Evanston candidate filings ebb and flow
Then Mayoral candidates (Left to Right) Elizabeth Tisdahl, Stuart Opdycke, Jeanne Lindwall and Barnaby Dinges participate in a forum in 2009. Only two city council races are contested this year. (Jerry Daliege/for STNG)
Updated: January 9, 2013 10:56PM
Four years ago, six of the City Council’s aldermanic seats were contested and the mayor’s race featured a field of four candidates.
With filing ending last week, only two aldermanic races were contested, and that number could easily slip to one, with a petition challenge pending in the First Ward.
Why aren’t more people running?
Candidates who ran in 2009 and before offered a number of reasons for the drop off.
“One of the most potent emotions in politics is anger and there isn’t that feeling,’’ said John Zbesko, who ran a strong campaign for Seventh Ward alderman in 2009, garnering about 32 percent of the vote. “The libraries have not closed, the Chandler Center is still open, and the Civic Center is still the Civic Center. There just aren’t the hot button issues that get people riled up and, as long as there aren’t, why bother?”
Virginia Mann, an activist who ran in the northwest Sixth Ward in 2005, said her impression is that many of the aldermen are very responsive.
“I know when I have worked on citywide issues that my interactions with aldermen beyond my ward have been very positive,” she said. “When we dealt with the Presbyterian issue (a proposed build out by the Presbyterian Homes) we reached out to virtually all the aldermen, and many of them were very responsive.”
Some cited the power of the incumbent. In the 2009 election, five aldermanic seats as well as the mayor and city clerk’s post were open.
In this election, all the incumbents returned. The current city administration does everything to promote the current council, frames of their photographs on display inside the doors of the city’s public buildings.
“Rather you have to say look at the awful job they’ve done. That’s a much harder case to prove,” said Zbesko.
“This is just like Congress,’’ said Elliott Dudnick, who ran last time in the Fourth Ward. Incumbents win. When Steve (longtime incumbent Steve Bernstein who moved on to run for judge) was leaving it was easy for everybody to run. I think in all the races last time, there were all these empty seats.”
Running for office, “it takes a lot of money,” added Mimi Peterson, who ran three times for aldermen, including a close race in the Ninth Ward in her second run.
“It takes a lot of complete dedication. You have to set aside other issues in your life – your work, your family. You have to be prepared to go up against the power structure.”
Barnaby Dinges said he designed his race for mayor in 2009 to be issue-oriented issue oriented and earned media. Then “deep pockets and Dick Durbin” came in, said Dinges, about the support Elizabeth Tisdahl received, winning the seat.
Candidates said the timing of the election, currently staged on a four-year cycle, is also a factor.
The 2009 election came on the heels of the historic Barack Obama election where there was something like 80 percent turnout, Dinges noted.
Then came the municipal election where, despite spirited campaigns, turnout was about 22 percent.
“I don’t think that helped,’’ he said about the close staging of the two elections.
Evanston should go back to staggered elections or change terms to two rather than four years, said several of the candidates.
“I would vote for two year terms,” said Zbesko. “I don’t believe an alderman is any more important than a Congressional term.
With elections held on a once every four years basis, “who is going to remember the cuts in the 2010 budget,’’ he said.
The Evanston Community Foundation lauched a Public Service Challenge in 2001. The initiative brought together a variety of experts and leaders to school newcomers on what it takes to run for public office.
Leaders covered such topics as nominating petitions, organizing campaign committees, fund raising, election laws, and other nuts and bolts.
Some civic leaders launched a Public Service campaign in 2001 designed to encourage candidates to run for public office.
“I think its healthier for the community if we have dialog and debate during the election campaign,’’ said former Mayor Jay Lytle, one of the committee members.
Lytle said the group adhered to the formula of previous years, except for a stronger emphasis on social media to get word about their November workshop.
“I’m not sure that was a wise decision,’’ he said. “Before, we sent out mailers and we had printed cards and we had window posters. All of these were used to heighten the interest in running for public office.”
He said some of the move to social media was fueled by a change in the group’s budget, with more funds going toward the Evanston 150 process – the celebration of the city’s 150th anniversary this year.
The Public Service Challenge is also aimed at school board candidates. While the District 65 field largely mirrors the city, the high school district has eight candidates lined up to run for four open seats.
As recently as 2005, a lack of candidates stepping up prompted Rachel Hayman to wage a successful write in campaign for one of the open spots on the District 202 School Board.
So interest can “ebb and flow,’’ Schroeder said.