Candidates gear up for final campaigning before primary
February 28, 2017
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A shortened, contentious mayoral primary campaign will culminate in Election Day on Tuesday, as Evanston holds its first mayoral in more than two decades and second in city history.
The primary was announced in December, after all five candidates had filed their petitions, and was a surprise to many. Several candidates said the primary drastically altered the way they campaigned.
Candidates said the shortened campaign season negatively impacted their ability to connect with voters, but said the possibility of a general election was a way to dig deeper into the issues defining the campaign. Although truncated, the campaign has been nothing short of contentious.
State law requires a primary for any municipal race with more than four candidates, but the issue of a primary was brought forward early in the election cycle. Ald. Brian Miller (9th) filed for the election earlier than the preset filing dates, later citing a seemingly forgotten 1992 referendum passed by Evanston voters that requires a primary for mayoral elections with two or more candidates.
The city announced a primary would be held in late December, which shortened the campaign season by nearly six weeks. It will be the first mayoral primary held in Evanston since 1993. If one of the candidates wins over 51 percent of the vote, they will win the election outright. In 1993, none of the candidates won a majority of the vote during the primary, necessitating a general election. The candidate who won the plurality of votes in the primary, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), went on to narrowly lose the general election to former Mayor Lorraine Morton.
The election has generated confusion over the electoral process in Evanston, furthered by two objections to nominating petitions. In November, a supporter of Miller filed objections against businessman Steve Hagerty, Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) and former Evanston Township supervisor Gary Gaspard.
Objections to Tendam were later withdrawn, and the Evanston electoral board dropped objections to against Gaspard and Hagerty. Objections later filed by lawyer Jeff Smith (Weinberg ’77) against the other four candidates were also dropped by the board in early January.
The primary came as a surprise to many, and some candidates said it limited their ability to connect with voters.
“When you compress all the forums and the questionnaires into a shorter time period, there is less time to knock on doors,” Smith said.
The primary would create more of a “consensus” behind the eventual winner, if no winner is declared Tuesday, Smith said. He said he had planned his campaign for an April 4 election date. Smith was the last of the five candidates to announce, doing so during the December filing dates.
Hagerty said that while the primary was costly both to the candidates and the city and county — which have to account for two election days rather than one — there were potential benefits of having a narrowed field in a potential general election.
“The reality is that with two candidates, I think the voters will be able to delve more into their backgrounds and into their experience and into their thoughts on Evanston, than you can with five candidates,” Hagerty said.
He said that while he is hoping to do well tomorrow, he expects no candidate will receive more than 51 percent of the vote and that there will be a general election in April. Most of the candidates said they also expected the raise to go on until April.
Tendam said that the primary has led to a “productive couple of months” in local politics.
“We’re in a heightened state of people wanting to be involved, people wanting their voices heard,” Tendam said. “People are very concerned about the state and national level of local politics.”
Gaspard said he was initially worried a February election day would limit people from voting due to inclement weather. However, a warm spell has dissipated those fears, he said.
Gaspard said he will spend the day calling voters, and other candidates said they will spend the day canvassing polls.
A few candidates said they were looking forward to a general election. Thus far, issues such as affordable housing, police accountability, the “welcoming city” ordinance and economic development have been the focus of the campaign. Candidates said they hoping to have more in-depth debates.
“If you look at the five candidates that are running right now, when you have these debates and these forums, it’s just hard to narrow things down,” Miller said. “This will give us a shot to put forward ideas.”