Friday, October 11, 2013

Petitions, past and present, and hanging around outside the 9th Subcircuit slating meeting

The beautiful Fall weather we've all been enjoying recently has been particularly significant for persons interested in judicial elections. Pretty much everyone takes advantage of this beautiful weather to go to football games or cut the grass or hang out the laundry, but political people see this extended clement spell as perfect petition weather.

Last weekend, veteran blogger Carl Nyberg emailed me inquiring whether judicial candidates are gathering their own signatures.

It's not required, you know. A candidate with lots of organizational support can find more than enough surrogates to conduct this thankless task. With enough money, a candidate can hire the work done.

Any judicial candidate -- any candidate for any office -- needs significant help to gather enough good signatures to meet the stringent signature requirements for ballot access in Illinois. If judicial candidates were required to get all their own signatures, they wouldn't have time to practice law. But what Mr. Nyberg was interested in was whether judicial candidates are really getting out and talking to voters -- and that's a fair question.

Some, surely, are bringing their petitions to their kids' football games. I've signed my share of petitions at school sporting events before. But that's not really getting out and talking to the voters. Oh, sure, the candidates' fellow football or soccer parents are voters, too, and every signature counts, but these are friends or, at least, nodding acquaintances of the candidates. There's something to be said for trudging door to door, I thought to myself, poll sheet in hand, asking complete strangers for their signatures and, ultimately, for support.

It was by following this method that I was introduced to the Chicago equivalent of Derbett's Peerage 20 years ago, when I ran (quite unsuccessfully) in the 10th Subcircuit. When I could get someone to open their door, I was likely to be cross-examined about what I did for a living. I was in private practice, I'd respond, providing varying degrees of detail depending on the interest (or patience) of the person at the door. I quickly found out that being in private practice ranked me below any Assistant State's Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, Assistant Corporation Counsel or Assistant Public Defender.

Sometimes people would try and be helpful. Well, what about your father? they'd ask. Was he Police? Fire Department? Streets and San? With each negative response, you could see their hopes for my candidacy dwindle further. My father was an attorney, too, I'd say finally. At that point (in the Fall of 1993), he'd been a lawyer for over 40 years and was one of the most respected lawyers in the title insurance industry. Title insurance? they'd ask, doubtfully. It rekindled no spark in my would-be supporters, however. Still, nearly all of those who stayed with me this far would sign my petitions, if only out of pity. "Good luck," many of them said. The "you'll need it" was seldom expressed openly, but always implied.

My reminiscence was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell.

Sure enough, it was someone passing petitions.

The man at the door asked me to sign the sheet for the Democratic slate of MWRD candidates. I did. "Are you doing this for Mary O'Connor, then?" I asked (I live in the 41st Ward). "No," said my visitor, "I'm helping out Johnny Mulroe." Well, I thought, all politics is at least partly personal. Still, State Sen. John G. Mulroe is the President of the 41st Ward Democratic Organization (Ald. Mary O'Connor is the Committeeman) so I took that as a distinction without a difference.

My visitor also had two judicial petitions for me to sign. One was for Katherine A. O'Dell, who is running in the 10th Subcircuit. There's been no slating yet in the 10th but I had heard the real battle for slating would be between sitting Judge Anthony C. Kyriakopoulos (who dropped out of the 10th Subcircuit race in 2012 when then-Ald. Tom Allen jumped in) and Assistant Corporation Counsel Linda J. Pauel (who has attracted significant support, including that of 45th Ward Ald. and Committeeman John Arena). Perhaps my informants weren't as well informed as they thought. My visitor's other petition was for Judge Peter J. Vilkelis, running for the Connors vacancy, the vacancy to which he was most recently appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court. (Judge Vilkelis was passed over by the Central Committee of the Cook County Democratic Party for that vacancy in favor of Assistant Attorney General Kristal Royce Rivers.)

Petitions were still on my mind Tuesday evening when I showed up for the 9th Subcircuit slating meeting at the Skokie office of Niles Township Democratic Committeeman, State Rep. Lou Lang. Rep. Lang explained that the room where the candidates would be interviewed was too small for me to observe, but he welcomed me to stay and visit with the candidates while they waited their turns.

I stayed for a few hours and I can advise Mr. Nyberg that most of the 9th Subcircuit hopefuls that I saw, at least, were apparently carrying petitions on their person. Some 13 candidates were scheduled to present their credentials to the assembled committeemen or their proxies. FWIW has mentioned seven of these so far this cycle -- Judge Michael F. Otto, soon-to-be Judge Jerry Esrig, Anjana Hansen, Thomas M. Cushing, Michael Strom, Megan Goldish, and Abbey Fishman Romanek -- but also scheduled to present were Monica Forte, Brian Alexander, Carolyn Gallagher, Sheryl Rae Ghezzi, Dennis Fleming and Mary Rita Luecke.

The back room must have been small -- and uncomfortably warm besides -- because, although room was found to accommodate Northfield Township Committeeman Mike Kreloff when he arrived late, the interviews grew shorter as the evening lengthened, and soon I had no more waiting candidates in the outer office with whom I could schmooze. Jake Peavy was pitching for the Sox in the ALDS, albeit the wrong Sox, and I took advantage of the lull to sneak home.

Although the interviews of judicial candidates are now concluded, Rep. Lang said Tuesday night that the committeemen would not be voting on a slate that evening.

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