Alumni Q&A: Barnaby Dinges, Medill ’86, former Evanston mayoral candidate

Brian Rosenthal

After Barnaby Dinges (Medill ’86) launched his improbable run for mayor last November, the 50-year-old issue advocacy firm owner quickly gained recognition and support for his grassroots campaign, causing many to expect he would provide a healthy challenge to heavy favorite Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th).

But on April 7, Dinges finished a distant third, receiving just 12.49 percent of the vote. Tisdahl won with 61.98 percent, and attorney Stuart Opdycke garnered 17.56 percent.

Sitting in his campaign office, still messy from six months of work and one election night party, Dinges talked about the campaign, the loss and his future plans. Excerpts:

Daily: What was your reaction when it became clear you weren’t going to win?

Barnaby Dinges: I was surprised. I wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t going to win, because I think I was the underdog the whole time. That said, I campaigned for almost six months all over town, distributed a lot of material and the campaign really unfolded the way I had hoped it would, so I was feeling good.

I felt kind of like the Chicago Cubs. We had a great regular season and then we went poof in the playoffs. So, yeah, I was really disappointed in the turnout and surprised.

Daily: Why was turnout so low?

Dinges: We were outspent three or four to one, so maybe that created a sense of inevitability for some voters. Like they thought, “Why should I vote, because one candidate has all this money and all these endorsements.”

That said, that’s a pretty weak reason not to spend 15 minutes to go vote.

Daily: Do you think there’s anything your campaign could have done differently to get those groups to vote?

Dinges: I could have spent less efforts and resources on grassroots and more on traditional advertising, but I don’t really believe in that and that’s not the kind of campaign I wanted to run. I thought we nailed the message. I could have moved around things a little bit. I give our campaign an A- and election day a D+. You know, you gotta give yourself fair grades.

Daily: What do you think it says about the relationship between the city and the university that so few students turned out?

Dinges: It’s probably good for Evanston politicians, because they apparently don’t have to worry about the students. The students have chosen to remove themselves from the process. Students said some amazing things to me. One student said, “I don’t live here, I just go to school here.” It’s amazing.

Daily: How do you think the city is going to be under Mayor-elect Tisdahl and the new council?

Dinges: I think that’s going to be new and interesting to see how it unfolds. I hope the election was a wake up call for city government that people are really hurting. What I’m really worried about is people voting with their feet. They might not have voted on April 7, but they might vote next year when they decide where they’re gonna live.

Daily: And what are your plans?

Dinges: I gotta get back to work and make some money. But I think part of it’s kind of getting my energy back. I’m going this weekend to visit my son at Camp Pendleton. He’s a marine. It’ll be great to see him. So that puts it all back in perspective. I lost an election, you know, I didn’t do as well as I thought I would. And with every day, it gets a little bit further behind me. It’s depressing – it’s depressing personally and it’s depressing for the town just because I thought we should have delivered more.

Daily: Do you ever see yourself running for office again?

Dinges: I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s not something I’m thinking about. Certainly not something I’d do for several years. I think if I did do it again, it’d have to be with some external encouragement. In other words, this time it all came from me. I said, “You know, I’m doing this thing, we’re gonna put together this team,” and if I did it again, I would have to be encouraged by others who would be committed to the effort.

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