Updated: April 5, 2012 8:14AM
Aurelia Pucinski is making ’em sweat.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Cook County Democratic Party are pulling out all the stops to elect her opponent, Mary Jane Theis, to a 10-year term on the Illinois Supreme Court.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and friends from Barack Obama’s inner circle are supporting another candidate, Joy Cunningham.
There’s a fourth guy in the race, Winnetka attorney Thomas W. Flannigan, but he doesn’t have a prayer. It’s Pucinski who’s giving them fits.
An internal campaign poll reportedly has “Undecided” in first place at the moment, Pucinski second, and Theis and Cunningham trailing.
How can that be when Theis, already an appointed justice to the Supreme Court, has the highest ratings from bar associations, a million bucks in campaign cash from law firms and corporations, and was slated by her party?
Why, for that matter, does Appellate Court Justice Cunningham not pop in the polls? She has actually bucked the slatemakers in the past and won; also has fine ratings from bar associations, and has raised half a million bucks from attorneys and medical providers.
What is it about Pucinski?
Name recognition, for one.
Her father, Roman, was a well-known Chicago congressman and alderman. And she has won countywide political offices, jumping from the Democratic Party to the GOP and back again. But more than anything else, she has been a maverick.
Pucinski has virtually no money save about $30,000 in donations and loans. And she has pledged not to take any money from law firms doing appellate work. She has no major endorsements.
Is that crazy?
Let’s start with whether political endorsements matter.
They didn’t in last year’s aldermanic races when Emanuel and the organization backed candidates in the 36th and 47th wards. Then watched them go down in flames. That’s why Nick Sposato and Ameya Pawar are in the City Council today.
Then ask yourself whether bar association recommendations, which for Pucinski averaged mediocre, carry much weight. You know, lawyers endorsing other lawyers running for judge.
“Even bar associations don’t matter,” said Paul Green, director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University. Even when a sitting judge is rated incompetent.
Does big money make a difference? Ask the five Democratic congressmen in Illinois who were dumped in 2010 in favor of Tea Party Republicans, some of whom, like Joe Walsh, had little cash.
The mood this primary is sour or disinterested. Turnout is expected to be low.
Here’s why we still need to care:
The Illinois Supreme Court is made up of seven justices, four Democrats and three Republicans. Whoever wins the March 20 Democratic primary will face Republican Circuit Court Judge James Riley in November.
The ultimate winner will sit on a court that will tackle profound issues including whether pension benefits can be changed for public employees and what corporations can and can’t do in this state.
All of the people running are smart. None is perfect. Nor is the system by which we choose them.
But you, in this critical race, have got to be the judge.