CHICAGO — Chances are you haven’t had many meaningful moments with a Chicago mayor, Illinois governor or any candidate running in a race at the top of the ballot.
Still, those are the type of candidates who get most of the media attention — and the biggest percentage of votes — on Election Day.
In the 2018 primary, for instance, 780,071 of 938,639 ballots included votes for governor in Cook County. But when it came to considering county judicial candidates — which is an elected office that most of us, at one time or another, will have a meaningful impact on our lives — about 23 percent fewer voters marked a ballot or tapped a touch screen.
Think about this: Whether it’s jury duty, a traffic ticket, either side of a criminal case, the beginning or end of your marriage, child custody, a civil complaint or mortgage foreclosure, there’s a good chance that each of us will have a significant personal encounter with a judge.
Still, there’s always that significant ballot falloff when it comes to picking judges. You don’t see many judicial candidate profiles in the news. Voters certainly don’t always get the whole story about a judicial candidate’s resume from campaign websites and mailings.
Some judicial candidates run for office using fake names. A 2005 study showed that women judicial candidates with Irish-sounding surnames fared better in primary elections. In 2018, Republican Phillip Spiwak, a Schaumburg lawyer ran, for judge as a Democrat under the name Shannon P. O’Malley — and won.
The lack of information about judicial candidates and a voter interest gives a de facto advantage to the political status quo that controls the Chicago Democratic machine.
Party bosses and ward committeemen count on voters to blindly back judicial candidates listed on palm cards distributed outside polling places on Election Day to extend their political influence into the court system.
Take the election palm card that House Speaker Michael Madigan, chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party’s Central Committee, had printed up for 13th Ward voters.
There’s been plenty of politico chatter about what’s missing from the palm card: neither an endorsement nor a mention of the hottest contest on the ballot — Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s re-election bid.
But not much has been written about the Madigan and Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) palm card endorsement of David A. Bonoma, who’s running for Cook County judge in the 3rd Subcircuit.
Chances are you’ve never heard of the guy.
On his campaign website, Bonoma bills himself as a South Side native who lives in the St. Barnabas Parish in Beverly. He once served as chief of staff to former State’s Attorney Dick Devine. The powerful Chicago Federation of Labor thinks he deserves a judgeship.
A campaign flyer argues that Bonoma deserves your vote because he knows that the “justice system needs to work for everyone, not just the wealthy and connected,” without even a hint of irony.
Bonoma, after all, is lawyer and lobbyist who and has benefited from the ultimate Chicago clout since he was a kid. His family grew up in the same corner of Bridgeport as the Daley family. Bonoma’s mother was the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s City Hall secretary, and served 20 years as Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administrative assistant.
There’s a sweet story about what might have been the first time that David Bonoma benefited from those connections.
On a cold December day, young David was freezing outside Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church with everybody else who couldn’t get in the late Mayor Daley’s funeral Mass. At the request of Bonoma’s mother, City Hall patronage chief Tom Donovan clouted him inside.
“Dave got to go the Mass thanks to Tom Donovan,” Roseanne Bonoma said in an interview for an oral history about the late mayor. “His persistence paid off.”
Bonoma’s campaign website also leaves out other interesting tidbits about the judicial candidate’s clout-heavy professional experience that a might explain why Madigan and the unions think he’d make a great judge.
Here are a few highlights:
In 2005, Bonoma founded a law firm with Victor Reyes, a former top aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley, before Reyes was named (but not charged) by federal authorities as an alleged “co-schemer” in an illegal patronage operation at City Hall.
Bonoma and Reyes once were the registered lobbyists representing Reliable Asphalt Corp., which is owned by Michael Vondra, who most recently made news when the FBI raided his offices as part of its wide-ranging corruption probe.
On campaign economic interest statements, Bonoma reported that he’s still getting paid by Gomez Transportation, the politically connected consulting firm that has a 30 percent stake in a joint venture with a Nashville company that won a $1.6 million-a-year contract to collect tolls on the Chicago Skyway.
Bonoma is a partner in Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, a legal collections firm that was ousted as a Chicago contractor in 2008 due to an ethics violation. Since Bonoma became a partner, the firm now employs Reyes to lobby City Hall. Bonoma also lobbied Cook County elected officials and made campaign contributions to Democratic Party boss Toni Preckwinkle on behalf of the firm, according to public records.
Bonoma served as acting director of external affairs for ComEd and was responsible for “government and community relations” between March 2012 and June 2013. That’s when the public utility won legislative approval for a rate hike that was vetoed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn, and ultimately upheld by state senators who voted to override the veto.
While working at ComEd, Bonoma also was a member of the Illinois Department of Security Board of Review, a politically appointed position generally held by people with clout. In 2011, Bonoma was nominated for the post by assistant majority leader Sen. Antonio Munoz, who rose to power in the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) that was controlled by Bonoma’s business partner, Reyes.
Why Bonoma has kept quiet about his clout-heavy connnections while campaigning for judge is anybody’s guess. It’s not like Bonoma has been accused of breaking the law.
With Madigan’s endorsement and so much judicial voter apathy, let’s face it, telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth probably isn’t a winning political strategy for judicial candidates in Cook County.
In the absence of an Irish surname, it’s probably best to be rich, well-connected and keep quiet.
More Chicago Stories from Mark Konkol:
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