Chicago's delegation to the state legislature is usually a pretty diverse group, with Irish, Polish, Hispanic and African American legislators winning elections in different parts of the city. But when it comes to political affiliation, the group looks monolithic: every state representative and senator from Chicago is a Democrat.
A man who's used to being the only Republican in the bunch is hoping to change that come November.
Alderman Brian Doherty, the lone Republican of Chicago's 50 aldermen, is running for state senate against Democrat John Mulroe, who was appointed in August to fill the seat of retiring Senator James DeLeo. The race has become hotly contested and deeply hostile, and the 10th Senate District on the Northwest Side has become an unexpected battleground.
In fact, political affiliation is about the only thing that's diverse about the two candidates' backgrounds. Both are sons of Irish immigrants. Both grew up in Austin, and both went to St. Angela School -- as the Sun-Times reported last week, the two men have known each other since their grade school days.
They certainly haven't acted like old friends during the campaign, though. Doherty has repeatedly painted his opponent as an insider politician, despite just three months in Springfield. He highlights Mulroe's part-time work as a hearing officer for the City of Chicago, Cook County and the Park District, describing those as "patronage jobs."
And Mulroe's appointment to the Senate drew fire as well. From the Sun-Times:
"My opponent was the handpicked candidate of the Senate President John Cullerton," Doherty said. "Win or lose, my opponent was paid $30,000 for six days' work in Springfield."
Meanwhile, Mulroe has relentlessly attacked Doherty over his vote for the now-infamous parking meter lease.
Doherty voted with Mayor Daley and the majority of the City Council to approve the lease of the city's meters to a private company. At the time, he acknowledged to the Sun-Times that the city was getting short shrift in the deal: "Are we getting a little nickel-and-dimed? Yes," he said.
Subsequent reports have shown that the city left upwards of $1 billion on the table in the deal, a fact that Mulroe has emphasized throughout the campaign. He's gone so far as to propose state legislation requiring privatization of city resources -- like parking meters -- to be done by referendum.
"My opponent's vote in favor of the parking meter deal is a failure of leadership because he knew it was going to hurt the people of Chicago," Mulroe said in a press release. "I would like to put these kinds of decisions in the hands of the voters from now on and allow for public debate about the merits of these proposals."
Doherty has also been accused of "serious ethics violations" for using his aldermanic office to help raise funds for his Senate campaign.
It's hard to gauge just how effective these attacks have been. There's been little polling in the race; the only survey, taken two weeks ago by the Illinois Manufacturers Association, gave Doherty a six-point edge.
October 13 is an eternity ago in campaign time. Still, John Mulroe is fighting for his political life in a race that will go a long way in determining the balance of power in Springfield, and could be a bellwether for the strength of the Republican wave in Illinois.
If Chicago elects a Republican state senator, then Tuesday will be a long, dark day for the Democrats.
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