It seems that there might be a lot of cold in the local air recently, but little in the air that suggests that an election for Alderman is only five weeks away, with early voting commencing in just over two weeks (January 31).
Yet, there is some election related news.
First, a local blog called ‚ÄúThe Broken Heart of Rogers Park"¬Ě reports that the City Board of Election Commissioners has sustained a challenge issued by a person named Jason T. Olsen against candidate Ben Meyers. Apparently, the municipal ordinance prohibits candidates from appearing on the ballot if they are indebted to the City of Chicago in any way. Mr. Meyer's offense: an unpaid water bill in the amount of $51.08.
As a result, Mr. Meyer's is off the ballot, and the field of contenders for Alderman is reduced to three: the incumbent, Joe Moore, and his challengers, Roosevelt (Ross) Akins and Brian White. (I've heard that we should soon expect a decision on Akin's candidacy.)
The other story, submitted by a student run web site called Medill Reports, maintained by Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, observes that no one is making any effort to schedule any sort of public forum or debate of the remaining candidates.
Reading these articles causes me to ponder what's going on.
Isn't it ironic that a person or political organization challenging Mr. Meyers will devote resources to reducing the field of candidates, basing his challenges on technicalities, yet what is being done to promote timely face-to-face discussion?
We ought to have a vigorous discussion of the issues. There are many issues. What ideas does each candidate have for reducing the mega city budget shortfall? What changes can we expect with a new mayor and what role each candidate envision him having with a new administration? Is participatory democracy a good thing or does it unduly democratize decision-making that an alderman ought to be making on his own? What challenges does this neighborhood face in the area of public safety and coping with gang issues? How do we stimulate investment and further develop retail corridors, perhaps focusing the discussion on Howard Street? How do we help those who are facing any one of the numerous challenges in the area of housing - rental and home ownership? What about the TIF/RIF that one candidate has proposed?
I have witnessed three previous elections in this ward, and each election was highlighted by a series of well attended debates where each candidate had a chance to interact with each other, providing many of us with a way to watch candidates field issues, and to see how they perform face to face under the pressure of a debate (or forum) format.
It would be unfortunate if we ultimately remember the 49th Ward election for Alderman in 2011 as the one where objectors reduced the field of candidates for petty reasons, and where the community was offered scant opportunity to learn about the remaining candidates.
I am sure that our various neighborhood organizations will pull together and organize forums and that any remaining candidates will eagerly participate. Yet, with only five weeks left, and early voting beginning later this month, time is running short.
In a community that appreciates and expects transparency and openness in government, we must be given the chance to see the candidates ‚Äúair"¬Ě their views.