Fritz Kaegi win could signal end to machine-style Chicago politics

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Cook County political watchers are still buzzing about Fritz Kaegi's victory over the incumbent Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. (WLS)

Cook County political watchers are still buzzing about Fritz Kaegi's victory over the incumbent Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

Some say the win could mark the end of machine-style politics in Chicago.

An old-style machine politician is someone who believes in patronage, nepotism and favoritism. For years, it was normal practice for Cook County Democrats. But some of Tuesday night's victories are proof that progressive and reform candidates are chipping away at the machine's existence.

"The old machine is no match to the power of the people of Cook County," Kaegi said.

Kaegi's victory was celebrated with several other progressive winners - candidates, like Chuy Garcia, who say their time has come, especially on the Southwest Side where machine politics has held court for generations.

"it's been a slow change, but seeing these kind of victories is really motivating, we knocked on over 20,000 doors," said Andrea Ortiz, Grassroots Illinois Action.

Ortiz says her organization has been working for change in the community for years. She says Tuesday's defeat of State Representative Dan Burke, the brother of the powerful alderman Ed Burke, is more evidence that the machine can be beat. Ortiz says her generation is fed up with the old-style politics her own parents were always willing to accept.

"They would give us baseball caps, and my dad loved baseball caps. And he would say as long as I get a baseball cap, this year, he has my vote," Ortiz said.

While the politics of patronage, nepotism and often corruption was the norm for decades, it got a brief reprieve with the election of Harold Washington in 1983.

"Harold Washington once said the machine is dead, dead, he was a little premature, it has changed," said Dick Simpson, former Chicago alderman.

Simpson was one of the few progressive politicians who fought against the machine in the 1970s while Tuesday's election proves the old party is fading away, it's not dead yet. Simpson says House Speaker Michael Madigan is not going anywhere.

"His big advantage is he has a lot of money and gives it to state legislative candidates," Simpson said.

Simpson also says the key to Madigan's power is his willingness to easily move on policy issues his Democratic caucus wants. Tuesday wasn't a total win for candidates challenging the establishment. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle easily beat Bob Fioretti.
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politicsproperty taxeselectiondemocratsChicagoLoopCook County
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