I’m collecting signatures to get myself on the ballot for Democratic Committeeman in Chicago’s 25th Ward. I need your help. First, I’ll explain what the committeeman is and does. Then I’ll explain why I need your help. Finally, I’ll tell you why I’m running.
I’ll let Hal Dardick at the Tribune explain the position:
It’s a little-known and unpaid job. The power that once came with it has shrunk in recent decades as the ability to hand out jobs has been greatly diminished by the steady federal court dismantling of the city’s political patronage system.
But it still comes with influence. Committeemen direct the remaining troops that try to get out the vote on Election Day, take part in candidate slating by the Cook County Democratic Party and choose replacements for elected state and county officials who don’t finish their terms. Ward bosses also set up political funds to back candidates and dole out largesse.
Notice the part about “candidate slating” in the Cook County Democratic Party; aka the Machine. Because of the Shakman Decrees the Machine doesn’t have the power that it used to have, so it went looking for power elsewhere. Further down, I’ll lay out my argument for why that new source of power is even worse.
I need your help
Last year I tried to get on the ballot for Alderman of the 25th Ward. I was knocked off the ballot by the Mayor’s attorney Mike Kasper. You can read my piece on ballot access that describes how that process is purposefully difficult, but I think I best summed it with this:
In short, you can’t keep challengers off of the ballot but you can make getting on the ballot a difficult process that helps to ensure the job security of incumbents. To put Chicago’s process in perspective, with 500 signatures I could run for mayor of Los Angeles or Detroit.
For the 6-figure alderman’s job, I needed 473 signatures. For this unpaid position I need 387 signatures. And that’s just to get on the ballot. Where the 387 number comes from is a lesson in massaging the numbers. If you go to the state’s Board of Elections office or their website, you’ll find this Candidate’s Guide [pdf]. On page 40 you’ll find the signature requirements:
…not less than 5% nor more than 8% (or 50 more than minimum, whichever is greater)* of the primary electors of his party in the ward.
By “primary electors”, they don’t mean the number of voters from the last committeeman election in 2011. No. That would only net 2149 voters or 107 signatures required. By primary elector they mean the most popular Democratic candidate from the much more popular general election in 2014. In this case that’s not Dick Durbin (7434) or Pat Quinn (7101) or Lisa Madigan (7597) … the winner is Jesse White with 7724 votes!!! I still love his tumblers. (Maybe I should invest in some tumblers.?) 5% of 7724 votes is 386.2, so I guess we’re rounding up.
Now you may have noticed the * up there. That’s the best part. Back in 1986 Ed Gjersten complained that the signature requirement was too high. Back then it was 10% of primary electors for ward committeeman!!! But it was only 5% for Cook County townships; i.e. the suburbs. The courts found this violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment and lowered it to 5%. Now let’s compare this to getting on the ballot for Mayor, just under 1% of voters' signatures are required. Getting on the ballot for Democratic nomination to the office of US Senate requires 5000 signatures out 1,929,637 “primary electors”, or 0.3%. So running for this unpaid office is 5 times harder than running for Mayor and 15 times harder than running for the Democratic nomination of a US Senate seat.
That’s why I need your help. I have no political organization vying for government jobs. I have no corporations that require me to do their bidding. I have not drawn the interest of eccentric millionaires or billionaires. I’m just a concerned citizen. I am not a career politician. I already have a career. I am the community representative on the local school council at Pilsen Academy because I believe in public education. I volunteer at the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization because I believe that everyone has the right to breathe clean air.
Last year I recognized the importance of starting signature collection early, but was unable to do that this year again because… I’m just a concerned citizen. I have to take care of myself before I can take care of others. I’ve again recently started a new job. Politicians for once aren’t lying when they say they have to talk with their families about the difficulty of running. I refused to start this campaign until my home was in order. The politics at Pilsen Academy have been more dramatic and time-consuming than I could’ve imagined.
Why I’m Running
The small reason is that our democracy isn’t working in Chicago. From ballot access to gerrymandering… Even the supposedly democratic piece of Chicago Public Schools are non-functional. My complaint last year to the Chicago Board of Elections went unanswered.
The Machine has also become indistinguishable from the national Republican Party. Corporate handouts from the TIF program drained the pension funds. That tactic is otherwise known as “Starve the Beast”. Privatization of the parking meters certainly made the government smaller, but we leased them out for pennies on the dollar. Gerrymandering is used in red states to minimize Democratic power (that’s the new 25th ward in my logo). There aren’t many Republicans around here, so who is the Machine trying to keep out of power? You!
No one believes that Rahm is actually feuding Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. The new Republican-light Machine model has even gone national. We’ve had Bill Daley at JP Morgan Chase playing musical chairs with Rahm at the White House. Bill Clinton passed NAFTA (which created massive unemployment and migration for the Mexican Campesinos) and Hillary pushed through bankruptcy reform.
Obama doubled down on NAFTA with CAFTA and the TPP. From the Bill Moyers show:
BILL MOYERS: You say if [Obama] wins the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he’ll be giving away big chunks of our remaining manufacturing base to Japan and Vietnam and other Pacific Rim countries. Why does he want to do that?
JOHN R. MACARTHUR: Because he’s the fundraiser in chief. And again, this goes back to Bill Clinton. Because Obama’s really just imitating Bill Clinton. Clinton made an alliance with the Daley machine in Chicago, which Obama, he’s inherited that alliance with the two Daley brothers. The people who were thriving are the people in power. Rahm Emanuel is now mayor of Chicago. Bill Daley and Rahm Emanuel were the chief lobbyists for passing NAFTA under Clinton. They’re the ones who rounded up the votes. They’re the ones who made the deals with the recalcitrant Democrats and Republicans who didn’t want to vote for it. These people are in the saddle.
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Some Democrats make politics out to be like professional wrestling. There’s good guys (Democrats) and there’s bad guys (the Republicans), but many times (not always) they’re both just employees of the corporation(s).
So for these reasons I’ll be walking around trying to put myself on the ballot and trying to put Bernie Sanders in the White House. I won’t understate the complexity of politics, but after a couple of years engaging in neighborhood politics and activism, I’ve found that consistency is what I’m looking for in a leader.
From “free trade” to gay marriage, from responsible use of force to campaign finance reform. Bernie’s been consistent on issues that I care about.
So I hope you’ll join me in collecting signatures in the 25th ward. If Chuy Garcia can collect 12,500 signatures in one month, then with a handful of volunteers we can get 400 in the same amount of time. Let’s get started.