The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Heard of HDO? Every Chicago Politician Has.

By vouchey in News on Feb 8, 2005 3:00PM

munoz.jpgThe latest Chicago pol to fall into the Hired Truck spotlight is West Side State Senator Antonio Muñoz (pictured at right), cited by the Chicago Tribune as an acquaintance of former Hired Truck Program director, Angelo Torres. Torres, you may remember, has been indicted for extortion -- sending city trucking contracts to shadow companies.

The connection between Muñoz and Torres is essentially through the Hispanic Democratic Organization. Muñoz' 1998 senate election is considered one of the first victories for HDO, a pro-Daley fundraising and campaign operation that has come to dominate politics throughout Cook County and even into the suburbs. Certainly Torres, a long-time footsoldier in HDO, is in deep with the organization. Torres is considered by the press to be the architype of what one person can do for HDO, and what HDO can do for one person. But it's difficult to say exactly what Muñoz does for HDO, and what HDO does for him.

The joke about the Hispanic Democratic Organization is that it is neither Hispanic nor Democratic, but it is one helluva Organization. State campaign finance filings show the organization spent $81,675.26 during the 2004 general election, and retains $343,975.75 in its coffers. HDO also shares an address with Victor Reyes, Mayor Richard M. Daley's one-time Director of Intragovernmental Affairs. Today Reyes runs HDO.

The power of HDO has three legs -- money for campaigns, people to help campaigns on Election Day, and city jobs for those people who work for HDO on Election Day. The operatives and beneficiaries of HDO have skin of all color -- black, white, and brown. Everything HDO does -- influence aldermen, state legislators, and even higher officials like State Controller and Congressmen, flows from its ability to sway large numbers of voters on Election Day -- if you can vote, HDO is interested in you. If your campaign is targeted by HDO, literally thousands of people can hit the streets to move voters to the polls in your favor. And, in a pinch, campaign cash can be provided too. Then, when it's all over and HDO has helped get you elected, you're expected to provide a vote here and there in City Council or the General Assembly, and if you have them, provide a job to a campaign worker or two.

A 2002 Chicago Tribune investigation found at least 500 known HDO operatives to hold city jobs. Most likely that's just the tip of the iceberg. HDO workers can be found in county government, state government, the Chicago Park District, Forest Preserve -- anywhere a candidate has been assisted into office by HDO.

While recent mentions of HDO in the media tend to concentrate on the far-reaching influence of HDO, little is known about the actual operations of the group. It's clear that whatever happens, HDO is meant to support the activities of Mayor Daley -- no politician in Illinois will dispute that. And it's also clear that Victor Reyes oversees a significant portion of the group's activities.

But because the organization is so large, and so many smaller races throughout the city and suburbs are affected by its reach, who exactly decides which campaigns get how many resources, and which companies get hit up for donations, is less clear. The influence of the organization is such that many pols react merely out of fear of HDO coming after them.

The influence is felt most strong in Latino neighborhoods of the West Side, and then somewhat in black neighborhoods of the South Side. Other operations in the city counter the HDO, like Cook County Board President John Stroger's 8th Ward political organization, and Congressman Jesse Jackson's far South Side operation -- which works closely with his dad's Operation PUSH. On the Northwest Side Alderman Dick Mell's Coalition for Better Government is waning, on the Southwest Side State House Speaker Mike Madigan tends to stay interested in his and his daugher's success, and smaller groups like State Rep. Lou Lang, 50th Ward Ald. Bernie Stone, and various Lakefront Wards have limited get-out-the-vote operations. But combined with the job getting abilities of Mayor Daley, HDO is usually the kingmaker.