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Airbags

Over the next few weeks, RotSC will be profiling the many candidates running for the US Senate seat being vacated by Peter Fitzgerald. An informed voter is a wise voter.

Although North Shore millionaire and recent educator Jack Ryan is running an imaginative and energetic campaign, many pundits consider the upcoming senatorial race to be the Democrats' to lose. Illinois has been hit especially hard by the Republican Party's agenda and has swung hard towards the Democrats over the last three years. Since Ryan is more or less a lock for the Republican nomination (although dairy baron Jim Oberweis is putting up a fight, too), all eyes are on the Democratic Primary. This profile of Pappas will be the first in a series of features on the Democratic nominees.

The recent entry of Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas into the Democratic Primary must have been terrible news to front runner and Machine darling Comptroller Dan Hynes, son of the powerful Chicago Democrat and former Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes. Pappas is matronly-faced, well-known and well-liked within Cook County and could pull some of the female and regular Democratic vote away from Hynes, which could be trouble since he is relying on a strong turnout from Cook County -- which regularly provides two-thirds of the primary votes -- to carry him through the primaries.

Although some are predicting that Pappas' entry is a virtual death knell for the campaigns of "outsider" candidates M. Blair Hull and Barack Obama, that is not necessarily the case. Predicting a tough fight in Cook County, Hull has quite astutely done the bulk of his campaign work thus far downstate, where his support among "irregular" Democratic voters and reformers is strong; women inclined to vote for Hull probably won't be swayed simply because Pappas is a woman. It is more troubling for Obama, who is relying on African-American votes in Cook County as well as North Shore and East 40s (Chicago lakefront) liberals. He has also picked up the endorsement of the teachers' union.

Why, you may be suddenly wondering, is the Cook County Treasurer -- a position which before Pappas held little name recognition and served a more or less clerical role -- so popular? Pappas' record in the office is sparkling clean. Mostly, however, she is known for her energy and eccentricities, the most popular of which is her incessant baton twirling at events, parades, and really whenever she has the chance.

Not only this, but Pappas recently appeared -- late -- at a Democratic primary event in polar fleece and warm-up pants, when the other candidates were dressed to the nines.

Pappas knows what she's doing, which makes this next fact more troubling. Just as Judy Baar-Topinka did before her reelection run in 2002, Pappas is subtly abusing the functions of her office to campaign and get her name out. Baar-Topinka was more innovative, getting Jewel-Osco to foot the bill by co-sponsoring an event with the State Treasurer and advertising it by printing her name on more than a million plastic bags. Pappas, however, recently sent out a worthless informational letter to "ethnic" taxpayers in suburban Cook County, explaining the history of Thanksgiving. RotSC obtained one of the letters, which read in part:

Dear Friends:

I am truly honored to offer my best wishes as you gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The evolution of Thanksgiving symbolizes the growth of our nation. The early 17th century, Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the bountiful autumn harvest. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving following the great American victory at Saratoga...

Today, Thanksgiving is a celebration of domestic life... On this special day, let us also give thanks for the Americans who are engaged in the cause of freedom throughout the world.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,
[signed]
Maria Pappas
Cook County Treasurer

Also enclosed in the letter was a glossy crib sheet entitled "About the Cook County Treasurer's Office." The sheet provides random facts about the Treasurer's Office -- such tidbits as, "Property Taxes are due in two installments..." and "Every other year, a Scavenger Sale on properties with two or more years of tax delinquency is held." On the reverse side, centered, is a photograph of Ms. Pappas. Below the return address on the envelope is printed, "TOPS Ethnic Affairs." TOPS stands for "Treasurer Outreach Programs and Services." The very admirable purpose of TOPS is to provide tax information in different languages to ethnic groups. The timing of the mailing, and the fact that it was written in English, makes it suspect.

Since the letter is printed on Cook County letterhead, it is safe to assume the funding for the letter came from Cook County itself. Why Ms. Pappas felt it was necessary for the Treasurer of Cook County to send a letter informing her constituents of the meaning and history of Thanksgiving is not clear. Not a good start to the campaign, if you ask me.

On top of this bit of relatively harmless trickery, RotSC was informed of rumors floating around the different campaigns that Pappas has unusual office habits at her campaign HQ, using electronic surveillance to watch and poke fun at her volunteers.

