Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz continues to reign in the 1st District, keeping alive his 10-year streak in the Illinois Senate with a win in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
The incumbent received 69 percent of votes, giving him an overwhelming majority against his challenger, Adolfo Mondragon.
Munoz, who was not available for comment during the week leading up to the Feb. 2 primary, was a difficult candidate to beat, said Kent Redfield, a political science professor who specializes in campaign finance at the University of Illinois, Springfield.
“The short time of the election is something that worked well for the incumbent,” said Redfield, referring to Illinois’ early Feb. 2 elections — the first primary in the nation since its move from April two years ago, which gave then-presidential candidate Barack Obama an early win.
Redfield said that January is the time to push campaigns, which left Mondragon just one month to work against Munoz’s money and organizational support. Since January 2009, the veteran politician was able to raise around $200,000 in campaign contributions, compared to Mondragon’s $29,000, reports the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune endorsed Mondragon, citing his virgin politics as a plus against Munoz’s longstanding membership with the Democratic machine. The papers specifically mentioned Munoz’s relationship with the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, most notably his close political ties to Angelo Torres, who was convicted of running the city’s Hired Truck Program.
“He’s been mediocre at best. He has really not worked with the people who are on the ground,” said Mondragon on Election Day.
Mondragon, who currently works as a public interest attorney, criticized Munoz for ignoring his community’s complaints about two controversial coal-fired power plants on the Southwest Side.
Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) has asked Munoz to get involved with the Fisk and Crawford plants, which it calls environmental hazards. Instead, Munoz has accepted over $10,000 in campaign contributions over the past decade from Midwest Generation, owner of the two plants, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“Unfortunately, we see a lot of old die-hard habits when it comes to voting for Democratic candidates. And when in doubt, people will vote for the name they recognize,” said Dorian Breuer, member of PERRO and assistant secretary for Chicago Southwest Side Greens, a local Green Party affiliate.
While Munoz isn’t known for his environmental initiatives, it’s likely he’ll continue to push legislation related to crime and to address the district’s high Hispanic population.
As for a change in leadership in the 1st District, that will have to wait.
“Electorally, with how to beat the machine candidates, it’s not enough to have a good background. It really requires the old school method of having your army on the ground,” said Breuer.
Whether that played a role in Tuesday’s election, one thing is for certain: low voter turnout didn’t help.