(Part 1 of 2) January 21, 2011 – Chicago. Despite the single digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chill, an estimated 200 people came out to the Irish American Heritage Center on Chicago’s far north side last night to listen to the eight remaining candidates for 38th Ward Alderman. Candidate Bart Goldberg even got a chuckle when he commented early on, “Only in Chicago would somebody have the bright idea of scheduling an election in the dead of winter”.
The candidates lined the impressive stage at the Heritage Center with the event moderator seated in the center. The forum was moderated by the Old Irving Park Association and co-sponsored with the Portage Park Neighborhood Association. Unlike the recent Chicago Mayoral debate, this candidate forum was managed with a professionalism, fairness and intelligence that the Mayoral debate planners could take a lesson from.
All eight candidates were invited, and to their credit, all eight attended. Each round of candidate responses was given a time limit – three minutes for their opening remarks, one minute to respond to each question, and two minutes for closing remarks. Each time a candidate went over his or her allotted time, a mysterious male voice would forcefully announce from somewhere in the front row, “Time!”. If the candidate didn’t stop in three or four seconds, another even louder, “Time!!!” was heard. Every candidate that accidentally made it to that point stopped dead in their tracks, mid-sentence, only squeezing in one final, “Thank you” with a slightly embarrassed smile.
Five questions, plus the opening and closing remarks, were rotated so that each candidate would have the opportunity to answer first, last, etc. Seated from left to right along the elevated stage were; Mahmoud Bambouyani, Tom Caravette, Timothy Cullerton, Bart Goldberg, Carmen Hernandez, Sheryl Morabito, Ed Quartullo and John Videckis. Each was impeccably dressed and appeared to be bringing their ‘A-game’.
With former Alderman Tom Allen’s appointment to the Judiciary, 12 candidates originally submitted petitions, with only 8 remaining. None of the candidates are well-known in the community which may have been one reason for the large turn-out. Even Timothy Cullerton, who was just appointed as the 38th Ward’s interim Alderman only a week ago by Mayor Daley, isn’t very well-known in the ward. Although it never came up, it appeared that each candidate may be a first-timer. Needless to say, a great deal was riding on each of their opening remarks.
Going first, Mahmoud Bambouyani set the tone with his genuinely good-hearted, kind and caring words. Most memorably, he described himself as a business owner and a father. He was likeable, probably the most likeable of the group. Bambouyani stressed his immigrant past and cited his harmonious personality that has a knack for building bridges between different groups. One of the more memorable moments of the evening was when Bambouyani finished his introduction by convincing the audience, “I love this community. I love this city. I love all of you!”. Normally, that would most-likely hurt a serious candidate. But Bambouyani pulled it off. He was serious. He was genuine.
Second on the stage was Tom Caravette. Caravette didn’t waste any time reminding everyone why they were there tonight. After introducing himself as a business owner and thanking the sponsors, he informed the audience that he was a life-long resident of the 38th Ward and proud to still call it home. From there, Caravette made it clear he was a reform-minded candidate while giving a few reasons why he decided to run for office – lack of representation, lack of transparency, overburdening taxes and the anti small business mentality in the current administration. Caravette let his softer side show when he described being a family man and looked up, smiled and announced that he grew up with 9 sisters, 12 siblings in all. It drew gasps and chuckles from the crowd, many of whom obviously grew up in similar large families. With his first-to-announce candidacy, enormous number of petition signatures and an already small army of dedicated volunteers, Caravette is probably the most serious and prepared of the seven challengers. The fact that he proudly wears the title of ‘independent’ and ‘reformer’ should make for an energized and exciting election.
Third to take the mic and introduce himself was Timothy Cullerton, as of a week ago, the man they all came to beat. While most of the candidates came across as at least a little nervous, Cullerton was calm and relaxed, almost too relaxed. After Bambouyani’s ‘speak from the heart and off the top of your head’ method, and Caravette’s ‘occasionally glance at bullet points on a note card’ style, Cullerton read directly from a prepared statement in an almost drone-like manner. Being a political novice himself, it may have just been well-concealed nerves. But it was the content of the statement that was the big news. After matching Caravette with his own life-long Ward residency, Cullerton announced that if elected, he would keep the exact same staff and Ward army as the previous Alderman, his brother-in-law Tom Allen. If nothing else, that means that the other seven candidates were up against an existing, battle-hardened regiment of patronage-backed precinct workers. The 38th Ward Democratic Organization isn’t what it used to be, but as evidenced by Mayor Daley’s appointment of Tim Cullerton as interim Alderman, it still has some clout, not to mention friends in high places. Cullerton reminded the audience of that when he listed all the powerful Democratic politicians and unions that have endorsed him. Showing some animation and fire toward the end of his introduction, Cullerton drove home the point when he announced, “I am not running on my name”. Candidate John Videckis would have something to say about that later in the forum.
