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Lessons learned from the 2022 Illinois primary

Across Illinois, the 2022 primary results certainly clarified a few things.

For one, if there was ever any doubt, Money plays a crucial role in politics. The tens of millions of dollars Ken Griffin dumped into several campaigns, including that of one-time GOP gubernatorial front-runner Richard Irvin, backfired in making those candidates targets of their opponents’ attacks. So much for the Battle of the Billionaires.

But money was also a huge factor in a pair of races for Congress, where, in the final days, outside money groups spent more than $1 million to promote each of a pair of Democratic winners, Jonathan Jackson in the 1st District and Delia Ramirez in the 3rd

Ramirez’s success also points to something else: the continued development of the Milwaukee Avenue corridor and other areas of the Northwest Side as a real progressive stronghold, one that was first tapped by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th, and Rossana Rodriguez, 33rd, and has only grown since.

A Ramirez-Rosa staffer, Anthony Joel Quezada, is looking to stake that progressive claim with the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ 8th District seat, having taken down incumbent Luis Arroyo Jr. in the Democratic primary.

That area of ​​the city could give Mayor Lori Lightfoot fits in her upcoming re-election race, depending on who else is in the contest.

Another conclusion: Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi was vulnerable, fighting off a challenge by Water Reclamation District Chair Kari Steele by around 32,000 votes, according to the latest, near-complete totals. But the promised big money by real estate developers who feel Kaegi is inappropriately raising their taxes never arrived and that might have made the difference.

One key race still seems too close to call. That’s for an open seat on the Illinois Supreme Court where Democrats nominated Elizabeth Rochford, but, on the Republican side, former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran was just 1,500 votes ahead of Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes.

One bit of bad news for voters that became clear before primary votes were even counted on Tuesday: those nasty TV ads aren’t going anywhere any time soon.

Speaking of ads, Gov. JB Pritzker immediately released a new spot zapping GOP nominee Darren Bailey for his opposition to abortion rights. With Bailey short on campaign cash right now, don’t be surprised if the Pritzker team goes aggressive in defining Bailey before Bailey can define himself for voters who didn’t follow the primary. That’s exactly the strategy then-Gov. Jim Edgar used against his Democratic foe a couple of decades ago, Illinois Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch—and Netsch never was able to catch up.

And in Chicago, aldermen looking to parlay their position into another elected office learned voters preferred they stick to their local fiefdom. Over 10% of Chicago’s 50-member City Council was on the ballot Tuesday and only one – Ald. George Cardenas, 12th – looks to have won their respective race.

Cardenas is off to the Cook County Board of Review and will vacate his Southwest Side ward, chairmanship of the Environmental Committee and position as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, allowing Lightfoot to replace him.

Two other committee chairs, Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, and Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, lost their congressional bids in districts that offered a plum seat in heavily Democratic-leaning districts.

Another pair—Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, and Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th – were seeking to trade their own committee chairmanships for the bench but came up short in Cook County and Circuit Court, respectively.

Ald. David Moore, 17th, came in third in the Democratic primary race to succeed longtime Secretary of State Jesse White.

Finishing ahead of Moore was another candidate familiar with City Hall – City Clerk Anna Valencia, who has led a City Council modernization effort that’s rolled out slower than expected, although the pivot to virtual meetings during the pandemic didn’t help.

The good news for the five losing aldermen is they weren’t forced to give up their aldermanic seats while seeking another gig and, despite the losses, each carried their respective wards.

Unfortunately for Villegas – who said Wednesday he’ll seek reelection – his current ward was blasted to smithereens in the city’s contentious redistricting battle and now stretches from the western edge of the city into West Town, a move Villegas has described as petty payback for leading the fight during the stalemate on behalf of the Latino Caucus he chairs.

But he believes he’ll retain the post, having spent time campaigning for Congress in portions of the “hodge-podge” of neighborhoods that are now included in the 36th ward. “I’ll put my record up and see how it shakes out,” he said.

As for the others?

Moore’s campaign manager, Delmarie Cobb, confirmed he’ll seek to retain his City Council seat. Taliaferro’s office said he’s already on vacation, but the alderman told the Wednesday Journal he, too, will seek reelection.

Dowell told Crain’s she had no comment on the reelection front. But in a concession statement issued Wednesday, Dowell said, “I look forward to continuing to serve the Third Ward as Alderman and working with Jonathan Jackson to ensure that we get our fair share of resources.” She will also soon play a leading role during the 2023 budget process as chair of the powerful Budget Committee.

Brookins’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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