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Evanston’s Electoral Escapades: The Purple Banana Republic

Russ Stewart 30 March 2017 2 Comments
Most people who reside in north suburban Evanston think that they are special. While there is a modest amount of black and Hispanic folks around in Evanston, most residents are white, affluent, ideologically “progressive” meaning liberal and Democratic, obsessively politically correct and they think they know what is best.
Evanston, population 74,239, is a city where there is zero-tolerance for anybody who doesn’t think and act like they’re supposed to. Conformity is the norm. They rejected the abominable Donald Trump 34,038-2,808 or 88.4 percent on Nov. 8, which topped Barack Obama’s 29,188-4,580, or 84.8 percent 2012 win. Those who vote Republican are deemed in need of medication and therapy. Evanston is “special” for several reasons:
First, it is a Cook County suburb with a foreign policy. The aldermen, back in the 1970s, sent a strongly worded resolution to Moscow declaring Evanston to be a “nuclear-free zone,” which meant that no high-mega tonnage intercontinental ballistic missiles were to be lobbed north of Howard Street. So intimidated were the Soviets that, to date, Evanston has not been nuked. Rumor has it that the Russians have re-calibrated their guidance systems and will nuke Rogers Park instead, but only on a day the wind is blowing south.
Second, Evanston embraces the concept of “school choice.” The racial complexion of Evanston is roughly 66 percent white, 18 percent black, and 9 percent Hispanic, with the home-owning minorities concentrated in the 5th Ward, east of McCormick between Dempster and Golf. The wealthier whites, plus a healthy Asian population of about 8 percent, live close to the Lake, east of Green Bay Road – the choice real estate. To the south, between Oakton and Howard, is a mixed population, primarily apartment-dwellers.
The 5th Ward is 87 percent black and Hispanic, and somebody got the idea that the city should spend $20.6 million to build a “neighborhood school” instead of busing all the minority kids to five other grammar schools in white areas. Never mind that minority parents liked the idea. A whole bunch of paternalistic white folks thought that would be “re-segregation,” and that was a no-no. The March referendum lost.
Third, it is a “no-change” zone. In the late 2000s, a developer wanted to build a 37-story high-rise on the city-owned Fountain Square downtown property on Church Street, with 275 condo units and 24,000 square feet of retail on the lower floors. Another developer wanted to build a 49-story edifice next to it. Think of the sales and property-tax revenue. Any other suburb would give an arm, leg and multiple internal organs to get such an economic windfall. But not Evanston. It would “change the character” of Evanston, the preservationists wailed. Several years of delays, combined with a tanking economy, aborted both projects.
And now, in 2017, Evanston is “special” again – as a political laughingstock. Liberals do not suffer fools lightly, and they especially don’t like to be made foolish. The bumbling and fumbling surrounding the 2017 mayoral election has, said county Commissioner Larry Suffredin, made Evanston “resemble a ‘Banana Republic.'”
Evanston’s electoral escapades began in 1992, when voters approved an ambiguous but binding referendum imposing a primary-runoff system if more than four candidates filed for any municipal office. For generations, up through the 1970s, Evanston had a partisan election system, with labeled Republicans always beating Democrats. As the Republican brand soured, candidates began filing as “independents,” with just their name on the April ballot, the top vote-getter winning and no majority required.

In 2009, four candidates filed for the April election, and Liz Tisdahl won with 62 percent of the vote. There was no “primary” or runoff. The city clerk thereafter continued to ignore the 1992 vote, and advised 2017 municipal candidates to “follow state law,” said attorney Jeff Smith, who sought the mayoral post being vacated by Tisdahl. Smith circulated nominating petitions to run in the April 4 election and filed them, as required by state law, in December.

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Four others – Aldermen Mark Tendam and Brian Miller, who is Suffredin’s chief-of-staff, wealthy businessman Steve Hagerty and former township official Gary Gaspard – filed in November, submitting petitions for a Feb. 28 “primary,” which was mandated under the 1992 referendum, but triggered only if four or more candidates filed. What if three filed? Or one was disqualified? After Smith filed in December, the November bunch challenged his petitions, claiming that he was the fifth candidate, and had to run in the February primary. “I filed for the election,” said Smith. Nevertheless, the Evanston “electoral board,” consisting of the mayor, clerk and one alderman, decided that the 1992 referendum was, 25 years later, now operative. Didn’t that make every election since then, including Tisdahl’s, invalid?

