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Election Analysis. Robyn Gabel won Feb. 2’s five-way race for the Democratic nomination for the representative from the 18th District. Patrick Keenan-Devlin finished a close second, about 300 votes behind, with Eamon Kelly about 150 votes further back. Jeff Smith and Eb Moran finished fouth and fifth. The winner in the Novembver general election will replace Julie Hamos, who did not seek re-election.
On Election Day this reporter talked with each candidate, campaign manager and numerous supporters. These conversations and others on the campaign trail since October yielded a number of observations.
Most everyone agreed that the field of candidates was surprisingly and refreshingly strong this year. A consistent theme from each candidate and most supporters was that the district, which includes most of Evanston and part of New Trier townships, as well as part of the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago, would have been well served by any of the candidates running.
The strength of the field was evidenced by the endorsements and supporter lists. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky supported Ms. Gabel, and the Chicago Sun-Times endorsed her; several unions supported Mr. Keenan-Devlin; Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin supported Mr. Kelly; Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and four aldermen backed Mr. Smith, and the Evanston Sentinel endorsed him; the Chicago Tribune endorsed Mr. Moran. Ms. Hamos did not endorse anyone.
It appears that Ms. Gabel emerged victorious for several reasons. First, without a run-off, it would have been possible to win with slightly more than 20 percent of the vote, and Ms. Gabel captured around 27 percent. As the only woman in the race, Ms. Gabel had an advantage. At the DPOE endorsement Ms. Schakowsky urged the district to continue the “string of pearls” by sending another woman to follow in her own and Ms. Hamos’ footsteps.
At Lupita’s, where Gabel supporters gathered, cries of “Let’s hear it for feminism!” rang out as Ms. Gabel began to speak. None of the other candidates expressed bitterness or disappointment with the role of gender in the results. In fact, one candidate said, “She’ll be very good. And we need more women in Springfield.”
Second, Ms. Gabel ran a very strong campaign spearheaded by a veteran of numerous elections, Josh Kilroy. Her biggest weakness, according to both supporters and the other candidates, was her lack of direct involvement, either as a volunteer or in government, in the Evanston community. She overcame this by introducing herself to the district and pointing to her legislative record as an advocate in Springfield for health care and women’s issues.
Second-place finisher Patrick Keenan-Devlin peaked early and then ran into a buzzsaw of opposition both from candidates and from voters over his acceptance of over $66,000 worth of cash and in-kind AFSCME union contributions. A number of voters joined Mr. Moran in openly scoffing at Mr. Keenan-Devlin’s “New Way” slogan in light of the union cash. Several told the RoundTable they changed their vote from Mr. Keenan-Devlin to another candidate after hearing about the contribution.
Until the union-contribution controversy, Mr. Keenan-Devlin ran a campaign with seemingly omnipresent enthusiastic and dedicated supporters. The support he received from the Democratic Party of Evanston and New Trier’s Democratic Party appeared as if it might help him carry the day. It did not, at least after the controversy erupted.
Mr. Kelly, a newcomer to the political stage, rode the support of teachers (including the Illinois Federation of Teachers) to a surprisingly strong finish in what had seemed a rather quixotic quest. One candidate wondered why Mr. Kelly would enter against the experience of Mr. Smith and Mr. Moran, the support for Ms. Gabel and the organization of Mr. Keenan-Devlin. Mr. Kelly finished a strong third, however, within a few votes of second. And while Mr. Keenan-Devlin’s camp was obviously upset over Mr. Kelly’s attacks concerning AFSCME’s large contribution, the rest of the field spoke highly of him.
Jeff Smith was probably the best-prepared and most thorough candidate, with a history in the community and detailed statements covering seemingly dozens of issues. But this detail, this thoroughness and this history of community involvement, may have cost him. Mr. Smith told the RoundTable several weeks ago that the experts tell campaigns to avoid too much detail and to keep the message simple. Mr. Smith, with his knowledge of local issues, did not always do this. Support from the green community and the efforts of Northside Democracy for America were not enough, and the campaign just never seemed to catch fire.
Mr. Moran joined the race late and seemed to enjoy himself, but the public never seemed to take his candidacy very seriously. Perhaps in an effort to show his independence, he went out of his way to proclaim himself pro-life at an early debate. He also attempted to distinguish himself as the only candidate who would not raise state taxes. In the end, though, City Council experience, of 18 years did not translate to votes.
Ms. Gabel will run in November against an as-yet-undetermined Republican and a Green Party candidate. This election past, most voters will hope for similar campaigns in the future, with good, tough choices from a field of strong candidates.