Chicago unlikely to have any proud Republicans in next City Council

March 22, 2011

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(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
John Arena (left) and John Garrido (right) are squaring off in the 45th Ward runoff election.

A Republican in the Chicago City Council is a rare breed. For the past twenty years, there's been exactly one.

Ald. Brian Doherty is retiring, but in at least two runoff races taking place in April, Republicans are in contention. Technically, the office of alderman is non-partisan. But that doesn't mean the campaigning is.

In Chicago's far northwest corner, there are a cluster of neighborhoods - quiet ones - if you can ignore the jet noise from nearby O'Hare. This is the 41st Ward, and since 1991, Brian Doherty has represented it on the city council. As he is now, Dougherty then was the only Republican alderman, and that led to some "freshman hazing."

DOHERTY: They were trashing the president - the first George Bush. It was like my second or third meeting.

Doherty says then-Ald. Luis Gutierrez turned to him and said, 'You know, Doherty, they're calling you out.'

DOHERTY: And so I stood up and...I said, 'As the minority leader of the Republican Party on this floor,' which brought them all to laughter, you know. I said, 'We should stick to what's in front of us and, you know, do our city business and quit worrying about the national business.'

But Doherty says party label doesn't mean a thing in this job.

DOHERTY: Being an alderman is nonpartisan, because there's really not a Republican or Democrat way to pick up the garbage.

That said, Doherty's conservative ideology does at times enter the equation - on issues like domestic partners, abortion, reparations.

Now he is leaving the city council, having lost a bid for the state Senate last fall, and he's backing a longtime staff member to replace him.

DOUGHERTY: I've known Maurita Gavin since grade school, okay. I actually went to her senior prom with her.

Dougherty says he is a "card-carrying Republican," but Maurita Gavin is more of an independent, though for the past decade or so she's only voted in Republican primaries.

Not that that's unusual in the 41st, the most Republican ward in the city. Though even there, the GOP is in the minority. In the primary election last year, only about a quarter of all ballots cast were Republican.

Gavin obviousy recognizes that math. Here she is at a forum in the Edgebrook neighborhood.

GAVIN: I vote for the best candidate regardless of political affiliation, just like I will support the best policies for this ward without regard to political issues.

Gavin says that differentiates her from her opponent, caterer Mary O'Connor, who is also Democratic ward committeeman, which Gavin claims makes O'Connor beholden to Democratic leaders. Mary O'Connor shrugs that off.

O'CONNOR: Because I'm the Democratic ward committeeman, to feel that I have all these connections is not true. I have not even asked for money from the Democratic organization. I've been running independently.

So in that ward - the 41st - it's the Republican going after the Democrat for her party roots.

It's exactly the opposite in the neighboring 45th. One of the candidates there is police officer John Garrido, who has cast ballots at different times in Republican and Democratic primaries. Though last year he ran for Cook County Board President as a Republican.

His opponent in the aldermanic race this year, small-business owner John Arena, has labeled Garrido an opportunist.

ARENA: When you run as a Republican for Cook County Board president, it's convenient to be a Republican. When you're running for a nonpartisan race, it's convenient to be an independent.

Arena is a Democrat, but is not getting any support from the ward's Democratic establishment. He is getting help from a union that most often sides with Democrats.

The Service Employees International Union, SEIU, paid for a mailing that shows photos of Republicans like John McCain, George Bush and Sarah Palin. And right in the middle: John Garrido. It says, "The last thing we need is a partisan Republican Alderman." SEIU declined to be interviewed on tape for this story.

Here is Garrido's response to the ad:

GARRIDO: It's very divisive. And I know he always talks about this whole consistency thing. You know what? When you vote, is there supposed some kind of indoctrinated consistency in how you vote? For me, it's about the candidate.

Garrido is getting support from some GOP organizations. He says the chair of the Cook County Republican Party donated $500. And the Chicago Young Republicans are volunteering for Garrido because they say he's a "great fit for the ward." The group - no doubt respecting Garrido's own claims of independence - insists its support has nothing do with him being a Republican.

And so, next month Chicago may very well elect two aldermen with GOP bona-fides. Neither though are acting like they'd embrace the party like retiring Ald. Brian Doherty does. Which means the new Chicago city council likely will be without a "card carrying Republican" alderman.

Most Republican Wards in Chicago*

WardPercentage Democratic votersPercentage Republican voters
4174.3%25.7%
4276.3%23.7%
4378.8%21.2%
3881.1%18.9%
4581.4%18.6%

Most Democratic Wards in Chicago*

WardPercentage Democratic votersPercentage Republican voters
3499.3%0.7%
899.2%0.8%
699.2%0.8%
1799.2%0.8%
2199.1%0.9%

* based off ballots pulled during February 2010 primary election

Music Button: The Tiki Tones, "Rusty Nail", from the CD Mai Tai Records Music Sampler, (Mai Tai)