On how to behave after a tough election loss

On how to behave after a tough election loss

Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other. ― Mark Twain

So, sixteen days after the fact we finally have a winner in the Cook County state’s attorney’s primary. It certainly seems destined to become one for the ages, too. To say “strangeness abounded” would be quite the understatement.

And those anomalies started with this. Out of 627,022 votes cast (so far), challenger Eileen O’Neill Burke bested Machine candidate Clayton Harris III by a scant 1,500 votes. Do the math and that comes out to a razor thin 0.3 percent margin of victory. Though I firmly believe it is a mandate, the average pundit certainly wouldn’t see it that way.

It’s still a bit of a rarity, but it’s not nearly the first time a duly anointed Second City Democrat lost a primary, the most infamous examples being Jane Byrne beating Michael Bilandic in 1979 and Harold Washington defeating Richard M. Daly in 1983.

But when you consider The First Ward predicted that Paul Valas would trounce mayor Brandon Johnson, and Johnson proceeded to win by five points, O’Neill Burke’s victory is a clear repudiation of Chicago’s ultra-progressive agenda which clearly isn’t working.

Though crime is generally down in Cook County and everywhere else, the violent type is not. And the voters, particularly those in minority neighborhoods, sent a clear message that they want those perps prosecuted, something outgoing state’s attorney Kim Foxx had great difficulty doing.

So, while her narrow victory might worry some politicians, I believe her win, by any amount, is a mandate to change the state’s attorney’s business as usual approach.

Continuing along the election strangeness track, the magnificent elephant in the vote counting room is those 10,000 “missing” vote-by-mail ballots that magically reappeared just in time to be counted. But the truth is they were never “missing.” The Chicago Board of Elections simply omitted them from the number of VBM ballots left to be counted, a simple case of failing to be thorough in the heat of the post-election moment.

As Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham told me, “We deal with thousands of voters, they deal with millions. So, I’m not going to point fingers over what was clearly a case of human error.”

How do we know it’s human error? Because it would’ve taken dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of pre-prepared political operatives to pull off the kind of fraud that would’ve inserted 10,000 credible fake ballots into the mix. Even if they could’ve done it, to somehow believe that everyone involved would be able to keep their mouths shut is the height of imbecility.

When former Kane County chairman Karen McConnaughy held an executive (closed) session about not telling Jeff Ward about executive sessions, I had that information 10 minutes after the fact. People, and particularly political people, simply aren’t capable of keeping their mouths shut long enough to pull off the most basic scheme.

That said, this is the first time this journalist has ever borne witness to the post-primary election day votes breaking this badly for one candidate. To wit, O’Neill Harris was up by 10,000 votes on March 19 only to watch that lead shrink to 1,500 before Harris III conceded.

I’ve had a number of primary and non-partisan race candidates come to me over the years and say, “Hey Jeff, given your statistical bent, I’m only 30, 60, or 100 votes behind with 200 VBM ballots still out there. Do I have a shot?”

And my blunt answer has always been an unmitigated, “No, you don’t.” First, just half of those outstanding ballots will come in, and second, the 100 that are returned will break exactly the way the election did. And that advice has never been wrong.

But had I been advising Ms. O’Neill Burke, it would’ve been wrong.

So, I (kind of) understand the conspiracy theories because it shouldn’t have been mathematically possible for Harris III to claw back from a 10,000-vote deficit on the back of VBM ballots.

The only possibilities I can come up with are that Cook County is unlike any other Illinois jurisdiction. It moves from diehard South Side Democrats all the way up to their Bright Red North Shore counterparts. That means if those VBM ballots were collected from a predominantly black (Harris III is black) or progressive area, it would go a long way towards explaining the undue shift.

My second contention would be that the conservative versus liberal/progressive VBM dynamic has begun to affect larger primary races.

Remember, the Grand Cheeto told his minions not to vote by mail and they haven’t, which has translated into a huge post-election mail-in vote advantage for the Democrats. If that phenomenon held true in this case, it could very well be the reason the progressive Harris III nearly swept those VBM votes.

Either – or neither – way, it would behoove the Trib and Sun-Times to ferret out the answer in an effort to restore a little faith in the process.

But the most surprising thing about this close state’s attorney contest is what didn’t happen. In a race determined by fewer votes than the population of Lake Point Tower, Harris III gracefully conceded and O’Neill Burke was equally as gracious in her victory speech.

There was no false condemnation of the other side in an effort to whip supporters up into an insurrectionist frenzy. There were no claims that the election commission did their best to work for the other side. Best of all, despite the aforementioned anomalies, there was no pointless, petulant, and petty whining about “stolen elections” without any evidence to back up that asinine allegation.

While every talking head was shrieking about the impending recount, seeing the handwriting on the wall, Harris III did exactly the right thing. He knew that, in the age of electronic voting machines, a recount wouldn’t change a thing and he behaved accordingly by conceding. He fully understood the concept of living to fight another day.

As a campaign manager I’ve won an election by seven votes and lost another by two. In both cases I told the candidate a recount would be a waste of time. Either those machines work, or they don’t, and if they weren’t working the voters would catch on in seconds.

And you really have to give Harris III credit for his wise but difficult decision. Can you imagine putting your life on hold for months to relentlessly pound the campaign pavement only to lose by less than one vote per precinct? Despite being the very definition of depression, it didn’t stop Harris III from showing the rest of us what poise and political decorum really mean.

Let’s also not forget that, instead of doing a MAGA-esque victory dance O’Neill Burke praised her opponent, particularly noting they were united by their love of Chicago and Cook County and that she hoped they could work together in the future.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet!

Leave a Reply