Liberals grouse that Trump didn’t win with a majority of the popular vote, but a “Banana Republic” election in Evanston? Well, never mind. Everybody meant well, had good intentions and selective memories.
Smith, who had anticipated an April election, spent 2 months in legal wrangling, not campaigning or fund-raising and finished third on Feb. 28, getting 1,297 votes in the 50 precincts to 4,495 for Hagerty, 2,082 for Tendam, 1,898 for Miller and 359 for Gaspard. Hagerty spent close to $100,000, and faces Tendam in the April 4 runoff. The political machine of U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-9) has endorsed Tendam. Hagerty will win.
Evanston’s PC political plutocracy, which includes Schakowsky, Suffredin, state senator Dan Biss (D-9), who is running for governor, and township Democratic committeeman Jeff Schoenberg, Biss’s predecessor, long ago learned to avoid entanglement in Evanston’s convoluted politics. Why unnecessarily make enemies? It’s a “hands-off zone.” Let the locals bicker, squabble and posture while they keep control of the really important jobs. A key April 4 race is that for alderman in the 6th Ward to replace Miller, where Suffredin’s son, Tom, is running. If he wins, he’ll be in line for his dad’s job, or mayor.
Evanston is proof that, despite a city filled with supposedly brainy people, intelligence can still be in short supply.
Morton Grove, just four miles west of Evanston, is in a different universe. The 22,451 mostly white, working-class people living there feel besieged, not special. They feel oppressed by increasing taxes and fees, and a steadily diminishing quality of life. Voting for Trump was not a source of shame or ostracization; it was a protest. In Morton Grove’s 16 precincts, Clinton beat Trump 6,422-3,130, or 67.2 percent.
A little-publicized hostile takeover occurred in 2013 when Danny DiMaria beat incumbent Dan Staackmann in the Action Party primary. Both were longtime Republicans, and the “Action Party” was a 1990s Republican creation, opposing the Democrats’ “Caucus Party,” run by township Democratic committeeman and state Representative Lou Lang. Staackmann beat the Caucus’ Ricky Krier in 2009, and looked on track for an easy re-election in 2013. But Morton Grove has long had a “partisan” election system, whereby any “established” party can hold a caucus to pick a candidate, and if they then gather the requisite 500 to 600 signatures they get a spot under the party name on the April ballot. An “independent” can also circulate petitions to get on the April ballot. There is an obscure provision that the caucus can alternatively choose to have a February primary rather than pick an election candidate. DiMaria, allegedly with Lang’s help, packed the caucus, which voted for a primary.
On Feb. 26, 2013, DiMaria beat Staackmann 1,691-1,126, or 60 percent in the Action Party primary, in a turnout of 2,816. There are 15,134 registered voters in Morton Grove, so just 18.6 percent voted. There was a “conspiracy” between Lang and DiMaria, according to Staackmann, “with a lot of Democrats” voting in the Action Party primary, which was legally permissible. DiMaria then went on to win the April election over “independent” Larry Gomberg 1,556-679. “The Caucus Party is defunct” in Morton Grove, said DiMaria. “They’re all part of the Action Party.” Didn’t I just say that?
Staackmann made a comeback in 2015, winning a park board seat, and is on the April ballot for mayor as an “independent.” Outside sources have funded mailings to 9,000 households blasting DiMaria for allegedly violating Chapter 6 of the municipal code by “increasing his compensation” while mayor. He is paid $8,000-a year, but the council voted during his current term to double his monthly stipend to $400, allegedly to cover his Internet, cellphone and wi-fi expenses. “You cannot increase your salary during your term in office,” said Staackmann. “It was a stipend, not a salary increase. I’m on call 24/7,” said DiMaria.
Staackmann criticizes DiMaria’s stewardship, including a budget deficit, pension shortfall, and an ongoing garbage collection fee, as refuse services were privatized. DiMaria boasts of economic development, lower indebtedness and water bills and a revitalization of the Prairie View Mall. “He (Staackmann) was the (city’s) worst mayor because he cut services to the bone,” said DiMaria. DiMaria will win this grudge match, albeit narrowly.
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Russ Stewart is a political analyst for the Chicago Daily Observer

E-mail russ@russstewart.com or visit his Web site at www.russstew art.com.

2 Comments »

  • Now you see it... said:

    The underwhelming current mayor of Evanston (Elizabeth Tisdahl) makes Mrs. Teasdale of the Marx Brothers political satire “Duck Soup” look intelligent by comparison. Mrs. Teasdale was played by Groucho’s usual foil Margaret Dumont.

    How many dollars has the Evanston Council wasted in the name of Economic Development (a/k/a money laundering) in failed businesses, shopping center developments and restaurants that open and close in quick order? Remember the Dodge and Dempster shopping plaza or Chicken and Waffles?

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