Saturday, February 11, 2006

Democrats on parade

If all but one or two of the Democrat candidates who spoke at the library today were to look hard at their names for an "s" and immediately place a line through it top to bottom, that would be just fine. It would be better if they would write "public" or "your and my" in brackets before the "s"  That way we would understand each other and be off to a rousing primary in March and an even more rousing general election in November. As it was, they were very interesting to a free-market Republican like me.

State Rep. Deborah Graham, unopposed in March, said she's for "affordable" housing and low-cost (cheap) health care. Chris Welch, state rep candidate opposing incumbent Karen Yarbrough, analyzed public-education problems as lack of "resources." (Wait. I want to draw two vertical lines in that word.) You say, "Money is not the answer"? Welch does not buy that. In addition, he's against high ATM fees and two kinds of loan, "predatory" and "payday." That is to say, he wants a ceiling on rates. (Bankers for Welch are meeting in the phone booth across the street.)

Rep. Karen Yarbrough, now in her third term, wants "housing" for the "homeless" by way of "subsidies." She is against smoking in public space but is for Gov. Blago's "AllKids" health care plan. (And be sure to add that vertical line to the "s" in Kids. Thank you.) She is also opposed to the high prices of things but is sadly realizing that her constituents don't know how to tap into "the state," which is why she tries and will keep trying to "bring Springfield to the people." (This calls for a mountain-to-Muhammad comment, but people are edgy lately about such references.)

Michael Nardello, who lives a few blocks north of North Avenue, where he is a precinct captain, opposes Sen. Don Harmon in March sans organizational endorsement. He's director of finance for the City of Chicago's Dept. on Aging, whose budget dropped from $35 million to $28 million in recent years (he said how many years, but I did not catch it), with neither reduction in services nor layoffs! Lacking support from "party leaders" to whom others must report, he will report only to those who elect him, he said. (This, though not original, is a good line. Harmon right after him simply stated the opposite: he reports to the people too.) Nardello took a shot at the state's "taxing system," said it imposes "unfair burdens," a position which should appeal to all taxpayers.

Harmon, who is OP's Dem committeeman, put in a word for national Dem chairman Howard Dean, saying he is "pleased with the results" of Dean's party chairmanship (putting himself at odds with those national Dems who are not pleased, especially with what Dean has done with their money). Harmon praised the $180 million he got for early childhood ed, a job-training center in Austin, his work to raise the minimum wage (the apple of most Dems' eyes), and four or five other achievements which he rattled off with aplomb, ending with something called "open-source council" which I will look up some day but not now. Harmon also favors "programs," a Dem staple, to solve housing problems and lower the price of "gas and gasoline," with attention to "gouging."

Rep. Calvin Giles said it would be hard to tell his 12 years' achievements in the two minutes given each candidate. (Not and still have time to recount his problems with the state election board, which had him off the ballot until he ponied up a batch of fines.) He too rejoiced in the $180 million for early childhood. (What would early childhood do without it?) And he emphasized his access to (once smoke-filled) "rooms" as a "senior legislator," where he performed as "a champion for education." He looked ahead to the jobs that would develop from expansion of O'Hare Airport and the Eisenhower Expressway -- $300 million in projects. He wants to "get people pre-qualified for these jobs."

LaShawn Ford, his opponent in the primary, is actually a businessman, whose real estate offices are in four locations, he said. As such, he "knows what it means to get things done." He noted the closing of Austin High school, wondering how "this person" Calvin Giles can claim to be a leader in education problems in view of this closing. He emphasized providing "all taxpayers" with "the services they need."

Sen. Kimberly Lightford has four years in office and chairs the senate education committee. She's for more "construction dollars" for public schools but opposes the No Child Left Behind act as "unfair and underfunded." She objects to putting schools on a watch list from which it takes two years to get removed and opposes giving "the same test" to students "less proficient" in language as is given to the more proficient. She's for raising the minimum wage and wants to "index" businesses that don't pay it.

Her opponent in March, James T. Smith, began by reciting the preamble to the state constitution, "We, the people," etc., to what purpose it was not clear. In any case, it set Calvin Giles and Kimberly Lightford trading sotto voce comments in plain view of all -- candidates sat in chairs facing the audience -- and chuckling during much of Smith's two minutes. To make matters worse, as Smith asked us to "believe in the power of one," the Democracy for Illinois sign taped to a free-standing chalk board behind him began to slip. The more he talked, the happier Lightford looked, in fact. Smith soldiered through, oblivious to the distractions, until at almost the very end of his time, he uttered the words no man or woman would be expected to utter in this gathering: "Don't throw money at the problem." (I was so shocked to hear this and was so distracted that I can't say what problem he was addressing. However, I did make a point of telling him later how brave he was to say it.)

With that the formal session was over. Candidates were expected to "plunge into" the crowd, which they did. I remained seated in the front row except for one foray in direction of Eric Davis, who had chaired the meeting superbly, to ask about him and his organization, Democracy for Illinois. It's part of Democracy for America, which Howard Dean founded. These, in short, were Deaniacs who held this very informative session. Davis is an architect, he told me when I asked. The local DFI people draw 20 or so per informal session on first Wednesdays at Buzz Cafe on Lombard Avenue, he further told me.

Him I wanted to talk to, in part to commend his performance, and so identified myself as a Wednesday Journal columnist. To someone I did not want to talk to, he identified me as from the Journal, which made me a target for publicity-seekers. I hate that and showed it to two women, consecutively, one of them Mila Tellez, a library trustee elected last time around with support from Davis's group, he said. Meanwhile, Calvin Giles had spotted me taking notes and come for me, still seated, to shake hands and inquire as to my affiliation. I said I take notes wherever I go -- I sure did not feel like explaining Blithe Spirit to him -- and finally revealed myself as a WJ columnist. That satisfied him, and he was gone.

It was not that easy getting rid of Tellez, who came at me wanting to know if I was a Democrat or (mere) citizen. From a newspaper? A citizen, I told her, smiling wanly and turning away to look at space. She invited me aggressively to the Democracy for Illinois sessions at the cafe. I remained looking at space until she retreated, muttering "You're welcome" when I hadn't said thanks for her invitation. Why did she say that?

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