Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Illinois 40th Representative District: candidate forum sponsored by Old Irving Park Association

This blog entry is written from the perspective of someone who has volunteered for Mel Ferrand and will continue to volunteer for Ferrand. I encourage voters to write-in “Mel Ferrand” when they vote in the Democratic Primay for Illinois 40th State Representative.

Last night Old Irving Park Association and other community groups held a candidate forum for candidates in the 40th district. All candidates attended: Rep. JaimeAndrade, Ferrand, Aaron Goldstein, Wendy Jo Harmston, Mark Pasieka and Nancy Schiavone.

I have seen all these candidates when they appeared at Northside DFA. And I created online surveys where NDFA members came to the point of view that Ferrand was the right candidate to endorse. Some NDFA voting members loved her, most liked her and no one was opposed to her.

I felt like Goldstein performed the best at the candidate forum. He was passionate. He seemed to have thought about the issues. And he was just the best public speaker. 

Goldstein's strongest moment was probably when he explained how the recent bill to cut pensions violates the Illinois Constitution and US Constitution.

The one point where Goldstein reminded me of David Hoffman (not in a good way) was when he talked about electing someone “you can be proud of”. I don't validate my morality by how I vote. And I think anyone who does is weird or a crook. When I vote, I vote for someone who will use the power of government to improve the lives of people.

Hoffman especially came off as a guy who was more concerned about keeping his uniform clean than he was in making the play.

Harmston had a good night too. She was specific about her past accomplishments and had some ideas about what to do going forward. Whatever assets Harmston has as a candidate, she has neither created a campaign committee nor has she created a website that shows on Google.

If Harmston ever did emerge as serious candidate, it would be easy to portray her as a Republican because she mostly votes in Republican primaries and she prioritizes cutting government and lowering taxes.

The worst performance of the evening was Jaime Andrade. Public speaking does not come easy to him. He was actually much better at NDFA when he came in with lots of attitude and said, “I know a bunch of people in the room aren't ever going to support me because of how I got the job. But I'm gonna tell you what I'm about.”

Kurt Vonnegut advised writers to writefor a specific person. When one writes for a general audience it doesn't work.

Andrade and Ferrand have this problem. When they are speaking to a specific person about a specific subject, they are smart, engaged and likable.

But last night, much of Andrade's speaking was giving lists of relevant bills he has co-sponsored. To be better, Andrade should talk more about values. When he talks about his family, he should make it more of a story. Last night it came off as going through a checklist.

Ferrand, Ferrand, Ferrand. It started bad. She spent her whole opening talking about the ballot challenge against her but didn't mention it was Schiavone's challenge. Ferrand tried to play the victim card but I don't think it worked. What it did accomplish was keeping her from delivering her message. (Although she did get in the endorsements of NDFA & IVI-IPO.) Ferrand didn't mention she was an elementary school librarian until the first question which was about school funding.

And when Ferrand did answer the school funding question she failed to be as specific as the other candidates. (She did go first.)

And then there's Pasieka. He said he had no filter and he showed it. He was all over the map at times. He attacked Schiavone for her ballot challenge to Ferrand. Although, he kinda took a swipe at Ferrand too (I think). Pasieka did note that he and his wife did vote for Ferrand at the NDFA endorsement. Pasieka also quoted John Lennon, mentioned his CCW permit but also said he was fine with relinquishing his firearm if they were made illegal.

Pasieka's best question was one that was a weakness for everyone else: the environment. Pasieka came out strong against fracking and also strong in support of using solar power to heat or pre-heat water to reduce energy that goes to heating water.

Pasieka also channeled some of the Ross Perot/Reform Party vibe with being very concerned about the direction of the country while also being optimistic that businesses that threaten to leave need the technical skills available locally more than they let on.
Like Harmston, Pasieka has neither a website nor a campaign committee. He did encourage people to look at his resume and he encouraged people to call his mobile number, (773)225-8558, if they had questions.

I'm gonna say Pasieka came off as the neighbor you'd like to have to your barbeque. Whether people feel he's ready to represent him in the Illinois General Assembly... I met Pasieka before I met the other candidates. And he's clearly come a long way.

I voted for NDFA to endorse Pasieka as well as Ferrand. I voted for Mark Pasieka to be endorsed for three reasons: 1) he and his wife made the effort to become NDFA voting members (three volunteer activities plus two meetings plus two meetings or events), 2) he is an engineer and brings a perspective that should be represented in Springfield, and 3) he will be able to grow into the role of state rep between March, 2014 and January, 2015.

And then there was Nancy Schiavone. For a lawyer she is stiff talking to groups of people. She was stiff at NDFA. She was stiff last night. In the beginning, it seemed like Schiavone had trouble getting her ideas out in a coherent manner. Her intro happened right after Pasieka attacked her. (Moderator later noted this violated the rules.)

Schiavone got better as the evening went along. She listed a number of endorsements, including: Ald. JohnArena, 45th Ward Independent Democrats, Ald. ScottWaguespack, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Citizen Action-Illinois and Congresswoman JanSchakowsky.

Schiavone seems to like to re-purpose Right Wing rhetoric for progressive ends. She refers to a progressive income tax as a “fair tax”. Fairtax.org is a website pushing the end of the income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax. Schiavone also talked about broadening the tax base while reducing tax rates. At the national level, this is code for taxing poor people more. The federal income tax exempts enough income that many people don't pay any income tax. But Illinois has a low standard deduction. I'm assuming Schiavone is speaking in code about taxing services, but it could be a reference to a “gross receipts tax” (advocated by Rod Blagojevich) or perhaps a Robin Hood tax on the sale of options at Chicago Board of Trade. [From Citizen Action's website it looks like "fair tax" is just branding of the graduated income tax.]

Schiavone's worst answer was on the environment question. She talked about cosmetics in waste water and implied they would poison Lake Michigan. As the 35th WardDemocratic Committeeman I'm sure Schiavone has been courted by multiple MWRD candidates. And it's pretty common that MWRD candidates explain that waste water goes into Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal.

I assume Schiavone knows this stuff. I assume she just got sloppy about making a point that stuff affects the environment in unexpected ways.

One person who was there thought Schiavone did particularly well at the debate. I didn't. My sense was that the consensus was Goldstein and Harmston were the best.

I hope there are future candidate forums. While I recommend people vote for Ferrand, I think the district is lucky to have this crop of candidates. I'm pretty sure I'd take the worst candidate in this race over the best candidate in the 8th Cook County Board race.

I think that most of these candidates will grow as public speakers as they get more opportunities.

Also, I'd like to see some polling, preferably by a media outlet or other non-partisan source. My sense is that there is a block of people that want to move beyond the Mell/Blagojevich era and would be inclined to vote for the strongest candidate among those they deem acceptable. Who is the strongest candidate? It would be nice to have some real data.

The forum was attended by 100-140 people who appeared to be mostly older White folk. Based on my experience going door-to-door for Ferrand (and reading demographics of district), the district is younger and more Latino than the audience was.

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