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Special Election IL05 Tue Feb 03 2009

Reflections on Sunday's 5th CD Forum

From a candidate's perspective, candidate forums and debates are a net negative -- and the more candidates on stage, the more negative there is. For voters in the audience forums are a mixed bag.

The scene outside the forum before the start.

Sunday's two-hour 5th CD Democratic candidates' forum, sponsored by North Side Democracy For America and DePaul Student Democrats and moderated by Lynn Sweet, was a mixed bag for the audience -- and except for a couple of the eleven candidates on stage, it was probably a net negative.

The problem for both candidates and voters is that forums with eleven candidates don't give the audience enough time to really size up the "real candidates" in a race (those with a chance of winning) and for candidates it affords them only enough speaking time per person to make an introduction and hopefully make a pithy comment or two attendees will remember, with the risk that something bad gets caught on camera.

This was the case on Sunday as open statements lasted longer than 40 minutes. In turn we heard from Frank Annunzio, Victor Forys, Paul Bryar, Sara Feigenholtz, Mike Quigley, John Fritchey, Carlos Monteagudo, Jan Donatelli, Roger Thompson, Charlie Wheelan and Tom Geoghegan. The "tier two" candidates struggled to prove they are worthy of being listened to and the five or six "tier one" candidates reiterated their records of public service, in office or otherwise.

The view from the cheap seats. Over 700 people attended.

Other attendees will do a better job of relating exactly what happened -- Fritchey's story about telling Rahm that he looks forward to running against him in four years, Ald. Pat O'Connor not showing up, Wheelan and Geoghegan's earnest and thoughtful policy ideas. But what impressed me was how absolutely unsatisfying the forum was -- and there was no way to avoid that.

The truth is that the 5th CD is blessed with an abundance of people interested (willing?) to lay down their lives for the sake of public service, and Sunday's forum demonstrated that. Yes, the event revealed its share of mooks definitely not ready for prime time, but really the amount of wonkish talent on display was impressive. Even John Fritchey, who has been maligned by his opponents as "the machine candidate," showed his policy chops on Sunday.

Through the course of the forum we never got any real discussion of issues -- that wasn't possible during the discussion -- but Lynn Sweet pressed the participants to make some meaningful statements. And we got them. Econ professor Charlie Wheelan demonstrated that he understood the bailout plan better than most. Sara Feigenholtz showed her understanding of human services needs. Tom Geoghegan made earnest pleas on behalf of the working man, and Mike Quigley reminded us that he's been a steadfast reformer in Cook County government.

And really, we ended up back at square one. Who the heck is really better for this job than the rest? Personally, I'm torn because I know three of the candidates well, and for two others I call the campaign managers friends. So, what's a political hack supposed to do?

I'm probably going to end up like everyone else in the 5th CD: On the weekend before the election I'll tally up all the endorsements, all the mail I've gotten, watch those final commercials and close my eyes and pick.

And that's a really unsatisfying solution.

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Ramsin CanonAuthor Profile Page / February 3, 2009 11:50 AM

In my experience, John Fritchey is first and foremost a policy guy. The guy's eyes glaze over when you talk politics, but talk good policy and he'll get giddy and talk your ear off.

Also, if we're going to nominate a "machine candidate", shouldn't it be O'Connor?

Seriously / February 3, 2009 11:52 AM


"Even John Fritchey who has been maligned by his opponents as "the machine candidate" showed his policy chops on Sunday."

If you're going to put "machine candidate" in quotes, indicating that maybe you yourself acknowledge the goofiness (and irony, given his comments about daMare) of the claim, how can you say something like "EVEN John Fritchey... showed his policy chops."? He has a better understanding and more policy experience than most of that panel put together.

ramsin / February 3, 2009 12:09 PM

Although, if we're going for a "policy nerd" champion of that group, I'd have to go with Geoghegan, whose books probably informed about 60% of what I know about anything.

Albany Park Mom / February 3, 2009 1:56 PM

I have to second the notion of Geoghegan being the biggest "policy wonk" up there. What impressed me about him -- besides the fact that from his first campaign announcement he has been out there making bold policy proposals -- is that none of his answers were the canned Democratic response.