This could be troubling, since Pappas herself stated that personality, not the issues, will be the key factor in the primaries since Democrats generally agree on the issues. She may have a point: if it is true that the Democratic nominee will have a huge leg-up in the election campaign, state-wide electability will be a huge factor in who comes away with the nomination.

A Chicago Tribune poll found that Pappas led all Democrats with 16% of probable Democratic voters, with Hynes at 11%, Obama with 9%, and Hull and Gery Chico with 6% each. However, Pappas is not very well known outside of Cook County, and will have a limited war chest and less time to campaign than Obama, Hull, or Chico. The mere fact that she is a woman -- and there are two other very charismatic women, radio personality Nancy Skinner and health care activist Joyce Washington, in the race -- will certainly not be enough to help her downstate, where voters often resent Cook County pols. Many political pundits are over-emphasizing Pappas' ability to win the "woman vote." It is nave to assume that women will vote for Pappas simply because they share a gender.

It should be noted that Pappas has indeed done a good job in her seat as Treasurer of Cook County. She fits the modern Chicago Democrat "city manager" mold and has tightened the County's belt, and she certainly will offer Hynes -- specifically Hynes -- a fight in Cook County, not only because she is a woman but because her campaign will be energetic and her public service record is solid. But if she fragments Cook County and its collar counties, it can only hurt Hynes, who has downstate and union support, but needs a solid Cook County/Collar Counties turnout to counter Hull's vast organization and spending power across the rest of the state. Much to Hynes' consternation, Hull has tried to counter-balance Cook County's historic two-thirds representation in Democratic primaries by invigorating downstate interest in the primary; this will make things more complicated for Hynes, but he has the organization support to survive it. For Pappas, it will mean a significant watering-down of her voter base.

What could be more problematic for Pappas is that she performed poorly in the primary race for Cook County Board President, finishing a distant third. It may be that she is not taken seriously by voters as anything more than a bureaucratic civil servant -- not a leader. Her likable personality and baton-twirling, fleece-wearing free-spiritedness may be fine for winning the Treasurer's seat, but will Illinoisans not acquainted with her record as treasurer really want to send her to the upper house of Congress?

Just the Facts:

Born: Warwood, West Virginia, 1948.

Marital Status: Married

Ethnicity/Race: Greek-American

Education:
B.A., Sociology; West Liberty State College (WV)
M.A., Guidance and Counseling, West Virginia State College (WV)
Ph.D., Guidance and Psychology, Loyola University (Chicago)
J.D., Kent College of Law (Chicago)

Employment:
1998-Present, Cook County Treasurer
1990-98, Cook County Commissioner
1982-Present, Attorney-At-Law (Private Practice)

Official Website: MariaPappas.com

The Issues:

The Economy: Pappas is running on a very "Illinois" platform. The thrust of her efforts to improve Illinois' economy is to guarantee more federal funding and get a better return on the federal taxes the state pays. She makes little to no references to Bush's tax cuts or fiscal policy.

Healthcare: Pappas has a lukewarm healthcare policy; she may need more time to come up with a feasible policy paper. Unlike the other candidates, she has offered no comprehensive Universal or "single payer" health care package. She was once a board member of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Education: Besides insisting that education begins in the home and therefore parents need to be given the tools to help in their children's education, Pappas has little specific policy on this subject.

Foreign Policy: Pappas has not made any specific recommendations for foreign policy as of yet. She was once employed by the Greek Ministry of Justice.

Abortion: Since Pappas has said the Democratic candidates generally "agree on the issues," one could assume that she is pro-choice, but her campaign has issued no such declaration.

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Comments

Alice / December 5, 2003 2:42 PM

I don't have anything profound to say; I just wanted to say thanks for doing this. This is a great idea, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

dce / December 7, 2003 9:49 PM

You may be right about Obama - Maria's announcement certainly didn't do his campaign any good. But as one who supports his candidacy, I'm not all that worried. Should Barak not make it, I'd be happy to see Pappas win.

FG / December 8, 2003 12:08 PM

As a woman, I can't support anyone who carries a poodle in her purse for national office. It's not very senatorial.

JW / February 25, 2004 1:21 AM

A good indy and reformer like Maria stands a better chance of going toe to toe with anyone the Republicans put up. Obama worries me for being too much like the failed Democratic presidential candidates, most of all on taxes. Illinois Dems need to win this seat.

 

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