January 14, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
Mike Quigley, reformer and Cook County commissioner, believes he's got the best chance to win a March 3 special primary for Congress because of the percentages of the vote he's garnered over the years. And because he's Todd Stroger's persistent nightmare.
Sara Feigenholtz, the independent-minded lakefront liberal state representative, believes she has the legislative record and the growing war chest that will lead her to victory.
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Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin
Justin Oberman, son of former reform-bloc alderman Marty Oberman, thinks he has the youth coupled with government and business experience to breathe fresh air into Congress.
It's too cold for baseball or baseball analogies, but the scramble for Rahm Emanuel's old congressional seat makes the temptation great.
There is such a large field of candidates -- 19 by one count -- that it's almost a team roster. On the list are power hitters like Quigley and Feigenholtz and promising rookies like Oberman.
But to truly appreciate the quest for Rahmbo's coveted seat, we must begin, in classic Chicago style, at the Zam Zam Banquet Hall on the Northwest Side. That's where, on Saturday, 19 Democratic ward and township committeemen arranged themselves, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Abdon Pallasch, at a two-tiered head table, like a wedding where the bridesmaids wear ruffled peach chiffon.
The bosses on their perches were there to preside over the ancient and increasingly irrelevant process known as slatemaking.
Only 5 of the 19 possibles showed up to kiss the bosses' rings, but the event produced both drama and betrayal.
Ald. Patrick O'Conner arrived believing he had almost enough votes to be endorsed. With good reason. After all, state Rep. John Fritchey's ward-boss-uncle-in-law, Ald. William Banks, was heard trashing Fritchey's candidacy.
"Banks said Fritchey's an ingrate, he's not going to vote for him . . . then the next thing you know he's voting for him," O'Connor said Tuesday.
And then another candidate, Ald. Eugene Schulter, decided to drop out. He reportedly cut a deal with 33rd Ward boss and Ald. Dick Mell to throw their combined votes to Fritchey in exchange, reportedly, for Schulter getting to pick Fritchey's replacement should he win.
Are you with me so far?
That's what Dick Mell, our impeached governor's father-in-law, did when Rod Blagojevich went to Congress. That's how Fritchey got the nod for the seat he holds.
In other words, committeemen/ward bosses know only one thing about managing elections. It's called "Let's Make a Deal."
Fritchey, for his part, didn't think he'd be slated, given that his clout-heavy in-laws aren't overly fond of his independent streak.
Fritchey argued for an open primary instead. And an open primary we've got. It will be like putting an election on speed dial.
So far, only four candidates have filed petitions: Feigenholtz, Fritchey, Oberman and University of Chicago lecturer Charles Wheelan.
By the Jan. 19 petition-filing deadline, we'll know everyone who's in. And by Jan. 31, we'll know who's got money enough to pull this congressional rabbit out of a hat. But don't look for this to be an election about national issues. Not now.
Barack Obama's message of hope and change has been shouted down in Illinois by the horror of a craven governor, by the egotistical opportunism of our new junior U.S. senator and by the failure of state, county and city government to ever see an ethical high road.
The 5th District is demographically diverse but it is also, at its core, a working-class, union, Catholic constituency with more cops and teachers than brokers and bankers.
This election will turn on a motivated but tiny turnout of people who will go to the polls firmly decided on which, if any, of these candidates they dare to believe.
On the heels of an impeachment trial, it will be a real test of trust.