Dems give support to Obama

Anne Broache

The U.S. Senate campaign of Barack Obama received a boost Sunday after members of the Democratic Party of Evanston voted overwhelmingly to endorse him for the March 16 Democratic primary election.

Almost 90 percent of local party voters who participated in an endorsement session Sunday afternoon threw their support behind Obama, who has represented Chicago as a state senator for the past seven years.

Local party rules state that only candidates who garner two-thirds of the vote for their office can receive an endorsement. The rule prevented members from endorsing anyone in the presidential race because they could not reach a two-thirds consensus.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who won the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses, led with about 45 percent of the vote. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean received about 25 percent. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark trailed behind in third and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was in fourth.

Approximately 300 party members mingled with candidates and their representatives before casting paper ballots from 3 to 6 p.m. at Beth Emet Free Synagogue, 1224 Dempster St. The endorsement session was open to the public, but only party members could vote.

In the synagogue’s lobby and a large gathering room, candidate representatives headed tables and dispensed literature to passersby. Kerry’s campaign had the most visible presence of any presidential candidate’s.

Gary Klein, a software engineer from Chicago, was one of several volunteers handing out pro-Kerry stickers.

“Momentum’s taken him to the top,” said Klein, 49, referring to Kerry’s recent Iowa victory. “But we’re still working hard and not taking anything for granted.”

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th), who is serving as interim party committeeman, rallied an audience of about 100 people behind the Democratic cause in the synagogue’s congregation room.

“Evanston has become an island in a sea of conservatism,” Bernstein said. “I would like to think that we’re the right-thinking folks.”

A number of candidates and their representatives seized the opportunity to deliver five-minute speeches to potential supporters. Addressing the crowd were three of seven Democrats vying to be the U.S. Senate nominee in the race that will choose a replacement for retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.

Candidate Gery Chico, who has served as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s chief of staff, received thunderous applause and whistles when he announced that he would call a special session of Congress to deal with “nothing but healthcare.” State Comptroller Dan Hynes used anecdotes to outline a platform that includes tackling unemployment and defending abortion rights.

But it was Obama, who dubbed himself the most progressive candidate for child and family issues, who proved most popular.

Representatives for the presidential campaigns of Dean, Kerry and Connecticut Sen. Joeseph Lieberman — who received no support in Sunday’s vote — discussed their candidates’ ability to oust President Bush in November.

Ilya Lipkind, a Weinberg sophomore and the local party’s Northwestern student liaison, made Wesley Clark his top presidential pick on his endorsement ballot.

“Unlike Bush, he’s an intelligent moderate with a clear vision for U.S. foreign policy and, as a general, one who can carry the critical southern states for the Democrats,” he said.

With the 6 p.m. ballot deadline looming, Evanston resident Chaaze Roberts said he still wasn’t sure what shape his ballot would take. But he had no doubt about endorsing one candidate: Obama.

“I think it’s his track record, for one, and his charisma as well,” said Roberts, 38. “I feel him as a people person, supporting the folks — no nonsense.”

Members also selected candidates to support in four Cook County offices: states attorney, clerk of the circuit court, recorder of deeds and commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

During the endorsement session, Bernstein also announced that state Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, who represents Evanston, will take over as the local party’s committeeman starting today.

Although local party leaders invited members to run in a special election for the post, Schoenberg ran uncontested. He will be the permanent replacement for Jeanne Cleveland Bernstein, who resigned Oct. 7 after six years as committeeman to run for judge of a local circuit court.

As committeeman, Schoenberg said he would work to increase the local party’s interaction with Evanston’s black community and growing Latino population.

“One of my major goals is to have greater and more diverse participation within Evanston Democratic politics,” Schoenberg told The Daily.