Illinois 14th District State Representative Appointed to Fill Vacancy, After Harry Osterman Resigns
As the recalcitrant spring weather in Chicago remained cold, rainy, and gloomy, the Democrat committee meeting scheduled to begin at 1:30pm on Saturday afternoon at Regis Hall (Loyola University, 6340 N. Winthrop) started twenty minutes late, after people had ample opportunity for friendly casual conversation in the lobby and slowly made their way into the meeting.
Earlier announcements described the purpose of the meeting, which was open to the public, although perhaps not widely publicized- for the Democratic Ward Committeeman to appoint a replacement to fill the vacancy resulting from Harry Osterman’s anticipated resignation.
The meeting began, and, after opening remarks, Carol Ronen introduced attorney Michael Kasper, Democrat party election counsel. He stated Harry Osterman had submitted his official resignation the day before.
Per Illinois law, each party committeeman casts a vote weighted according to the number of voters of the previous election who cast ballots for the incumbent officeholder.
As Carol Ronen was the committeeman with the controlling vote in the appointment, her choice determined who received the appointment.
Twenty-one candidates had accepted the invitation to apply for the position and respond to questions prepared by the committeemen.
Earlier, however, news reports identified two candidates, Paula Basta and Kelly Cassidy, as the leading choices.
Most of the candidates provided detailed literature describing their qualifications, background, political positions and opinions on various issues.
Given the number of candidates, there was more material than could easily be collated, let alone read carefully during the meeting.
Each candidate was afforded five minutes to speak, presenting their credentials and responses to topics which were selected by the committeemen.
Candidates were asked to state their responses regarding women’s right to choose, gun rights and concealed carry, equal rights and same-sex marriage, and the state budget.
Rather surprisingly, the committeemen chose a small number of limited concerns, rather than full range of serious issues which most citizens in the district consider more importantly, such as jobs, the economy, education, and policy decisions impacting the future of the state and the city.
Nearly one hundred people attended the meeting.
Here is the list of candidates who presented their credentials. When we inquired, one of the event organizers explained that everyone was allowed to speak if they requested.
In at least some cases, there was little or no vetting or investigation of candidates regarding legal qualifications to hold office. However, we were also informed that the requirements for state representative are less restrictive than those for city offices, which were notoriously contested in recent elections.
While each of the candidates had unique qualities and opinions, the common theme prevalent among everyone was the concern for the future of the district.
Many of the candidates had little or no previous experience in politics or government, which was refreshing.
It was a reflection of the frustration and difficulties of the times due to economic conditions resulting directly or indirectly from government policies at the state level, as well as national, city and county level.
The consensus among many was the state budget was the most important concern relative to the other issues.
“I decided to run for this position because I think the state needs some help”, stated James Halley.
“Some state officials have failed to maintain the public trust”, remarked Steve Daily.
Blane Roberts differentiated himself by recognizing the need for economic growth, and presenting sound approaches to achieving it.
“Our businesses are not the enemy, but are our partners. Reducing taxes increases revenues, and we need to decrease regulations.”
Responses were divided with regard to gun rights.
More than one candidate highlighted the failure of Chicago’s gun control policies. Chicago limits the rights of law-abiding citizens to bear arms, and yet has the highest rate of criminal gun violence.
Although women’s right to choose was less controversial, differences among the candidates’ approach to the concerns remained.
Identity politics was brought into consideration, both by the question about same-sex marriage, and by the candidates’ own introductions of their backgrounds.
Candidates described their family backgrounds and how they came to live in the district, whether growing up here among several generations, or as the first generation of immigrants newly-arrived.
Reflecting the diversity within the district, candidates’ ancestry ranged from Ireland to Iran.
Several candidates identified themselves according to their sexual identity. In fact, the number of gay candidates was far greater than the four percent that one candidate claimed the census had counted.
The true number of nationalities, and even the number of languages spoken, within the district is far greater than either the number of candidates or the number of attendees.
This diversity is one of the attractions shared and enjoyed by all who live here.
One candidate made a passing remark, highlighting one of the most vital aspects of living in the district.
While it’s something most of us take for granted, observers might be surprised to learn our diversity does not result in conflict, rather, everyone seems to get along.
And, for the most part, that’s true- at least until the next election cycle…
Or, until we start to realize that “going along to get along” as a strategy for community growth may not be the most productive approach to overcome the problems that have become entrenched in Illinois’ corrupt political environment.
After all candidates gave their presentations, the committeemen adjourned to make their decision.
The committeemen wanted to give Jeanne Wrenn, Paula Basta, and Kelly Cassidy further consideration, and asked them to answer a few additional questions in private.
Whether it’s coincidental or not, each of the three are veteran government employees, working for Cook County or the city of Chicago.
When the meeting reconvened, Carol Ronen announced that the choice among the three final candidates was a close one, but Kelly Cassidy received the appointment to fill the vacant position, which will expire in January 2013.
The next primary election will be March 20, 2012.
Afterward, local residents shared their reactions:
“It’s interesting there were so many candidates. It says something about our community.”
“It was democracy in action. Everybody got a chance to say what they had to say- no matter how crazy- that’s the way it should be.”
Joyce Shanahan was the first of more than twenty candidates presenting.
James Halley explained his approach for improving Illinois and the 14th district.
Jeanne Wrenn, Paula Basta, and Kelly Cassidy received additional consideration by the Ward Committeemen.
Kurt Fujio is a long term Rogers park resident, an attorney and a real estate broker who enjoys following local and national politics.
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