A Chicago Tribune Op-Ed, published May 9, 2011
One of the oldest maxims in Chicago politics is "you win elections by addition." Couple that idea with former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's maxim that "all politics is local" and you have insight into why one veteran Chicago alderman is heading back to the City Council and one is not.
It surprised a lot of people when longtime Ald. Danny Solis, 25th, wound up in a runoff against community activist Cuahutemoc Morfin. The challenger accused Solis of being too close to Mayor Richard M. Daley and of abandoning efforts to shut down a controversial coal-fired power plant in the ward.
The 25th Ward is on the city's Near Southwest Side and is dominated by the heavily Hispanic Pilsen community. The candidates, both Hispanic, claimed to be the best prepared to represent this high-profile Latino enclave. However, it was Solis who recognized that the population in the east and northeast section of the ward was changing. He reached out to those non-Latino folks and that was the difference on Election Day.
Solis beat Morfin (54 percent to 46 percent), even though Morfin carried the vote in one more precinct than Solis did. Solis had landslide numbers in the growing Chinese-American community in the east end of the ward. Here precincts 14, 16 and 18 gave Solis 85 percent or more of the vote. His 18th precinct margin was a massive 355 votes, more than half of his overall victory margin.
In the northeast section of the ward, a gentrifying Italian community has developed and other youngish non-Hispanics are settling in. Five precincts in the area provided Solis with better than 100-vote margins. Coupled with his strength with Chinese-Americans — victory!
It was a different story for the incumbent in the 50th Ward on the Far North Side. Ald. Bernard Stone is the city's second longest-serving member of the council. The 50th Ward has a large number of Jewish voters. Stone and his challenger, Debra Silverstein, are both Jewish. Silverstein also is married to Ira Silverstein — the ward's Democratic committeeman and state senator from the 8th District.
Silverstein defeated Stone in a landslide, 62 percent to 38 percent. Stone did best in the far western part of the ward, especially in the Winston Towers complex, which has many Jewish residents. Unfortunately for Stone, the turnout in those precincts was among the lowest in the ward.
Silverstein ran best in the east end of the ward, which has fewer Jewish residents. Three of her four best precincts were east of Western Avenue. Her highest vote margin was in the 15th precinct, just west of Western.
A comparison of the two candidates reveals an incredible statistic. Stone carried 12 of the ward's 45 precincts. He had a combined margin in those 12 precincts of 301 votes. But Silverstein's top two precincts alone in the east end gave her a combined margin of 430 votes.
As in the 25th Ward, the loser was the candidate who could not expand his appeal beyond the ward's dominant ethnic/religious voting bloc. Winning by addition and recognizing a ward's diversity triumphed in the end.
No surprise, that held true in the race for mayor. Rahm Emanuel expanded his support from the wards in his old North Side congressional district to the city's South and West Sides. Emanuel won a majority in every African-American ward in Chicago, even though one of his opponents was a prominent African-American politician, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. Without overwhelming black support, Emanuel would not have avoided a runoff election.
It should seem obvious that keying a campaign to a racial or religious base constituency is a losing strategy in a diversifying city.
Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University.
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