The other day while paying a visit to my father’s house, I happened to be near the telephone when it rang. Out of courtesy, I answered.
The next thing I know, I was hearing the nasally tone of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s voice. No, it wasn’t my “political dream girl” calling me up for a personal chat.
It wasn’t even Madigan herself.
I was listening to a recorded message she did on behalf of the Democrat who has the party’s blessing to run for an Illinois House seat in Chicago’s southern suburbs.
I got to hear the attorney general tell me just how wonderful a public official the candidate in question would be, just before hearing a gravelly male voice (think “Fat Tony” from 'The Simpsons') tell me that the AFL-CIO sponsored the telephone call.
Sure enough, it is the “silly season.”
We have only 12 days to go – a perfect dozen – until we residents of Illinois can trudge to our neighborhood polling places (Mine is in a Lutheran church rec room. Where’s yours?) to cast ballots for presidential primary candidates and a whole host of lower electoral offices.
It seems like forever, largely because the campaign focus is on the presidential dreamers who are still days/eons away from paying much attention to Illinois. Democrats today are readying themselves for the South Carolina primary, while Republicans are focused on Florida.
Even with the Illinois primary elections approaching, we’re not going to get a lot of face time with the presidential candidates, as they also are going to have to cope with elections taking place in 21 other states. Chicago, New York and Los Angeles residents all will be casting ballots Feb. 5. They’re going to be spread out. Most of us won’t have a chance to see Barack or Hillary or Rudy or Mitt.
So we’re going to have to focus on the lower level races if we want to see actual campaign activity here. My mailbox is starting to fill with the glossy leaflets and flyers meant to promote the notion that a person I’ve never really paid much attention to is worthy of my vote.
I’m sure some people throw the flyers away without much of a glance. But it must be worth the printing costs if a few people bother to remember a name.
I’ll have to admit that Dean Maragos’ campaign for a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District caught my attention. Depending on my whim come Election Day, he may even get my vote.
It’s not like I can tell you much about anyone else running for the sanitary district. What is particularly shameful is that I used to cover the agency when I was a reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. Moreso than anybody else, I should know something about it.
But much of that agency's trivial information is buried deep in the recesses of my brain. So the sight of someone trying to fish in the Chicago River is probably as legitimate a reason to cast a ballot as anybody else’s reason for voting for someone on the water reclamation district.
Maragos’ four-page flyer includes a full-page color photograph of Dean along the shore of what looks to be the north branch of the river where the city turns into northern suburb, using a net to try to scoop a fish out of the water.
It’s not quite the vision that Mayor Daley the elder had of people some day bringing fishing poles with them to work downtown, and catching their lunch out of the Chicago River while on a break. But I’ll take it.
I like looking at the literature to see what kind of gaffes candidates will make. Thus far, the closest I have come to personally seeing one this electoral season is a glossy card telling me to vote for Sharon Johnson Coleman for a seat on an Illinois Appellate court.
Her card includes a photograph of her standing beside U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. The only problem is that where I live, the congressman is Bobby Rush. Jesse Jr. doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, or my neighbors.
It strikes me as interesting to see what trite tricks the campaigns will use in their mailings to try to get my attention. After all, for a candidate running for a Chicago-area seat in the Illinois House of Representatives or state Senate, or for a judicial post, these mailings are the campaign’s activity IN ITS ENTIRETY.
It’s not like this is central Illinois, where candidates for the General Assembly and lower offices run vicious television commercials that smear their opponents just as viciously as any Chicago mayoral or Illinois gubernatorial candidate does in the Second City.
For the most part, candidates for these lower profile positions are counting on local political party organizations in each city ward and suburban township to get potential voters to blindly support candidates of specific parties or slates.
I doubt that anyone beyond Dean Maragos’ mother, and maybe his wife, will actually vote for him because they think he’s best qualified for a seat on the government board that oversees the Chicago area’s sewage treatment plants.
I once had an editor whose political observations as a reporter went back to the days of the 1968 convention in Chicago (mine go back to the days of Harold Washington) who said he believed that anyone could run for a seat in the state Legislature or on a low-profile county government panel – if they could get about 200 people (no more) who sincerely believed in their ability to be a public official.
His theory was that the bulk of the few thousand people who cast votes for any particular candidate were doing so out of habit of being told who to vote for by someone else. Most voters, he believed, did not really know anything about anyone they were voting for – outside of the top two positions up for grabs in each election.
As far as the political party hacks who set the agenda by strongly hinting to people who they should vote for, most of them would be seriously impressed if a couple hundred people sincerely showed interest in a person as a candidate.
There’s also the political theory that people like to vote for candidates with “Irish-sounding” last names. Something about the Scottish-Irish sound of MacDougal or Kenney sounds like it should belong to a Chicago politico. Maybe it did 50 years ago. But times have changed.
Personally, I will often vote for someone WITHOUT an Irish sounding name if I don’t know anything about either candidate in a lower-level electoral race. I figure that if it is true that most people will vote for the Irish-sounding name, then someone should vote for the other guy.
And if it sounds like I’m biased against the Irish, well, that’s no more ridiculous than those people who push the theory because they’re biased in favor of the Irish.
My action is my personal little protest against those people who would just as soon turn Election Day into a civics class version of St. Patrick’s Day, complete with kegs filled with green-dyed beer served to people as they left their polling place.
Then again, a glass of green beer would serve one useful purpose. We could fling it at any would-be exit pollsters who are trying to make it possible to know who won the election before any votes are actually counted.
EDITOR’S NOTES: Want to learn more about my new second-favorite expert on sewage and sludge? Check here (http://deanmaragos.com/). As far as I’m concerned, Ed Norton will always rank Number 1.
In case Lisa Madigan’s recorded voice is too busy to give you a call, here’s a list (http://www.ilafl-cio.org/docs/08endors.pdf) of whom the AFL-CIO wants you to vote for.
A quickie summary of the history of Chicago’s electoral politics can be found here (http://encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/987.html).