For example when asked if tax cuts would stimulate the economy he brought up the fact that there are 220,000 collection cases pending in Cook County right now for personal debt and that this is where the tax cuts would go, and that until we do something about personal debt the economy will not get moving again. This is a hugely valid point but have you ever heard any Dem talking head every make it? Or make the connection between credit card/mortgage/student loan debt, tax cuts, and the stimulus?

Right now I am leaning Geoghegan because to me what is the point of putting someone in that seat who is just going to say the same damn thing that every other Dem is saying?

Alan Augustson / February 3, 2009 3:48 PM

My own obvious biases aside, I had hoped for a little more "meat" from the candidates.

They were all for same-sex marriage, in a fuzzy, vague sort of way, but not one of them specifically committed to seeking a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

In that same fashion, they were nearly all "for" universal healthcare but none would specifically commit to co-sponsor HR 676.

Likewise, there was not one specific mention of the so-called "Patriot" Act, the FISA Amendments Act, the Military Commissions Act, and so on.

To me, they were all doing what Democrats always do -- leaning as far to the left as possible, until the primary is over.

But if you look down, you'll see their feet are still right smack in the center. The center is not the "change" we've all been promised. It is the antithesis of change.

Best Wishes,

Alan Augustson
Green Party Candidate
U.S. House of Representatives
Fifth District of Illinois

Seriously x 2 / February 3, 2009 4:02 PM

Seriously? Sara Feigenholz showed her understanding of human services needs? I must have missed that part. I thought Jan Donatelli did a better job of defining herself than Sara did. Sara barely grabbed the microphone to say much of anything. If she can't get out in front and voice her opinion in front of 10 other candidates (some major, some not), how can we expect her to do that in front of Congressmen who make a career out of making their voice heard above others? I was pretty disappointed in her performance. Her website is all about how we need women in Congress, well better start telling us why we should vote for you over Donatelli if that's really what you think we need.

Pixie Dust and Unicorns / February 3, 2009 4:38 PM

"The truth is that the 5th CD is blessed with an abundance of people interested (willing?) to lay down their lives for the sake of public service, and Sunday's forum demonstrated that."

These are democrats. They are not laying down their lives, they are trying to elbow themselves into the public trough. Thats where they make the real money.

How naive are you people?

Suzanne / February 3, 2009 8:32 PM

Net negative? That would be true if a campaign had to divert staff to produce and promote it. Just like with fundraising events. But the candidates had no sunk costs in producing the event. That made the forum the cheapest, easiest 700+ voter contacts and earned media to date.

Also an Albany Park Mom / February 3, 2009 8:51 PM

"Net negative?" Really? With all the free TV coverage generated by the event? With all the people there to see them? With all the radio coverage? Please. Its the first bit of local coverage this race has gotten, and about time too. So what if many of us walked away still undecided? I know my top three changed, and hey, for the two that weren't there originally, that's a big plus.

Successful Volunteer / February 4, 2009 4:44 AM

Let's see; overflow crowd, in one of the biggest venues in the district, near transportation, live on radio, live-blogged, delayed two-hour video, all candidates invited, everyone allowed to speak, neutral knowledgeable moderator, covered by almost every press outlet, questions taken from average citizens, all done by volunteers and not by consultants who wanted to charge thousands of dollars. Yep, sounds like a failure to me.

Calvin / February 8, 2009 2:27 PM

Let's get some facts straight: John Fritchey votes FOR Midway then slams the Mayor in a debate, in front of 500 people that it is a bad decision? Lie number one.

Then his continual lies about his lobbying activites?
He does not get a "pass" because he knows some policy.

Many people can learn policy.

From Progress Illinois: First of all, Fritchey was registered as a lobbyist for Bank of America in November 2006. This is the same bank that the Republic Windows workers had to fight tooth-and-nail for the pay they were owed. It's also the same financial institution that took $25 billion in federal bailout funds and then held a conference call with conservative activists to coordinate opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.

Second, the Illinois Bankers Association appears on the list in July 2005. This organization has recently been campaigning against Sen. Dick Durbin's proposal to allow homeowners facing foreclosure to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages in bankruptcy court. As we've noted, the banking lobby has obstructed this important legislation again and again.

Third, Cash America International -- a pawn shop and payday loan operator -- has been a Fritchey client from November 2006 through his last filing in December 2008. When this issue has been broached in the past, he's responded by detailing his work for the company. For instance, here's an entry from the comments section of a Capitol Fax post last April:

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