Miller: Chicago Democrats’ primary plot thickens

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The last time state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, had a serious primary opponent, in 2010, the longtime Southwest Side legislator won by just 579 votes over activist Rudy Lozano. And it could’ve been a closer race had two Latino “candidates” not been put on the ballot to siphon away almost 400 votes from the progressive activist Lozano.

At the moment, the age-old Chicago machine practice of running fake primary candidates designed to draw votes away from opponents is on hold while a federal judge takes a look at a lawsuit filed by Speaker Michael Madigan’s vanquished 2016 primary opponent. Madigan, D-Chicago, is alleged to have put two do-nothing candidates with Latino surnames on the ballot to draw votes away from Jason Gonzales.

That never used to be considered a crime. Unfair and maybe unethical, but not illegal. Whatever it is, it’s now under judicial scrutiny.

This time around, Burke is going one-on-one with Aaron Ortiz, a teacher and head soccer coach at Back of the Yards High School.

What makes this race one to watch is that Ortiz has been endorsed by Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a 2015 Chicago mayoral candidate and Bernie Sanders’ top guy in the city in 2016 who now is running for Congress with the support of the retiring incumbent, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

Burke is a member of Madigan’s leadership team and his brother Ed is a powerful Chicago alderman. Those guys take care of their own. If Burke is willing to wage an all-out street fight, then that’s what will happen.

So, two rival Chicago political factions — the regulars and the progressives — are gearing up for battle on several fronts while some are attempting to cut a deal that clears a path for people on both sides.

Garcia and his allies are supporting Alma Anaya for Garcia’s County Board seat. Anaya has run Garcia’s district office. State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, is supporting his daughter, Angeles Sandoval, for that same County Board spot.

Sen. Sandoval, who has one of the strongest remaining political organizations in the city, and state Sen. Tony Muñoz, D-Chicago, have each contributed $55,000 to Angeles Sandoval’s campaign. Muñoz is a top contender for Illinois Senate president whenever incumbent John Cullerton, D-Chicago, decides to retire. Angeles Sandoval should therefore have little trouble raising money from special interests.

Sen. Sandoval, Muñoz and Burke and their allies want Garcia to pull his support from Ortiz and Anaya, clearing the path for Burke and Angeles Sandoval.

In exchange, the “regular Democrats” will stay out of Garcia’s “progressive” campaign for Congress. If not, they may back someone like Sol Flores, the only woman in the race to replace Gutierrez. Flores was just endorsed by EMILY’s List.

So, that may be why a Public Policy Polling survey was released last week showing Garcia getting 53 percent in the Democratic primary. Everybody else was in single digits, including Flores, who was at 3 percent. Garcia could wind up cruising to victory, so why not stick to his guns on the other campaigns?

Well, few people like to work more than they absolutely have to, and nothing is ever a 100 percent bet in politics. So, we’ll see where this one goes. A lot of maneuvering appears to be ahead.

A couple of small pieces have already fallen into place.

Lourdez Laura Ramos, who was backed by Gutierrez, withdrew from the 3rd Illinois House District Democratic primary against state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago. Arroyo had been supporting Richard Gonzales in the 4th Congressional District primary against Gutierrez, but Arroyo will now reportedly withdraw his backing and word is Gonzales may get out of the race.

Gutierrez and Arroyo have been waging a bitter battle over the future status of Puerto Rico.

Alex Acevedo, the son of former state Rep. Eddie Acevedo, D-Chicago, recently dropped out of the Cook County commissioner race to replace Garcia and endorsed Angeles Sandoval. Acevedo and Sen. Sandoval are longtime allies.

However, state Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, told me last week she is backing Anaya for County Board, which puts her at odds with her state Senator, Muñoz. But, she said, she is not supporting Ortiz, the Garcia-backed candidate against Burke.

Mah has her own primary opponent, Francisco Rodriguez, who is apparently backed by former Rep. Acevedo, who is now running for county sheriff. So, there may be another knot to untangle before this is all done.

Got all that? Just your usual Chicago intrigue.

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