LESSONS OF CHICAGO'S 2015 ELECTION: First lesson. Negative nonsense at a huge cost failed. The lesson of the 45th Ward...

Chicago's 45th Ward Alderman John Arena (above left) celebrated his re-election on election night, April 7, 2015, with his wife Jill and supporters at the La Pena restaurant. Arena was targeted for numerous attacks by various PACs backing Rahm Emanuel because he had voted against Emanuel's policies more than any other member of the City Council during Emanuel's four years in office.By the time the votes were counted and the election results were in in the Chicago ward in which I live, my neighbor John Arena had won a decisive victory in his campaign for re-election as alderman of Chicago's 45th Ward. But Arena, like other candidates who had opposed Rahm Emanuel's policies, was forced to wage an expensive campaign against a host of expensive attacks, most of them lies, that were mailed to voters across the ward by various "Political Acton Committees". The PACs must have spent between a quarter million and a half million dollars on the 45th Ward alone, given the more than three dozens mailings we received from them prior to the primary election and during the six weeks leading up to the general election of April 7, 2015.

With all that money and ugliness against him, the question was: "How did John Arena win re-election?" The answers (detailed far below) include a clear record supported by voters in his ward and a major effort to get out the vote by his organized supporters.

But first, we have to document just some of the nastiness deployed by Rahm Emanuel's millions of dollars against those who dared oppose him consistently.

As a result, I'm going to try and publicize a little information about how this year's election worked, clearly the most expensive election in Chicago history. Over the next week, especially following the Saturday Substance staff meeting, Substance will be trying to analyze and share "Lessons Learned" from the 2014 - 2015 election cycle in Chicago and Illinois. As editor, I want us to take these "lessons learned" all the way back to the dismal failure of "progressives" to re-elect Governor Pat Quinn.

For the 2015 election, the 45th Ward had been remapped to include more precincts south of Irving Park Road. As the map shows, the ward extends far.Why did Pat Quinn lose? Pat Quinn lost because Pat Quinn had spent too long working against many of us (his votes on "pension reform" were just the most dramatic) and because finally Quinn picked one of the most obnoxious and reactionary "New Democrats" this side of Rahm Emanuel (Paul Vallas) as Quinn's running mate. Lesson learned there: While all other major Democratic Party candidates in Illinois won their elections or re-elections, Quinn lost. It was a loss.

But in order to understand the results of the Chicago elections (plural) of February and April 2015, we are going to have to look as closely at the various factors and areas involved as we are going to have to look at some long-term mega-issues like the mistakes of Pat Quinn.

We'll bring in the 45th Ward because my family and I have lived here since 1993, and I have voted in every election except one (I was unable to get to the polls on Election Day; since then I've learned the importance of Early Voting) since then. For a long time, we tried to be the first voters in our precinct, which was often the case. For 2015 and 2015, we had an advantage because one of the voters in our household voted "Republican" in the 2014 primary (part of that anyboy-but-Bruce Rauner thing). As a result, our home got all --- ALL --- the mailings that went out, because some computers thought we were a "Republican" home while most knew we weren't.

We actively supported John Arena in the 2011 election (which he won by 30 votes against John Garrido) and did so again when he ran as an incumbent in this election, February and April 2015.

One of the things that most voters in this ward know is that both men are decent people, the kinds of people you don't mind living on the same block with. And so when the negative campaigning began to hit us (early and often as the silly Sun-Times says), it was interesting to save the stuff that came out from both "camps." Negative materials do not have to be endorsed by a candidate to be mailed to your home, so we received some negative stuff against John Garrido and a great deal of negative stuff against John Arena. The Garrido materials came from the various outposts of Rahm Emanuel, while the negative Arena stuff came mostly from SEIU.


John Arena faced three candidates prior to the February 24, 2015 primary election. In oder tow in and avoid a runoff, a candidate had to get fifty percent plus one of the total vote (a majority). If no one got a majority of the votes in the primary, the top two vote getters faced a runoff on April 7.

Arena was facing opposition for a long time before February 2015. Michelle Baert, who called herself "45th Ward Mom" had built her website a year before the voting. John Garrido began placing huge signs around the war by late January, and the third candidate, a local lawyer, weighed in, albeit lightly. Because John Arena was the incumbent, it was logical that his opponents would challenge his record. That's what they did in the mailings that we received in their names. What was unique this time around was that Arena's opponents had surrogates, all basically from the various places supporting Rahm Emanuel, that were able to go down and dirty early and often without directly leaving their stink on Arena's opponents.

In January 2015, I began keeping what I called the "Bullshit Box." It was a convenient way to save every mailing we received in the U.S. Mail about the 2015 elections. While many of the mailings simply dealt with the issues and the candidates, as the elections drew closer, the stink on the mailings grew more and more noisome.

First out of the box and going negative against Arena in late January or early February (I didn't mark all of the mailings we received) was "Democrats for Education Reform" (DFER). DFER the national grouping paid for by hedge fund millionaires and billionaires, staffed by the usual "rainbow" of people proclaiming "choice", and pushing the corporate "school reform" agenda. They specialize in the code words of the privatization attacks on public education -- "choice," "charters," and "special interests" (which means the unions).

