Thursday, March 15, 2012

How names (and times) change

One of the tales we Chicago political geek-types like to tell is of the 1986 Democratic primary elections when gubernatorial nominee Adlai Stevenson III wound up having his chances of victory sabotaged by being tagged with a lieutenant governor running mate who was an ideological ally of Lyndon LaRouche.
PUCINSKI: From no-name to big name?

That was the cycle that two of the candidates for statewide office wound up being LaRouche disciples – including the party’s candidate for Secretary of State in Janice Hart.

SHE IS SIGNIFICANT because, the story goes, she had a WASP-y sounding name that appealed to voters who didn’t really know anything about any of the candidates.

So they picked her over the woman whom the Democratic Party establishment wanted to get the Secretary of State nomination, a woman whose name just sounded “way too foreign” for Illinoisan sensibilities.

That woman was Aurelia Pucinski, whose career has recovered significantly since that debacle 26 years ago. She served a lengthy stint as clerk of the Cook County court, is currently an appellate court justice and is running in the Tuesday primary elections for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court.

That post is now held by Mary Jane Theis, who is seeking re-election.

YET THERE ARE political observers who believe that Theis could lose this primary election to Pucinski, who supposedly now is the BIG name on the ballot. She’s the one whom voters in Cook County (who are the only ones involved in this particular election) will recognize.

She’s the familiar name whom people will give a knee-jerk reaction vote to, rather than this Theis woman (whom some are trying to denigrate on the grounds that she lives on the same block as Mayor Rahm Emanuel).

In short, she’s come a long way from the days when she was the “foreign-sounding” woman whom nobody knew nothing about.

Now part of it is that Aurelia now has a reputation of her own. She’s NOT just the daughter of “the Puch” (as in former Congressman-turned-alderman Roman Pucinski). She gets a tad more respect now from some people.

BUT I CAN’T help but think this is some evidence that we, as a people have changed. We’re turning, ever-so-gradually, into a people whose definition of society extends beyond that Scottish-Irish mixture that so many thought was “the norm” of our society.

Maybe we’re moving beyond the days when we presume that anyone with an Irish sounding name (the “Mc’s” or the “O’s”) is the knee-jerk preference of voters, and that anyone deviating too far from such a surname has to accept the fact that they may have too many strikes against them to ever serve in public life.

So in that sense, it is a pleasant perk that someone like Pucinski can be taken so seriously and not have something as stupid as an ethnic bias held against her.

Heck, Pucinski even managed to defeat the aforementioned Janice Hart (when Ms. Hart tried to extend her “15 minutes” of political fame by running against Aurelia for the court clerk post that Pucinski ultimately held for three terms). By then, people knew who they were voting for.

CLUELESSNESS COULD NOT play a factor – except for the most clueless of people who are determined to live their lives in society’s shadows. So I’ll be watching come Tuesday night to see who gets the Democratic Party nomination for that state Supreme Court seat (which is for a 10-year term).

Will Theis enjoy the benefits of incumbency and prevail, or will another candidate Joy Cunningham appeal to the significant African-American population of the city and become the first black woman elected to the state’s high court?

Or will the “Pucinski” name recognition prevail to the point of a primary election victory – overcoming the fact that she is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-back-to-Democrat again.

Because as far as I’m concerned, that ought to be the reason to vote against the Puch-ette – even if she is a former Cherry Blossom Princess.


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