Woman wins 3-way contest for Illinois Jewish seat

When they finally scraped away the mud and counted the votes in the 9th Congressional District, state Rep. Jan Schakowsky was the one left standing. Not longtime Democratic Party and state Senate leader Howard Carroll. Not young J.B. Pritzker and all the money he was able to throw into his own campaign.

Schakowsky, an activist on behalf of consumer and women's issues, is also possibly the most liberal in a field of liberal Jews.

That now makes Schakowsky heir apparent — subject, of course, to an election in November — to what has been called the "Jewish seat" in Congress. The heavily but-by-no-means totally Jewish district spans the city's lakefront and Rogers Park neighborhoods, plus large parts of suburban Skokie, Evanston, Morton Grove, Lincolnwood and Niles. It's a seat retiring incumbent Sidney Yates has held for 48 of the last 50 years.

In a campaign noted for attack ads, negative mailings and huge spending — all three candidates paid for TV commercials seen by far more voters outside the district than in — Schakowsky's victory may have come down to her emphasis on, and appeal to, women.

Her campaign, especially among women voters, was unstoppable, said political analyst Paul Green of Governor's State University. Her message was, "Don't you think it's time for a woman in Congress?" he said, and the only way she could have been defeated with that strategy would have been with a united opposition. There wasn't one.

She drew strong support from many women's groups, including national organizations, and stood shoulder to shoulder in her ads with perhaps Illinois' most recognizable female political leader, former gubernatorial candidate Dawn Clark Netsch.

It was, Green said, "a very, very impressive performance."

Greg Hinz, political editor for Crain's Chicago Business, reached much the same conclusion.

"The gender thing is what made the difference," he said, especially in a lakefront district like the 9th.

However, longtime political observer and player Joseph Morris saw Schakowsky's win in a different light. The strength of the victory — she had roughly 45 percent of the vote in a three-way race — cannot simply be explained by her appeal to women voters, he suggested.

"I think it was a victory for high-definition politics," said Morris, the Midwest president of B'nai B'rith and a leader in Republican politics. Schakowsky was the best-defined candidate, in terms of issues, while Pritzker and Carroll were less crisp on issues and projected less of a sense of commitment, he said.

While Schakowsky has built her career on vocal advocacy of social issues, and sees that as having strong appeal to the Jewish community, Green noted that her views on Israel are less clear. It will be interesting, he said, to see how those emerge.