Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Only one more week ‘til Election Day -- how many people really know, or care?

I don’t doubt that there are isolated spots throughout the Chicago metropolitan area where people can be found who are anxiously awaiting next Tuesday’s arrival. For it will be Election Day, and we’re going to learn once and for all who will be doing “the people’s business”: for the next four years at all sorts of local levels of government.

How many people think Election Day ended last month? Graphic provided by CheckVoterStatus.com. 

Yet the big drawback to the solid electoral victory of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel back in February, along with all the other citywide officers, is that way too many people think Election Day is over.

THE VOTER TURNOUT for that election wasn’t even 50 percent (more than half of registered voters stood home, despite a competitive mayoral race). I’m wondering how pathetic it will be on April 5, when we get the run-off elections in 14 of the 50 wards, along with the actual municipal elections in the 128 villages, towns and cities that comprise suburban Cook County.

A part of me has this hunch that 20 percent voter turnout is a realistic guess as to how few people will bother to cast ballots.

The problem is that for the general public who don’t follow every nuance of a campaign (the ones who follow the Archie Bunker theory of politics and don’t “waste” their vote on anything other than president), there just isn’t a perception that the elections are ongoing.

It really does seem like it should have ended when Rahm Emanuel took his 55 percent of the vote.

WITH SO MANY wards not having any aldermanic posts, there are large swaths of the city (including all the neighborhoods where I have relatives living and voting), Tuesday is going to be just an ordinary day for many Chicagoans.

It will be worse in the suburban areas. While there will be elections in many towns, so many of those municipalities just don’t have any individuals who are interested in holding elective office – except for the incumbent members who tend to view the post as their birthright.

The Cook County clerk’s office this week pointed out that of the 716 positions up for election in the inner suburbs (local village boards, school boards and park districts), only 287 have anything resembling a competitive race.

Most are merely one person running for office unchallenged (which almost feels like the elections the old Soviet Union used to have, in which people were given the “freedom” to express their pleasure with the current regime). In the case of 55 positions, there is no one running for office.

IN SHORT, IT’S not an environment that is going to get people all enthused about wanting to get to the polls on Tuesday – or rush out to their local Early Voting Centers, which close down on Thursday.

We’re going to see many government officials who manage to win re-election and claim they have a “mandate,” all because they were able to persuade a couple hundred individuals to take the time to cast votes for them.

That’s how little it literally takes to win a government position these days. Considering that it is these local officials who make many of the decisions that directly impact our lives, it always strikes me as sad that so few people care.

It also is what makes the few competitive campaigns intriguing – although it does become pathetic when some races get their interest because of trivial factors – such as the 20th Ward where Alderman Willie Cochran once again takes on rap music performer Che “Rhymefest” Smith – only this time without four other candidates to take attention away from them.

A RAPPER, OR an ex-cop? It’s Chicago’s chance for a “Jesse Ventura-like” election. I’m wondering how few people will pay attention to any position papers or stances either of those candidates have taken, and will merely vote on the image they’d like to see for that South Side ward?

Then, there is the case of south suburban Chicago Heights, where two candidates are slugging it out for mayor, the positions of clerk and treasurer are now elected instead of mayorally-appointed, and the city was just split up into seven wards (as opposed to six).

It means there is new territory for people wishing to hold office. The feisty level is complicated by the fact that the two mayoral hopefuls, alderman Joe Faso and certified public accountant David Gonzalez, are running for a post that is open because the current mayor is only mayor because the old mayor died – and that official was only mayor because the last elected mayor of Chicago Heights (Anthony DeLuca) decided that political life would be more interesting in the Illinois House of Representatives.

My point being that is the kind of chaos it is taking to create an intriguing election cycle this time around. For most of the 5 million-plus people of Cook County (plus the other 3 million-plus who live in the surrounding counties that make up the Chicago metro area), there’s nothing nowhere near as dramatic to pick from.

BUT THAT DOESN’T mean people won’t emerge victorious from those elections, and gain the authority to make decisions involving public monies on behalf of the people.

Which means that a year from now, when you get your assorted tax bills and fees and complain out loud,
“Who voted for these knuckleheads?,” the honest answer in many cases will be “You did!” when you didn’t bother to cast a ballot.


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