'OMG! Rich Daley isn't running for re-election! The fallout will reverberate all the way down to the South Suburbs!'
Sometimes people over-exaggerate Chicago's influence on the suburbs. Anybody who even considered the above (I paraphrased from a conversation I had yesterday, but don't recall the words exactly -- or possibly even closely) really doesn't understand what's been happening down here.
Alex Lopes, mayor of Chicago Heights, just died, leaving that city in turmoil. Doug Price argues that this is the only thought on the minds of the political elites in the Heights, and he's probably right.
Linzey Jones, long-time mayor of Olympia Heights, is moving on to the bench, and the village trustees are currently trying to figure out who (amongst them) will succeed him.
Lopez' death and Jones leaving politics may have as big an impact on the South Suburbs as Daley's retirement. Two big holes were already here to be filled, and we don't have a clue who's going to step up in the South Suburbs.
Well, that's not exactly true, but let me continue the thought. Because the impact of the 2008 campaign continues to reverberate in the South Suburbs, as well. Oh, we definitely have people whose sole political interest is in Barack Obama -- and more than a few who are waiting for the next Obama for President headquarters to open so they can go volunteer down there.
But there are even more people who first got involved in Barack's campaign who are eager to get involved in elective politics. And the sudden openings in Olympia Fields and Chicago Heights, as well as the attention devoted to the Big Opening in Chicago, will only spur their thoughts.
You can, however, get a glimpse of who is likely to step up and fill the power vacuum(s) in South Suburban politics. Toi Hutchinson is building a grassroots-driven campaign that is basically devoid of message but focuses on her biography. Which is also kind of sad, because Hutchinson may be one of the few politicians in Illinois who has Chris Christie-like credibility talking about the problems we face and the solutions needed to get us out of the hole we dug. Running a campaign on her biography is a safe choice -- except the fact that her district stretches all the way down to Iroquois county.
Toi's opponent (presumably) sought to take advantage of that choice by inserting the following into her Wikipedia entry: "Mrs. Hutchinson is an African-American Democrat in a 90% white district. Many Illinois political pundits believe she will lose re-election in 2010 to a white candidate."
That's utterly false -- not a single "political pundit" in Illinois believes that Toi will lose "re-election" simply because she's an "African-American Democrat in a 90% white district." (They forgot to add "largely rural" to that description.) Some have argued that it is a more conservative district than Toi personally is, but that doesn't have anything to do with her effectiveness in representing the people of her district!
I have long observed the difference between the right and the left on this particular question. The conservative movement has argued for decades that it can win virtually anywhere, if they can mobilize their activists and get their message out. It's one reason why over 100 Congressional Districts are "in play" in this general election, because Republicans have effectively recruited strong candidates who are waging strong campaigns just about everywhere. So why can't progressive Democrats win in "largely rural" districts, as long as they take care of the people's business? It's a difference in assumptions that defies reason (but also a cultural peculiarity to Madigan-style politics where the party seeks out "the perfect candidate" for the district). Elections at this level are largely decided by personal contacts and message delivery.
Anyone who knows me knows that I worry about Toi not because she will lose this election -- but because progressives don't seem to believe, truly believe, that they can compete everywhere. Which puts a real progressive like Toi Hutchinson at a disadvantage, simply because she will always be fighting a closely contested election against opponents who believe they can win while natural supporters may doubt that she can win.
Which brings me back to the void in the South Suburbs. It's probably less a vacuum than a changing of the guard. Mayor Jones moves on to a different career path, but Olympia Fields remains a rich pool of political talent, from which someone will no doubt emerge to replace him. They may even be able to replace him in regional politics and leadership. If not, someone else will. And Mayor Lopez' tragic death unleashes the undercurrents that had been bubbling up to the surface.
There still remains a tension in the South Suburbs between those who want to follow the "soak the taxpayers" model of government, with elected officials getting their's and not really worrying too much about the people's business and the sustainable model of governance where elected officials are careful of the people's money and try to improve their communities. We are still -- but less so -- influenced by the great city to our north. And that conflict remains. (One reason that Flossmoor has weathered the current economic storm is that we had strong reserves from which to draw on -- and save people's jobs. But you don't find village trustees making a mint, either, as trustees!)
This is likely to be resolved as more people get involved from outside the "regular" organization...