Campaigning is the easy part

Scott Gordon

Getting onto Evanston’s municipal election ballot requires getting your signatures and turning in your petition on time. Apparently, there are no other standards.

We will have some competent, imaginative people on the new Evanston City Council. Others — useless gadflies, people who don’t understand the law and people with ideas that made no sense — managed to get on the ballot.

For a while, they were perversely close to winning. I’m sure some of them slipped through to victory. We’ll just have to see how the new aldermen adapt. Will they be responsible to their constituents? Will they know what they are doing? Will they know what they are talking about?

This is a democracy. Anyone can step out of the mob and into a disguise of officialdom, provided they do it in front of gullible people.

Maybe most voters have enough sense to weed out the hucksters. Some voters in Evanston act like foolish children. On Tuesday night, supporters and campaigners for at least one candidate — Judy Fiske, who lost the First Ward to Cheryl Wollin — harassed Daily reporters and photographers because The Daily did not endorse Fiske. These staffers had no say in endorsements.

Either these people don’t take the press seriously or don’t understand it. Successful and credible politicians must understand that they need to finesse their relationships with the press without counting on journalists to appease them.

Candidates and officials can choose for themselves whether to take this paper seriously, and they should do it without acting like brats.

Constituents should ask one thing of those elected Tuesday because it’s not too much to ask: Don’t go into policy debates without researching them fully. City staff and lawyers are there in part to help you understand the ordinances you’ll be writing and voting on. Aldermen waste hours in meetings just trying to explain their own work to themselves and each other.

Everyone involved in city politics always risks looking ridiculous — nitpicking about sewers, alleys, home renovations, zoning and noise ordinances.

Getting on the ballot is expensive and takes time to do it right. But it’s not all that hard. In theory you can screw up publicly several times over, without losing votes or support.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) rarely talks to Daily reporters. We don’t know for sure why she doesn’t like us.

But Rainey was easily re-elected Tuesday because she knows her ward’s residents, cops and landlords. People in the Eighth Ward know she knows what’s happening there.

Just for the record, I’d like to lay out some of the election rules no one involved in an election will ever tell you:

Candidates don’t have to know what they’re getting themselves into. They don’t have to know which ideas make sense and which don’t. They can suggest bringing manufactured housing into the city. They can offer to bribe opponents with public money.

During the last four years, the council has done a lot of talking about regulating development, providing cheaper housing and countless other city problems — but creativity and resolve are lacking.

And that’s the main problem. If residents don’t ask candidates for new ideas, greater diligence and more thorough knowledge of how the city works, they’ll be stuck with an ineffective and wasteful government.

Also, I’d just like to add how much I will miss Ald. Arthur Newman (1st). If I ever do attend another city meeting, I’ll be lost without being able to see him slouching in his seat, glowering and starting arguments with Mayor Morton.

City Editor Scott Gordon is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]