Chicago's Invisible Primary
The invisible primary is described by Matt Taibbi as:
… a pre-primary period in which party bosses “scrutinize and winnow the field before voters get involved, attempt to build coalitions behind a single preferred candidate, and sway voters to ratify their choice.”
Chicago has runoff voting for its municipal elections. That means the February 26th election is a kind of open primary and the “general election” is April 2nd. That means we are, RIGHT NOW, in the invisible primary! And let me tell you, I am not any party boss’s preferred choice!
On Monday, I was informed via a random Facebook post of a 25th ward aldermanic forum with a focus on housing and (ironically) accessibility by the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI). It is taking place a week from tomorrow. I complained on my campaign’s Facebook page about the lack of an invitation. And what do you know!? They magically found my email address the next day! They explained that they had been trying to call me for weeks, and I hadn’t picked up.
No one attempted to get a hold of me through any of my online forums that are readily available to the public, such as my website, Facebook, Twitter, snail-mail. Instead, I post on Facebook and within twenty-four hours, I receive an email from CHI in which they are asking me to call them. Sensing that they didn’t actually have my phone number and were trying to get me to give it up, I asked them to try calling me again. I discover, just as I had suspected, that they didn’t have my phone number. CHI claims to have gotten my number from Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a union to which I’ve never belonged.
Of her own volition, a friend made a phone call to Pilsen Alliance, a co-sponsor of the event, without identifying herself. She asked if all candidates would be participating. They stated all candidates but me and they assured her over the phone that I had been emailed and called multiple times. This friend was then texted (at approximately the same time that I was emailed) by the executive director of CHI:
We have been attempting to invite him since before Christmas but he has not picked up any of our voicemails or returned any of our calls. Is the best number for him 312-XXX-XXXX?
So they’re giving out what they think is my phone number to any ol' random person that calls them! Cool cool cool.
Let’s be clear: Byron Sigcho, is the preferred candidate of CHI and this forum. Byron was the director of Pilsen Alliance which is a CHI member organization for those that aren’t aware.
Unlike Byron, I have been serving on multiple community organizations and working in the public sector instead of hiding out in grad school for a decade. Unlike 2 of the other candidates, I am currently employed and don’t absolutely need this position—instead I WANT to serve the ward. I’m currently attempting to make my professional schedule accommodate this last minute invitation. But no one should be under any illusions. This forum will be as fair and balanced as a Fox News broadcast. If I can make it, expect the questions I get to be along the lines of, “Why do you hate puppies?” and “How many kittens have you kicked today?”
Last night at 9:30 PM I received an email from the Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Political Organization (IVI-IPO) saying that I hadn’t responded to them and that if I wanted to participate in their interview process today, January 16, 2019, I had to respond in that two and a half hour window before their laptop turned into a pumpkin at midnight (paraphrasing). Of course, I had confirmed my participation weeks ago. On January 3 they replied and said they’d get back to me with an interview date. They never did. Yet again, I was facing yet another last minute invitation, my schedule be damned!
Little did the IVI-IPO know that I already knew about the 25th ward interviews that are occurring tonight! I’ve been on their email distribution list for some time, probably since the last election! So, I had been invited to watch the aldermanic candidate interviews through their email blast, but not actually invited to be interviewed. I’m guessing after reading this [blog post] that they’ll be independent… FROM MY CAMPAIGN! Fun!
Update: They finally apologized when I showed up.
Then, of course, there is the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. I filed a request for the voter file in my ward back when this campaign started. This is how you know if your petition signatures are valid. After checking up on the status of this request, I was told that my paperwork had been lost. So, I filed a request to see the other candidates' petitions, just in case they did something silly like move out of the ward. I still haven’t received these records. I’m sure that request was “lost” too.
It’s well known that the Chicago Board of Elections isn’t exactly a paragon of democracy. I’ll let Ben Joravsky explain:
Ballot access cases are overseen by hearing officers, who generally are smart enough to know what side of their bread is buttered—if you catch my drift. Over the years, I’ve written many columns about how the system largely protects incumbents… Of course, if the shoe’s on the other foot? Well, consider the case of longtime 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis…
You can click through the link above for a good story about our current alderman. But the point is, if you’re reading this then you probably already know that Danny is retiring. There is no incumbent! The Machine is dead!
Not so fast…
Long live the Machine!
The old-school Machine has their guy, Alex Acevedo. His dad was a state rep and one of the OGs of the Hispanic Democratic Organization. There’s also Hilario Dominguez, who is part of what John Kass calls a “new machine” backed by Rep. Chuy Garcia. After Kass describes the “new machine”, he promotes fellow candidate Aida Flores. John Kass’s endorsement isn’t usually something that’s welcomed around here. But when you combine that with the fact that her first $1,000 came from a non-profit that is affiliated with a charter school, it certainly appears as if she’s winning that invisible neoliberal primary. And we can’t forget about Byron Sigcho, who is endorsed by the ManBearPig coalition headed by Toni Preckwinkle. She’s considered a progressive but endorsed Joe Berrios as Cook County Assessor who used that position to kick minority and low-income home owners while they were down. That isn’t very progressive. Her prior relationship with the hot mess that is Ed Burke these days reinforces that she’s willing to play ball with the old-school machine. But she is backed by the Chicago Teachers' Union and SEIU (the union that pretended to have my phone number) just like Byron and the rest of his progressive clique.
