based on anyone else,” said Rosenfeld. “We’ll see what shakes out like everyone else.”