5th District Race
by Peter Zelchenko February 20, 2009

Being a Gaper's Block reader, there's a reasonable chance you either reside in the 5th Congressional District or know someone who does, and further that you have an above-average commitment to civic values.

The congressional seat was vacated by "Machinegun" Rahm Emanuel when he followed Obama to Washington, so there's a special primary coming March 3. If you're interested in this at all, you must read Russ Stewart's always fascinating, and usually more or less unbiased, analysis. (If you have time to read only one election article, it has to be Russ. His analyses are always clear, open dissections of the political family history, financial picture, and turnout projections, and he's often dead on in summary, though you will find minor errors in his specifics. If you're learning about Chicago politics, you should go to his web site and absorb all you can.)

If Russ says it's a race among Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, Rep. John Fritchey, and County Commissioner Mike Quigley, he may not be far off. And that is very unfortunate, because it means the outcome will have nothing to do with the issues and who has the best track record of getting things done or who has the greatest integrity. Read the above paragraph again: victory is based almost entirely on political power, campaign finances, and voter turnout projections. Russ believes, and has supported with some science, that if voter turnout is below 30,000, Fritchey will win, and if turnout exceeds 40,000, Feigenholtz will win.

Feigenholtz and Quigley are recognized reform progressives, with Feigenholtz emphasizing women's and children's health issues and Quigley taking on tax reform. Fritchey, for his part, always struggles to style himself as a reformer, and he really does have some refreshing ideas and is a hard worker. Unfortunately, he is tied by marriage, money, and all to Alderman William "I Control Chicago Zoning Law" Banks and his 36th Ward political organization, which is deeply compromised and not much fun at parties. Fritchey married Banks' niece, and that's exactly how he got into politics. This means he will never, ever utter a peep about the corrupt Chicago Machine that he is an integral part of. And that's a deal-killer for most people I know.

Reading Russ's column will give you an idea of just how sick the political patient is here in Chicago. Suffice to say that Alderman Schulter apparently gets to anoint Fritchey's successor as State Representative if he goes to Congress, just for getting the vote out in the 47th Ward. Huh? I thought there was something called an election. That alone is enough to vote against the arrogant bastards.

Turnout has a lot to do with the weather and a sense of urgency among voters. If enough people get out there and work for the other candidates, the Machine guy will not win. If we sit on our asses, the Machine guy wins. The rest -- meaning the weather -- is in God's hands. So, I urge you to get on a campaign. Even a few hours making phone calls in the next two weeks can motivate a few dozen voters who had no idea how important this was to another human. You may well be the only person who actually touches some of these voters with a personal message. And they're waiting to hear from someone. An extra 20 people volunteering for each campaign, each new volunteer mobilizing only 50 voters, is the margin needed to raise the turnout high enough to threaten Fritchey. (Hey, move over, Russ: we can come up with our own math.)

Russ Stewart is a good analyst (and he always looks so buff and cool), but integrity is more important than numbers and good looks. I like Feigenholtz and Quigley. But I'm particularly partial to Tom Geohegan, a civil rights attorney and law partner of former independent alderman (and one of my personal heroes) Leon Despres. According to the Wall Street Journal, Geoghegan (pronounced "GAE-gun") is an "unrepentant New Dealer" who is "exactly the man for the moment." He has a national public reputation, he has some important endorsements including the DFA, and if Feigenholtz, Quigley, and Fritchey swallow up one another's votes and budgets, it's anyone's game.

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