HYDE PARK — The Chicago Republican Party is trying to oust Republican committeemen candidates it claims are actually Democrats and who political analysts are calling opportunists.
Candidates are in that raucous part of the primary campaign where they’re all trying to get each other knocked off the ballot for failing to cross a T or dot an I, and this time it’s the Republicans who are doing most of the infighting in committeemen races.
In some cases, the Chicago Republican Party is trying to oust South Side candidates they’re calling Democrats masquerading as Republicans.
Chris Cleveland, chairman of the Chicago Republican Party, said Tuesday Democrats were running as Republicans in committeemen races in the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th wards.
“We've removed most of them,” Cleveland said, though he declined to name which candidates were suspected to be Democrats.
He said there were nine Republican candidates for committeeman in Chicago that had voted in Democratic primaries, but never voted in a Republican primary. He said it led the party to believe the candidates were in fact Democrats.
Jacob Kaplan, the executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, said the party is not involved in the Republican committeemen races at all.
“The Cook County Democratic Party has no involvement in running those candidates,” Kaplan said.
Political analysts said it's more likely the candidates were political outsiders or opportunists trying to get a foot in the door any way they can and not any organized infiltration by the Democratic party.
“I think it’s just that they want to be part of the political structure,” said Dick Simpson, a former alderman and professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, of the 13 Republican candidates in six south lakefront wards.
He said in his opinion Republican committeemen essentially have no power in the city.
Committeemen are generally in charge of election activities in each ward. They recruit election judges, manage polling places and endorse candidates. Their real power comes from getting a say in who their party slates as a candidate and making appointments for empty political seats.
For Democrats in the city that can mean real power.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as 4th Ward committeeman has gotten the majority vote twice since 2006 in making appointments when the Democrat-controlled 26th District state representative seat became vacant, first when Lovana “Lou” Jones died in 2006 and again in 2011 when Will Burns resigned to become 4th Ward alderman.
But Republican committeemen in the city rarely get to exercise that power, which depends on one of their party members being in office.
“They don’t have a whole lot of power,” said Delmarie Cobb, a long-time political consultant on the South Side.
She said she thought the interest from candidates was more likely a way to get close to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who she said has shown a willingness to help candidates who support his positions regardless of party affiliation.
“I think that’s where most of the real power is going to come from, rubbing elbows with Rauner,” Cobb said.
Whatever the true reason behind the candidates’ desire for the committeemen seat, many are dropping out of the race.
Two challengers to Adrian Wright, the incumbent 3rd Ward Republican committeeman, have withdrawn from the race.
Sixth Ward Republican Committeeman Darnell Macklin has seen the election ease as one challenger has withdrawn and another is fighting to remain on the ballot.
The ballot positions of all three candidates for Republican committeeman in the 7th Ward have been challenged, including incumbent Philanise White.
Quintin Barton has been removed from the ballot for 10th Ward Republican committeeman, leaving the ballot empty for the seat during the March primary.
The primary election will be held March 15 to decide committeemen races.
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