Don't Vote for Chip
by Peter Zelchenko January 15, 2010

Unlike New York and L.A., Chicago has a truly small-town feel when it comes to politics. After 10 years or so in Chicago, most people have had some noteworthy contact with an alderman or two, as well as judges and others, and of course since aldermen and judges are sometimes related, they may have been so fortunate as to have been touched by both.

Particularly in Chicago, all politics is personal. It doesn't matter what your approach: whether your aunt is running for office or your cousin needs a job from her when she gets in, there is almost always a connection. That's why we get involved. Family needs us.

Don't misinterpret me: we're not in Mayberry. This small-town phenomenon has less to do with the wonderful responsiveness of the breed to our tender concerns than with other factors. That responsiveness -- specifically the absence of it -- is, of course, also a well-known concern in our city. (I didn't say your encounter with the politician was necessarily a pleasant one, did I? I just said noteworthy.)

Nope, the strange "access" we have to politicians is based on the self-preservation instinct of Chicago's clout machine. Politicians here are typically elected for life; hence, the cradle-to-grave relationship they have with us. It is also about nepotism; hence, the grave-to-cradle relationship. The judge's son, now a police sergeant, will recall some crack you made to his dad 20 years before. The political structure is also highly territorialized; hence, "My neighbor is the committeeman's sister so I get my drive plowed too."

What, you mean you don't have such a neighbor? You might. The coincidences abound.

And so it came as no big surprise to me when the attorney appointed by the courts to shepherd my parents' guardianship case was also running for judge at the same time. (I will not name this person, since the case is still pending. Let's just use the name "Chip," as in "chip off the old block.")

By that, I don't mean Chip is necessarily some politician's spawn (but then of course, if my theory is correct, it's entirely possible). Chip here indicates more than just nepotism, it indicates the suckup, cynical, hypocritical, ghettoific sickness of Chicago politics. And Chip (my Chip) was definitely made in that image.

Now, I feel Chip has done a good deal of damage to my entire family's well being. In short, I was appointed my parents' legal guardian despite Chip's strenuous effort to stop me. Chip really had zero cause to do this, except when it became clear from our first encounter that our relationship was going to be dysfunctional. It had nothing to do with the facts. Chip's abrasive, nay abusive, personality created a tension throughout the process that you could cut with a knife.

(My dad died during this whole process, but that has little to do with Chip's insensitivity. I think. My mom is more or less surviving it. I think.)

I have had a nasty relationship with this Chip. So, I was surprised when, a candidate's meetup last week, who should approach to give me a printed piece, offer condolences, and ask if I would "Vote for Chip," but Chip in the flesh. Replete with smarmy, obsequious smile and limp, clammy hand. According to the printed piece, I should vote for Chip

"for fairness, integrity, and the wisdom of experience... [Chip] has demonstrated those qualities throughout a long career... [Chip is] a people person, and possesses the ability to listen -- really listen to people -- and show that [Chip] cares what happens to them."

(Insert finger down throat here to induce vomiting.)

That's all Chip's card really says. And lest you think I'm alone in thinking this, let's just say that I spoke to dozens of probate attorneys in getting my own, and once you sift through all of their own prejudices and personal issues, the net conclusion is that Chip is abrasive to a lot of people.

In other words, make sure you keep Fido on a leash, in case Chip makes a run for dogcatcher after losing this one.

And Chip is most likely to lose, thanks to Linda Pauel, the openly gay candidate running for the same seat. Thank god democracy works, even if it's only about 10% of the time.

And even if it is not rationally based. I know less about Linda Pauel than I do about Chip, but she has far more support than Chip and is likely to win. I've also never heard of a Pauel in politics, so she may not be a "chip." (Well, there was corrupt Secretary of State Paul Powell, but the spelling is different. Read this great intro to Powell by Dirk Langeveld.)

I did meet Pauel at the same candidate's meetup and she seemed intelligent and discreet. But one thing about Pauel is that she serves as senior counsel for the city's Building and Licensing Enforcement Division. That makes me queasy.

I tend to harbor this general assumption, probably a silly one, that anyone on the Daley payroll is automatically assumed to be corrupt and dishonest until proven innocent. But I have an equally silly assumption that all openly gay people -- as Linda Pauel is -- are generally more honest and trustworthy than your average person. ("Cell Phone Tom" Tunney is not 100% trustworthy, but for this argument we shall assume his openly gay side is, and that his gaffe was committed by his grasping capitalist side.)

And so the two cancel out. Based on little information, that is what I have to go on.

Here we have Zelchenko's Law of Assumptions in Making Political Choices With Inadequate Information:

If two invalid assumptions cancel each other out, it is the same as two valid assumptions canceling each other out, and you therefore must Go With It.

People call me all the time, assuming I'm some political genius, but this should prove them wrong (unless they find something to cancel this out with).

Linda also enjoys the support of my old friend Tracy Baim, publisher of LGBT periodicals, and that is good enough for me for now. If she gets indicted, you can blame me.


Also no surprise is that my friend (and Tracy's friend) Bonnie McGrath should be running for judge (for a different vacancy). Bonnie and I both wrote for the Chicago Journal, and her politics are liberal. She writes the Journal's South Loop Observer blog.

Although Jack Lehayne seems to conclude that Bonnie is underqualified to be a judge, this is based on a crude sleight-of-hand: She was found lacking sufficient experience for associate judge by the Chicago Bar Association within the past two years, which automatically triggers a "not recommended" if someone runs for circuit judge.

Pretty silly assumption, isn't it? And I will make another silly assumption to cancel that one out: I know Bonnie is a good soul; her heart and politics are in the right place, she has two more years' experience than when that recommendation was made, and I'd rather support a good soul with a bit less experience than a cynic who claims to have all sorts of experience (such as Chip).

But then who is to say Bonnie is inexperienced? The Chicago Bar Association? Considering the mess our court system is in, I'd be inclined to blame things on the CBA, whose endorsements are like gold. More about Bonnie -- and a clear map to her qualifications, at her web site. She sounds pretty damned qualified to me.

I'd rather see even an honest monkey on the bench than people like Ald. Burke's wife, the Supreme Court's Ann Burke (whom the Chicago Bar Association regularly finds "highly qualified"). You can quote me: Bonnie McGrath is definitely not a monkey. Vote for Bonnie.

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