Candidates rush to campaign for unexpected February primary


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Mayoral candidate Steve Hagerty at his campaign kick-off event in October. Hagerty is one of five candidates in the mayoral race, which is scheduled to have a primary in February.

Billy Kobin, Reporter

The February primary for Evanston’s mayoral race and Fifth Ward aldermanic race means candidates across the ballot are having to campaign in double time.

City Clerk Rodney Greene announced in December that a primary would be held after Jeff Smith (WCAS ‘77) became the fifth candidate in the mayoral race. Greene said the decision is founded in state law, which says cities must hold a primary if more than four candidates enter the race.

But Greene said Evanston officials cannot recall a primary being held since a 1992 citywide referendum, which required a primary ahead of an April general election if more than two candidates file in a race. The announcement followed a series of hearings during which a supporter of mayoral candidate Ald. Brian Miller (9th) unsuccessfully challenged the bids of two of Miller’s opponents, resurrecting the referendum in the process.

Smith filed objections to all four of his competitors last week, arguing there were faults in other candidates’ nominating papers. A city hearing on Smith’s objections is scheduled for Monday morning and will determine whether the mayoral primary will be held in February.

Smith said though his campaign is moving forward with preparations, the sudden possibility of a primary forces all candidates to reexamine their campaign spending.

“If you have a budget that’s based on what you’re going to do over the next 13 weeks, you might have to reexamine that,” Smith said. “It’s like, you don’t want to save Jake Arrieta for the seventh game if the series is going to come down to game five.”

However, Smith said he is not too worried about certain campaign details yet.

“We’re heading down the path for an unlawful or illegal election, and that to me is of greater importance right now than when I’m going to order yard signs,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Steve Hagerty, founder and CEO of an emergency management consulting firm, said his campaign had been built around the assumption that there would be one election on April 4, but the primary announcement and legal objections have complicated matters. He said campaigning is about meeting with voters and educating them on when the election is, but that date is currently uncertain.

“There’s confusion, and that confusion isn’t good for the voters,” Hagerty said. “It isn’t good for the candidates.”

If Smith’s objections are upheld and a mayoral primary does not happen, then a primary for the election of the Fifth Ward alderman will still take place in February, Greene said.

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) said his mayoral campaign schedule has been condensed in anticipation of the possible primary election. He said his goal is to receive more than 50 percent of the primary vote if possible.

“It’s almost like compressing the election into two months,” Tendam said.

Mayoral candidate and former Evanston Township supervisor Gary Gaspard said he has tried to stay focused on the issues he wants to address in the election, including youth violence prevention, crime and relations between community members and police officers.

Miller also said the possible February primary has sped up his campaign. Winning more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary would be ideal but difficult, he said.

“It’s going to be extremely tough, especially considering there are a lot of candidates in the race, for anyone to get 50 percent, so you just do the best you can and see how it goes,” Miller said.

Five candidates have also entered the race for Fifth Ward alderman, and the Feb. 28 primary would narrow the field to the top candidates in each race, unless one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. In that case, the primary result would be final, and the contest would not appear on the April 4 general election ballot.

Candidates in the Fifth Ward aldermanic race to replace Ald. Delores Holmes are Daniel Featherson, Carolyn Murray, Robin Rue Simmons, Carlis Sutton and Misty Witenberg.

Murray said her campaign had printed out material advertising the April election but then had to change it to reflect the February primary.

She said she has tried to “accelerate all of the plans” related to campaigning with the sooner election date.

“I’ve been trying to be very optimistic about the whole experience,” Murray said. “I’ve definitely tried to learn from it and not let it get me in a negative space, because, after all, you have to campaign.”

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