On Monday I submitted the paperwork to withdraw my candidacy for the 25th ward aldermanic race. The statistics suggest that I had more than enough signatures to get on the ballot. The reality was that proving this fact was going to be logistically impossible. I’ve been denied my place on the ballot and 500 registered voters of the ward have been denied their right to support my candidacy.
Even though this is a disappointing outcome, I’m still glad that I got involved in my local politics. By asserting my right to be present and involved I learned a lot about the the political process and the character of the various people participating in it. I’ve had a few days to reflect on the process and I’m going to try to dispassionately report on what worked and what didn’t work for me through this process.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Starting petition collection in October instead of August – Working at a tech startup sometimes requires working more than 40 hours per week. While I would’ve liked to have started at the end of August, I had projects that kept me working 70+ hour weeks through September. I’ve made institutionalized corruption of the political system a theme of my campaign and ballot access (see below) fits squarely within that theme. Access to the ballot needs to be available to candidates that work as hard as the people they are trying to represent.
The non-profit industrial complex – For many years I’ve endorsed the opinions of Prof. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita; most of the people in politics are not driven by ideology, they are driven by rational self-interest. My hope and expectation was that this didn’t hold true, or hold as true, for the people in local non-profits. I was wrong. While public oversight of non-profits is limited, public oversight of democracy isn’t. This process has only strengthened my belief that we need public financing of elections. Public financing of elections aligns the interests of the voters with the interests of politicians and will reduce our dependence on self-interested organizations from outside the community.
Ballot access – I collected 438 provably valid signatures and approximately 100 unprovably valid signatures. The law was very recently changed so that twice as many signatures were required to get on the ballot, 473 vs. 237. This also made the difference in me not getting on the ballot. Compare this to Los Angeles where 500 signatures will get you on the ballot for Mayor. Two-thirds of states in the US have the option of paying a small percentage of your income (1-2%) to get on the ballot. This helps to keep vanity candidates off of the ballot while allowing candidates who aren’t lawyers the ability to skip the legal obstacle course that tripped me up.
Volunteers – Most of my volunteers were family and friends. None of us had any experience running a campaign and yet we collected signatures at a rate greater than or equal to other campaigns that had months or years of planning and experience.
Not selling out – In addition to having the opportunity to sell out the neighborhood to Sims Metal Management or to Pure Metals, I’ve been getting an amazing number of questionnaires in the mail from groups looking to donate to/endorse my campaign. This creates a strong incentive to give those campaign donors answers that can conflict with the interests of the neighborhood. This is why I have a huge benefit given the privilege and education that’s been afforded to me. I don’t need a political career and that makes it easier to walk away from the people and things that try to subvert the mission of my campaign. Ten years of wrestling (junior-high, high school, and coaching) taught me that I’d rather lose honorably than win dishonestly. It’s not my style. I’m committed to real change and when we start using ends to justify means, we become the system we seek to change and achieve only pyrrhic victories.
Experience – It’s an insiders game. Experience matters. Considering the limited time and resources I had to run my campaign, the return on investment in the form of experience from this campaign was extremely high. I got to meet thousands of people who live in my ward. I learned that I do have a lot in common with the diverse people of my ward. The diversity of my life’s experiences throughout Chicagoland gave me a lot to talk about with the 25th ward’s diverse cross-section of Chicago. I don’t think this will be the last time I’m involved in a political campaign.
It’s a disappointment to not be on the ballot, but I plan to continue to work towards creating a system for our next alderman with the proper incentives. Incentives that help them to act in ways that benefit the people of the ward. Thank you to all the people who gave me words of support. Thank you to all of the people who have taken the time to talk to me about or comment on my political views. The biggest thank you goes out to all of the people who volunteered their money and time to the campaign.
Troy Hernandez, PhD