Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cook Co. Primary: Scandal-plagued Sims' solution: Throw Opponent Off the Ballot



Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims has been all over the news lately. She betrayed her promise to her fellow County Commissioners and voted to save Todd Stroger's tax increase -- just another "Soldier for Stroger" -- giving Cook County "the highest sales tax rate in the country at 10.25%." She uses taxpayer money to lease a Cadillac for $804 a month. She refuses to obey the law, even though she "approved the ordinance, which requires documentation," "refusing to hand in any receipts." Now we find out taxpayers are footing the bill for Sims to be "chauffeured around town at taxpayers' expense."

So no one can be surprised that this scandal-plagued politician wants to throw her opponent off the ballot. It seems that Deborah Sims, and her fellow Stroger allies, made the determination that she can't survive the Democratic primary, given the lack of trust between her and her fellow County Commissioners -- and the lack of faith between her and her constituents.



Sheila Chalmers-Currin filed several times the number of signatures required to get on the ballot. But Illinois isn't a reform state and it allows anyone who lives in an electoral district to challenge the petitions of someone who wants to get on the ballot.

People told the intrepid challenger that Sims would do this. But Currin comes out of the New Politics tradition in Illinois (as evidenced by President Barack Obama), and likes to think the best of her opponent. So she expressed a bit of surprise and a little sadness when I told her that her petitions had been challenged.

Deborah Sims likes to justify her unyielding support of Todd Stroger's tax increase as protecting poor people. By this, one assumes she means the poor people in her ward in Chicago. She doesn't seem much interested by the poor in Ford Heights or, really, anything in the South Suburbs (despite the fact that more than 60% of her constituents live outside the city of Chicago). One notes that she could be using her contingency dollars to help the poor in her district insteading of paying for her Cadillac. Sims could be using her staff to help the people in her district instead of using them as her private chauffeur or taking them with her to form a protective bubble around her in public.

She could. But she doesn't.

In Chicago, politicians can generally be divided into two kinds. The politicians who use their office for their own personal gain are clearly the most common. Deborah Sims falls into this category. The fact that we have paid for her use of a fancy, expensive car added to the fact that she uses her staff for personal aggrandisement (which appears to be far more important than any official roles they might serve) provides clear evidence of that.

But not all politicians are like that. While this is not a disease unique to Chicago, the fact that Chicago is all about doing business does promote this kind of insiduous behavior among those involved in politics here. There are some -- the brave, the few, the honest among us -- who want to use public office to promote the public good (and not their own personal aggrandisement), but any outsider would be struck by their rarity.

President Obama was certainly one of the latter, someone who wants power to promote the public good. So is Sheila Chalmers-Currin.

Which explains why Deborah Sims and her fellow Soldiers for Stroger are eager to throw Sheila off the ballot. Sims can't survive such a comparison. As the evidence of Sims' corruption grows, and Sims' overwhelming neglect of the majority of her County Commission district becomes more obvious, even a weak challenge represents a major threat.

There are clear thinking political operatives outside of the South Suburbs who believe that there is no way that Sims can win this time, given the numerous scandals that whirl around her like a hurricane. But in the South Suburbs, this isn't quite so clear. People don't really know who their County Commissioners are. It is difficult to vote out the incumbent if one doesn't know who is the incumbent. This lack of name recognition by the average voter (as evidenced in our Issues Survey in three townships in the South Suburbs last summer) is matched by a lack of political muscle throughout the South Suburbs. Most of the party organizations in the South Suburbs are anemic, at best, and the more famous among us are petrifying.

Instead of a vibrant, active political atmosphere in the South Suburbs, there continues to exist a culture of fear where people learn not to question their elected officials and to not get involved in local politics. While that culture of fear was broken by the mobilization of activists and volunteers in the South Suburbs on behalf of Barack Obama, politicians like Deborah Sims are working overtime to tamp down whatever residual enthusiasm remains for Hope and Change here.

Deborah Sims has proven to be an adept wheeler and dealer and an effective fearmonger, which has only solidified her position within the political powerbases that do exist. While there is general acknowledgement that Sims has done little for the South Suburbs (I have no doubt that Sims is a worthy representative of her constituents in Chicago, and especially those in the 34th Ward), the existing Democratic party organizations will support an incumbent, the slated candidate in the race.

We can expect this race -- should Sheila Chalmers-Currin survive her ballot challenge -- to be a low-dollar, low-information campaign. Regardless of the fact that Sims has breached the trust of her fellow Commissioners or broken the faith of a majority of her constituents, Sims remains a formidible opponent of the South Suburbs. Residents of the South Suburbs have grown accustomed to being sacrificed to the private deals between pols like Sims and the various "power brokers" in our communities.

We can also expect the media, both newspapers and television, to continue to cover the scandals that surround Deborah Sims. But given the shrinkage of newspapers in the last few years, and the lack of viewers for local news, will this matter? In the end, it will come down to voter contact and election day operations. We know that Sims will benefit from the patronage workers in (and from outside) the district. Can Currin mobilize enough volunteers to match it? We won't know until February 2nd.

What we do know is that the South Suburbs will continue to be embarrassed by Deborah Sims until then. As we have learned through trying to pass health care reform, it's not enough to change the President -- we have to change legislators, too! Do what you can to bring Hope and Change to the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

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