And then there’s me.
When I tell old-time Chicagoans that I’m independent, they immediately ask if I’m a Republican; a common strategy used in Chicago to hide the fact that you are a Republican. I clarify that I tend to be a Progressive Democrat. Unlike all these johnny-come-latelies, I have been talking up Bernie Sanders since 2010—back when you’d be called a commie just for repeating his talking points.
I want to be clear that, like Bernie, I’ve also been repeatedly disillusioned by the Democratic establishment. I vote often with the Green Party here in Illinois, but I think that their national strategy should be improved. I believe in political competition and in Chicago, they’re not going to spoil any elections.
Those are my progressive bonafides. But I’m also the only candidate that’s working in the private sector. Apparently, I’m the only candidate that understands economics (I want affordable housing and our families to remain in Pilsen, too, but you have to know how to handle the economy to accomplish this in the long term), and I am the only candidate that has come out firmly against rent control. I like that Pilsen is a destination for immigrants. Rent control would end that. While rent control protects those living in Pilsen now, it hurts people we would like to welcome into the neighborhood! Who wants to leave a rent controlled apartment? No one… Even if they would otherwise move closer to a new job. And what happens when their apartment gets turned into condos? With a shrinking pool of rent-controlled apartments, they wouldn’t be able to find another apartment in the neighborhood.
Watching local politicos speculate, in good faith or bad, on my politics is like watching Monty Python:
Not to toot my own horn, but it reminds me of the establishment’s initial reactions to Sanders.
He’s a commie!
He likes guns!
He’s an old white guy!
He’s an atheist!
He’s not really Jewish!
The game is: Throw criticisms at the wall and see what sticks. Talk about anything but the issues.
I quit/got shown the door at Pilsen Alliance (PA) when they wouldn’t go after Sims Metal Management. An assistant at PA told me PA was being funded by this neighborhood polluter, which is a claim that they deny to this day, of course. But take a look at their Facebook
websitepage and there they are having a good ol' time at Sims, singing its praises:
Edit: Pilsen Alliance has since deleted the link with the picture. The picture is archived here. The text is still up on Facebook.
SIMS, the current shredder, operates west of Ashland, at 2500 S. Wood. SIMS is an international, publicly traded corporation with a clean record by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sims is also a unionized company, offering living wages and benefits operating under high safety standards.
[caption id="" align=“aligncenter” width=“443”] From left to right, Pilsen Alliance’s previous executive director Nelson Soza is third.[/caption]
But don’t believe your lying eyes! Why would they fight against one shredder while supporting another one? That’s crazy! Troy is probably a dirty liar with too much time on his hands!
In addition to the strong incentive that is money, there’s also this: Pilsen Alliance is a Chicago Teacher’s Union mouthpiece. Sims is a Teamster shop. You’ve got to abide by union solidarity and all that. Any lefties around here had better shut up about it!
By that, this dude does not abide. Don’t get me wrong, I like unions. My grandfather got us into the middle-class by working as a union machinist for over 30 years. I trained as a picket captain for the grad student union at UIC during our contract negotiations. But no job is worth someone’s life. More witch logic!?
The coal plants had a union. They sent me a postcard telling me about their 150 good union jobs at stake! Then I ran the numbers: Over the course of 4 years, the coal plants would kill 168 people and provide 150 good jobs! One person dies so another can work for 4 more years. When people ask what made me run for office, I tell them that story.
Fighting that same kind of fight over Sims cost me the invisible primary in 2015. No matter. I kept talking about it, members of PERRO kept pressuring the EPA behind the scenes, and on December 21st, 2018 it was announced that the US EPA had agreed to a settlement with Sims. They would pay a $230k fine, subject themselves to rigorous monitoring, and put a structure around their shredder to contain their emissions. Now the students and teachers at Juarez High School will be breathing in less carcinogenic hexavalent chromium; i.e. metal dust. That “clean record” is gone. I await Pilsen Alliance’s harsh condemnations (of Sims, or me, whatever). Most importantly, it looks like no union jobs will be lost (sarcasm).
That’s why I’m not winning anyone’s invisible primary; I’m not good at toeing the line.
That’s why I don’t get invited to Housing Forums. That’s why I don’t get invited to “Independent” political organization endorsement interviews until the last minute. That’s why no one knows about the biggest environmental win in the neighborhood since the partial closure of the Fisk Coal Plant. That’s why no one knows about my two-year struggle with the Pilsen Academy Local School Council to replace a principal that threatened to call ICE on a parent representative. But change the uniforms at a neighboring school and the world will know! By the way, Pilsen Academy was Level 2, it’s Level 1+ now… you probably didn’t know.
I don’t need to win anyone’s invisible primary. This is a tiny election. Chicago has 50 aldermen for 2.7 million people. New York City has 51 alderman for 8.6 million people. An election this small is a crap shoot.
Ignoring the politics of the invisible primary has made me a better activist. It also makes me the best candidate for alderman. I hope you agree and that you’ll vote for me.