Another item of Tim Cullerton’s opening remarks that is worth mentioning is when he attacked fellow candidate Tom Caravette without actually using Caravette’s name. Paraphrasing, he said ‘And another thing I promise – I won’t send precinct workers to bother you, handing you fliers when you’re picking up your kids at school or getting out of church’. Caravette had previously offended opposing precinct workers when he handed campaign fliers out to his fellow parishioners at the church his family attends. With the rest of the audience not getting Cullerton’s inside jab, three Cullerton supporters erupted in what appeared to be preplanned shouts of agreement. The audience surrounding the three was taken aback by the sudden and uncalled-for interruption. With stern looks of rebuke by the moderators, that was the only outburst of the night. Immediately after Cullerton’s jab, Caravette supporters in the crowd could be heard whispering to each other, “He’s attacking us already. He knows we’re his main opponent. They’re afraid of us”. While this author wouldn’t go so far as to say the Cullerton wing of the Machine is ‘afraid’ of first-time candidate Tom Caravette, even your author has to concede that if the Cullerton campaign worked an attack on Caravette into his opening remarks, an attack that wasn’t targeted at any other candidate at any other point in the night, the Cullerton campaign probably does view Tom Caravette as his biggest opposition.
Fourth to speak was Bart Goldberg. Dressed to perfection and with a smile, hair and a twinkle in his eye that hasn’t been seen since Elvis, Goldberg announced that he was a proud Democrat and an attorney. Right from the start, he was not only calm, cool and collected, he was downright funny. He was also obviously very intelligent, as he quoted exact numbers and paid extra close attention to specific details throughout the night. There were a couple points in the evening where Mr. Goldberg would use a small portion of his time to correct one or more of his opponents or shoot down one of their ideas, usually with a chuckle from the crowd. While a Democrat, Goldberg made it clear that he is also a sincerely reform-minded candidate and is no way a part of the Machine. He even went so far as to not only criticize the current administration, he laid blame squarely on the shoulders of, “Northwest side Aldermen who are a rubber stamp for Mayor Daley”. With his witty personality, sharp appearance and the attention to details and issues, Bart Goldberg could find himself in the thick of the race by election day.
Fifth on the list was Carmen Hernandez, the biggest surprise of the evening. Another first-time candidate, Mr. Hernandez is the youngest of the eight candidates. But don’t try to hold that age difference against him, or anything else for that matter. Hernandez is an Illinois National Guardsman and a husband and father of six. The reason your author knows that he’s the father of six is because Hernandez, like Bambouyani, never missed an opportunity to mention his family, show love for his children or make it abundantly obvious that being a father is the center of his universe. Another thing that set Hernandez apart was when he opened his remarks by greeting the audience in Polish, then in Spanish, then in English. The bright points are that he’s sincere, passionate and more than a regular guy – he’s the guy many of us would love to be. He proudly defends our country, proudly raises six kids with his wife, and isn’t afraid to say what he feels. If Hernandez has a downside, and remember I’m an ‘independent’ writer and this is an ‘independent’ column, it’s that Hernandez more than once praised former Alderman Allen (although so did a couple other candidates) and when he announced he was a former precinct worker for the 38th Ward Democratic Organization, your author had no choice but to put Hernandez in the Machine-leaning column. And in your author’s opinion, Hernandez’s support level probably increased more after tonight than any of the other candidates. You just can’t help but respect and admire him.
Sixth on the list was Sheryl Morabito. Ms. Morabito was well-spoken, professional and somewhat subdued. Much like Cullerton’s monotone, Morabito didn’t exhibit very much excitement or energy. But what she lacked in charisma, she made up for in content. After introducing herself as a librarian, which somewhat explained her low-key attitude, she went on to mention the numerous ward organizations she’s been a part of over the years. At least once, she used her time to correct a fellow candidate with the specifics of a certain problem or idea. She seemed to be the only one who could speak of the inner-workings of City Hall from personal experience, having helped residents via her positions at the various ward offices. But from your author’s ‘independent’ point of view, Ms. Morabito is another candidate that probably falls in the Machine-friendly column. Unlike the other pro-Machine candidates who at least claimed to want ‘change’ and ‘a new direction’, Morabito didn’t even go that far. Her reason for running – “To give the voters a choice”.
The seventh candidate to introduce himself was Ed Quartullo. Another issue-oriented candidate, Mr. Quartullo went straight to the hot topics. “I’m pro-green” he threw out to the audience, almost surprising some. Quartullo had a number of ideas that involved taking advantage of the trend in going green. He also insisted his focus would be on creating jobs, increasing the number of police officers, being a pro-education Alderman and doing more to fight the ever-increasing graffiti problem. While Quartullo wasn’t overly animated or excitable, he was long on ideas and issues. It’s clear that Mr. Quartullo has spent his share of time thinking about the Ward’s problems, as well as some ideas to help fix them. Overall, Quartullo was likeable and his ideas seemed to resonate with some of the audience.
The eighth and final candidate to introduce himself was John Videckis. Wasting no time, Videckis tore into his prepared statements as if it were going to be a challenge to fit them all into his three minutes of allotted time. The first thing that jumps out at you is that Mr. Videckis isn’t just a fast reader, he’s a fast talker and fast thinker. He also had one of those Chicago-style accents that was topped with a Jimmy Durante sound. Videckis wasted no time rattling off his qualifications – business owner in the community for over a decade, decade-long president of different community groups, CAPS Association and other various business groups. While many of the candidates are small business owners, Mr. Videckis brought his credentials and experience. Aside from his quick talking style, he also pulled no punches criticizing the corruption in the current administration and its harmful, anti-business policies. If one thing was clear after the opening statements it’s that it was going to be a spirited debate.
End of part 1. Please proceed to part 2 to read the second half of the article, detailing the candidate responses to the five specific topics.
38th Ward Candidates Forum successfully informative (part 2)
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