Saturday, February 6, 2010

Southland Succeeds in Democratic Primary

The South Suburbs' favorite son (David Miller) and daughter (Robin Kelly) both won their respective Democratic nominations for state Comptroller and Treasurer this Tuesday. I believe it's the first time that two people from the South Suburbs has been on the general election ballot for statewide office. Robin Kelly won 38,602 votes in Thornton, Bloom, Rich, Bremen and Orland townships, while David Miller won 34,427 votes in the Southland:


A more interesting race shaped up in the 15th Judicial subcircuit (in the Phelan vacancy), where former Republican party leader (and Bloom Township supervisor) T.J. Somer teamed up with Olympia Fields Mayor Linzey Jones and former state Rep. George Scully to run in the three vacancies in the subcircuit. Somer was a controversial candidate, not simply because he switched political parties to run for judge, but also because his peers found him significantly less qualified for the position of judge than the other two. Somer scored a mere 40% in the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening [PDF]. The most damning evaluation came from the Chicago Council of Lawyers which wrote [PDF]:

Thomas Joseph “TJ” Somer – Not Qualified

Thomas Joseph “TJ” Somer was admitted to practice in 1991, following 14 years as a police officer in Chicago Heights. After one year working on insurance defense cases for a large firm, he set up his own general practice firm in the south suburbs. Since 1997 he has served as a Supervisor for Bloom Township and, since 2006, he has also served as corporation counsel for the city of Chicago Heights. He was also an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Chicago Heights and for Congress. Mr. Somer is reported to have good legal ability and temperament, although his practice is narrow. In addition to the narrowness of his practice, the Council is also concerned that Somer was a defendant in a law suit alleging illegal practices with respect to tax delinquent properties during the time he was the Bloom Township Supervisor. Although the trial court absolved Somer of wrongdoing, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s decision. Mr. Somer denies any culpability and insists that this program was appropriate and successful. The Council finds him Not Qualified for the Circuit Court.
Several people expressed to me their surprise that Somer did so poorly in the combined judicial screenings (both Jones and Scully scored 100%, as did the candidate winning in the Phelan vacancy, John Griffin).

Given Somer's controversial candidacy, it is no surprise that he tied himself to two other elected officials in Bloom Township. Linzey Jones has explained this alliance between himself, George Scully and T.J. Somer as a practical matter, because running for judge is so expensive. He also said that he was not that interested in raising a large amount of money, and this alliance offered the opportunity of multiple voter contacts for less money. More bang for the buck, as it were.

As I've noted earlier, the "deal" was announced at a Rich Township Democratic party monthly meeting back in August, much to the consternation of a number of people there. On Thursday, I received an email that concluded with this: "Rich Township failed TJ Somers."

Well, I disagree. I think Rich Township did exactly what it was supposed to do: help elect the most qualified and fair-minded person to the bench.

But then, I wasn't party to any deal.

Judge John Griffin won the most votes, with 11,595 fairly evenly scattered throughout the subcircuit. Mary Beth Kent Duffy came in second, with 8,133 votes. The controversial Thomas "TJ" Somer came in third, with 7,579 votes (with the greatest concentration in his home township, Bloom). Carl Evans, Jr. came in fourth, with 6,286 (with the greatest concentration in Rich township). And Nichole Patton finished the field, with 4,823 votes.

15th Subcircuit: Griffin Townships in Blue, Somer Township in Yellow, Evans Township in Red and Duffy Township in Tan

Another way to look at the results, through townships won. Judge Griffin won 5 townships (Bremen, Lemont, Orland, Palos and Worth). Duffy, Somer and Evans each won a single township. Griffin won 168 precincts, Somer won 64 precincts (primarily in Bloom Township), Evans won 41 precincts (primarily in Rich Township), Duffy won 39 precincts and Patton won 3 precincts (primarily in Rich Township).

Given this distribution, I wanted to know who really ran the table in the precincts they won. In other words, who had "breakaway" precincts where they really racked up the votes, defined as precincts where they won at least 50% of the vote (in a multicandidate race). This is where Griffin showed the strength of his campaign, and where it is obvious that Somer is a Bloom Township candidate (just as Evans was in Rich). Griffin had 43 breakaway precincts scattered throughout the townships he won, while Somer had 24 breakaways, all concentrated in Bloom.

Rich Township: Griffin precincts in Blue, Somer precincts in Yellow, Evans precincts in Red, Duffy precincts in Tan and Patton precincts in Lavender

But it was in Rich Township that the greatest variation in votes can be found. Only in Rich Township did all candidates win at least one precinct. What stands out to me is not simply the fact that Carl Evans did so well in Rich, or that TJ Somer only won one precinct in Olympia Fields (Judge Griffin also won one and Carl Evans won two), but the fact that there is this big blue (Griffin) block in vote-rich Park Forest. Griffin won 8 out of 13 precincts in the Rich Township portion of Park Forest and 1 of the 2 Park Forest precincts in Bloom Township.

The theory, as the Rich Township Democratic committeeman explained to me, was that if judicial candidates can win (big) in Bloom and Rich and stay within striking distance in the rest of the townships in the 15th subcircuit, then that is sufficient for victory. More than 38,924 people voted in the 15th subcircuit races, with Bloom accounting for at least 8,921 and Rich accounting for at least 10,759 (together 19,680 voters). That's a little over 50% of the electorate that voted in the 15th subcircuit in 2010.

Jones Townships in Yellow, Flanagan Township in Gold and Karas Townships in Pink

The theory is sound, as witnessed by the result for Linzey Jones. Jones only won Rich and Bloom Townships, and only won 4 precincts elsewhere (all in Thornton Township). But that was sufficient to win. But the lesson here is not that Bloom and Rich need be the primary focus of 15th subcircuit candidates who live on the east side of the subcircuit. No, the lesson is that well-funded qualified candidates who run from the east side, who do not substantially alienate voters and have several competent opponents who split the rest of the subcircuit, can win by primarily focusing on the east side (where they are well known).

And that's how this alliance failed T.J. Somer. Admittedly, this was probably his best chance to win a seat on the bench, but the fact is that Somer did not win both Rich and Bloom. Somer did alienate voters (by virtue of his prior party affiliation, his behavior with regards to the aforementioned lawsuit AND the attempt to monopolize the open seats on the bench in the subcircuit by eastern side committeemen). Somer clearly has a problem in Rich, one that no amount of validators can overcome in Park Forest. Rich didn't fail Somer because Rich Township will never be able to advance Somer as long as the current political environment prevails. This is unique to the candidate, and really has nothing to do with the "deal" or the others who were party to it. In the end, the die was cast by T.J. Somer's history and the political environment that he helped create...

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