'JOHN ARENA IS NOT A TRUE PROGRESSIVE" proclaimed (in all caps) a mailing we received from DFER in late January or early February. The mailing stated: "Too often John Arena has put his personal agenda in front of Chicago's children and Chicago's schools..." The bad things that Arena had done, according to the early DFER mailing? Arena had voted No on Rahm Emanuel's Longer School Day and Arena had voted no on charter expansion ("choice"). The mailing also claimed that "John Arena could have voted to bring more magnet schools, I-B honors schools, and schools focused on science, technology and math to Chicago..." Each of the NO boxes on that mailing read "John Arena and his supporters say NO..."

Like the other anti-Arena slanders, the DFER mailing disclaimed being on behalf of any candidate: "Paid for by Democrats for Education Reform Independent Committee Illinois," the disclaimer said. "Democrats for Education Reform Independent Committee Illinois is not authorized for any candidate or candidate's agents, nor are any candidate or candidate's agents responsible for its activities."

Although no one has been able to calculate the cost, ward by ward, of the negative mailings that went out between the February 24 primary and the April 7 general election, it was large. At our home in the 45th Ward, we received at least a dozen various mailings from various groups attacking John Arena, some in more lurid terms than others.

Between the primary and general election, the negative mailings against John Arena came from three separate groups, all of which were supporting Rahm Emanuel's candidacy for mayor. The majority of the anti-Arena mailings we received came from DFER ("Democrats for Education Reform", 53 W. Jackson, Suite 726, Chicago 60604). Others came from Rahm Emanuel's "Chicago Forward" PAC (201 W. Lake St., #231, Chicago 60606) and from a group calling itself the "Liberty Principles PAC' (505 N. Lake Shore Drive, Suite 516, Chicago 60611).

-- A group calling itself "Liberty Principles PAC" (505 N. Lake Shore Drive, #516) send out a mailing claiming that John Arena was going to give us a Big Tax Increase. The Liberty Principles PAC mailing also decided to feature photos of John Arena during the brief time he wore a beard during his four years in office. Other anti-Arena portraits utilized the beard period photos, but added darkened features to it (some suggesting that the mailings were trying to picture Arena as not a white guy in a ward that is mostly "white").

-- Rahm Emanuel's "Chicago Forward PAC" contributed a lurid mailing showing two senior citizens nearly in tears looking at what were supposed to be their bills. "Alderman John Arena wants to raise income taxes, property taxes, and create a new commuter income tax..." the Rahm Emanuel PAC proclaimed. "Chicago Forward" was headed by Becky Carroll, an Emanuel operative who had been chief propagandist for the Chicago Board of Education until mid-2014. During that time, Carroll oversaw the first time in the history of Chicago's public schools when the schools did not host regular press conference so reporters could ask questions in an open forum. (Carroll's "CPS Communications Department" also blacklisted Substance from its mailing, so that for the first time in history Substance never received any regular mailings from the city's public school system, despite the fact that Carroll's salary as "Chief Communications Officer" was $40,000 per year higher than that of her predecessor and her "Communications" staff was much larger and more expensive than its predecessors -- at a time when CPS was proclaiming austerity for teachers and other school workers!).

-- DFER continued its various attacks on Arena in the weeks before the general election. According to one lurid DFER mailing, DFER proclaimed "John Arena callas himself a progressive, but he'll change his stripes anytime. He supported a plan to leave children children stuck in failing schools that were underperforming, unsafe, and in need of repair..." That mailing, which would have won a prize for lurid, featured a horse painted with red, black and blue stripes, ostensibly, we must have assumed, representing the stripe-changing Alderman John Arena.

-- DFER added to the voices that proclaimed, against the facts, that "John Arena stood in the way of small business growth in our ward..." That mailing, which cited as a footnote the website "" really had no facts to back it up, and the Arena campaign was able to counter the "small business" attacks with several facts.

-- DFER's most outrageous claim, however, was probably the mailing that charged the alderman with closing the city's mental health clinics -- which was in fact a signature policy of Rahm Emanuel! In March, DFER sent out a mailing to voters which said: "Thanks to John Arena, Patients now have longer wait times, unfamiliar doctors, and are at risk of slipping through the cracks, ending up on the street or worse -- all this while Arena took a pay raise for 2014!"


April 12, 2015 at 2:17 PM

By: Theresa D. Daniels

45th Ward Leader in Dirty Tricks?

My 9th Ward lacked fireworks for this election. Alderman Beale won handily and I'm seeing photos again of him cuddled up with Rahm, maybe no longer the black wart on Rahm's ass, maybe now his loving lap dog. I had seen no photos of him with Rahm during the primary campaign--unusual for him and fooling me into thinking he might be becoming a real alderman not a rubber stamp. He had been working harder for the Ward since he found out he was not universally loved here when he dramatically lost in his bid to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr.

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