The [Friday] Papers
Tribune Op-Ed columnist John McCarron offers a mea culpa this morning for dismissing Anita Alvarez in the Cook County State's Attorney's race, but more importantly he reveals the media's blind spots in ways that still shock - especially in contrast with what the political professionals knew.
"Hardly anybody saw Anita Alvarez coming," McCarron writes. "A lot of us had her pegged fifth in a six-candidate race."
Losing candidates Tom Allen and Howard Brookins, Jr., both Chicago aldermen, told a different story, captured by the Reader's indispensable Mick Dumke.
"'Our polls showed her in the mix,' Brookins said.
"Allen nodded. 'And then she got on TV.'
"She needed money,' Brookins said, 'and then her husband gave her some money.'
"I know you people in the media don't have a clue about how to analyze these things,' Allen said to a certain reporter. 'But we saw it coming.'
"It's easy to say it after the fact, but they aren't the only people involved in the state's attorney campaign offering this analysis," Dumke writes. "Other insiders are saying that their internal polling - from the beginning of the campaign last fall until its final days - showed that few voters were attached to any of the candidates, and even though people didn't know who Alvarez was, they liked her name and the fact that she was a woman up against five guys. The other campaigns were hoping that she wouldn't be able to come up with enough money to raise her profile. But when her husband loaned Alvarez at least $640,000, allowing her to present herself as a prosecutor/mom in TV ads, they knew they were in trouble. 'All of a sudden, she had $600,000 and was the 800-pound gorilla,' said one campaign staffer."
Alvarez herself said "I wasn't that surprised," in response to a question from Phil Ponce on Chicago Tonight last night.
Polling done in December indicated she "had a shot," Alvarez said, if she could just reach enough people with her message - that being a career prosecutor was "a plus," not a negative. Her television commercials put her in the game, she said, and she eked out a win over Allen.
Interestingly, McCarron posits that women coming out for Hillary Clinton helped, even though Clinton was routed in the Illinois primary by favorite son Barack Obama.
"[I]t seemed that Democratic women of all backgrounds, many hellbent for Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, proceeded to vote their gender all the way down," he writes.
Maybe. But what does that say about the failure of Obama to have coattails when it came to change/reform candidates such as Larry Suffredin (who was endorsed by Jesse Jackson Jr.) or Howard Brookins Jr., the only viable African American in the race (perennial loser Tommy Brewer doesn't count) who was endorsed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson?
I don't know the answer. Maybe nothing. But it sure is an interesting question.
Or maybe it will turn out that 2008 isn't the Year of the Woman or the Year of the African American but the Year of the Hispanics, who just may be finally flexing their muscle as a political bloc. It looks like they might be the kingmakers this year. Or the queenmakers.
McCarron's acknowledgement that if he had known what he knows now of Alvarez's resume he might have voted for her only points up the failure of the local media to really invest themselves in this race. No wonder they're surprised.
I know I held off writing about the race in the days before the election because I felt like I just didn't have enough information about the candidates. The press blew this one.
Alvarez's claim to have "changed a lot of things" during her time so far in the state's attorney's office isn't entirely convincing, though. She points to her role in "third-round interviews" coinciding with a rise in minority prosecutors, which isn't entirely persuasive.
Nonetheless, she scored some points in her Chicago Tonight interview when she said she would work to end a good old boy network mentality in the office by creating "a better atmosphere of inclusion," including naming more female supervisors.
(In the debate I saw, you could sense that alpha male opponent Bob Milan, the first assistant and endorsed candidade of outgoing Dick Devine, wasn't exactly a pillar of compassionate office politics.)
Alvarez also said her top priority would be to do a better job "listening to communities, particularly minorities, to rebuild trust that has disintegrated."
To that end, she said she would sit down with the new police chief and the head of the police review authority to "figure out a better protocol on corruption issues." She also proposed restoring "community prosecutions offices" to establish a heightened presence in neighborhoods and communities.
* Can she hold a fundraiser to pay off her husband's loan?
From The Grave
Um, isn't this kind of a big deal - either way?
The Beachwood Tip Line: One of a kind.
Posted on February 8, 2008
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