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In the Windy City, Voters Are Stagnant

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Today marks one of the most important mayoral elections for the city of Chicago in over 40 years, and lots of Chicagoans — including SAIC students — have an opinion. To see what the locals are actually thinking, a group of SAIC students hit the streets, questioning people about who they might be voting for, and which are the most important issues in this election. Here’s what they had to say.

By Laurence Berger

On the eve of voting for Chicago’s first new mayor since the 1980s, one would expect there to be an electric feeling in the air, a gust of change sweeping the notoriously windy city. This was not the case the night of February 21.

Indeed, most people seemed fairly oblivious, one going so far as to ask when the elections were taking place. Of the others, most people seemed to be aware of various politicians’ most basic platforms, but beyond that they didn’t seem to know or care. One woman claimed to like Gery Chico’s basic plan, but when asked if she considered his ties to Mayor Richard M. Daley an issue, said she had been unaware, and that it definitely changed her perception of his politics.

A 27-year-old Kentucky native who has been living in Chicago for the past seven years declared himself disengaged with politics in general. Beyond being unsure if he was going to vote or not, he said that he felt that there is no transparency in politics, and that at the end of the day, all politicians have “their own personal agenda.”

The young woman I spoke to last is not registered to vote in Illinois, and claimed that were she, the only way she would vote was if she had been seriously following the campaigns. She did find the mayoral candidates’ vagueness on the issue of city employee pensions “pretty typical.” She also felt that the various candidates have not been addressing issues such as education, poverty and health care enough. In contrast to the first person I spoke to, she also did not feel that Chico’s ties to Daley were important. “Just because he worked with Mayor Daley doesn’t mean he is Mayor Daley, just like because Emanuel worked with the president doesn’t mean he is going to turn into Obama,” she said.

One common thread between everyone I spoke to was their standpoint on the Emanuel “residency” controversy. While the last woman did think it was a valid issue, she did not think it warranted the attention received.

Indeed, most people found the entire controversy a waste of time. Many said that they found the time and resources spent on that particular issue should have gone to discussing points more relevant to the city and diverse political platforms. 

By far the most invested person I spoke to was a white middle-aged male DePaul professor. Beyond being the only one of my interviewees who gave me a definite positive answer to whether or not he was voting, he also had quite a bit to say about the elections. He told me his vote lay with Miguel Del Valle. While being annoyed at the vagueness of all the mayoral candidates on the topic of pensions, he said he also understood that it was a complicated issue. He found that Chico’s ties to Daley were a negative factor, and that Chicago is ready for reform, which would not happen with a candidate like Chico. He also claimed that the current politics are very “1937,” citing Upton Sinclair’s book Oil! as an example of what he called “poisonous politics.”  According to him, in our day and age corporations are treated like people, and money equates speech.

For a city that claimed itself eager and ready for change, it doesn’t appear that much has changed. It seems that people have little trust in the future of Chicago politics, and sadly do not think that it is worth investing their energy or time into.

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