The ballots have been set in all municipal elections for April’s aldermanic, mayoral and township races. Barring organized write-in campaigns, there will be but three contested races for City and Township offices – First Ward alderman, Sixth Ward alderman and Township Supervisor.
At petition due date, two other races were contested. Before the turn of the new year, however, James Dyer dropped his bid for Second Ward alderman and Thomas Just bowed out of the Eight Ward race. At a time when the City faces continuing financial struggles, challenges on the west side of town, improving but still tender relations with Northwestern University, and dozens of vacant storefronts, the message from residents seems to be “All is good. We are satisfied with our leadership at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.”
One would get a very different idea after attending a single City Council meeting. Citizen comment, a 45-minute segment of every meeting, produces often insulting, demeaning and just plain mean invective directed at the City in general and often at individual aldermen and staffers in particular.
Just this past Monday night, Jan. 14, staff was called “incompetent” no fewer than five times – refuted vigorously from the dais and Council’s ethics were vociferously challenged. There is a level of dissatisfaction out there.
Perhaps, as some have surmised, this is a part of the problem. Perhaps candidates hesitate to run because, quite frankly, parties who would otherwise be interested in service decide they do not want to sit up on the dais week after week before such abuse.
Perhaps in berating the current Council, irate citizens doom themselves to more terms with the same leadership. As one regular Council attendee put it, a limited number of protesters have “poisoned the atmosphere” and driven other concerned citizens away.
Another possible explanation is the campaign season itself. Four years ago, there were 16 mayoral debates and countless other appearances, demands and expectations.
Of the elected City positions, only the City Clerk’s is a full-time job.
The rest are part-time jobs that pay between $8,000 and $19,000 annually. Perhaps it is too much to ask of – no, require – those seeking part time office to submit themselves to such grueling campaigns.
Thomas Just, who filed a petition to run against Ann Rainey in the Eighth Ward, told the RoundTable that he dropped out because, “I just took on a new unrelated professional responsibility” and could not devote the time needed to the campaign.
Perhaps had less been expected of an aldermanic campaign, perhaps he would have stayed in the race.
Whatever the reason, our democracy suffers when no one challenges our elected officials. Fortunately, challenges remain in two wards now that a petition challenging the campaign papers of Edward Tivador for alderman of the First Ward has been dropped.
The RoundTable hopes for a spirited campaign from Mr. Tivador and incumbent Judy Fiske, Mark Sloane and incumbent Mark Tendam in a rematch in the Sixth Ward, and Keith Banks and Gary Gaspard as they seek the vacant Township Supervisor office.
But let’s not demand 16 debates of these candidates, and let’s not personally attack their character or ethics. Residents should demand that the candidates debate the issues facing our City and Township.
Democracy works best when ideas and opposing views are debated openly and fairly. Democracy does not work nearly as well when incumbents go unchallenged and elected officials are therefore free to make the same mistakes over and over again.