If there’s any position that makes people question Chicago’s political system, it’s the process of electing Ward Committeemen. In case you didn’t know, Committeeman is a purely political position that has no governmental powers and no salary. They are elected every four years during party primary elections in all fifty Chicago wards. While all fifty wards have Democratic and Republican Committeemen some elect Green Party Committeemen too.
Once powerful positions, as the political machine has waned, Committeeman have too. As a result, the general voting public rarely gets excited about committeeman races, the next one is on March 20, 2012 and yet they do have an impact on government. Candidates for the office tend to acknowledge the voter apathy and focus their efforts on hard core party voters. So far one candidate has announced their intention to run for 47th Ward Democratic Committeeman.
47th Ward residents Tom Jacks and Mike Melander are aware of these problems and are concerned that because voters don’t pay much attention to party committeeman elections, voters are unclear on the position’s duties and they aren’t getting the quality representation they need. So, to improve voter education on the position, they’re planning to distribute an informational flyer on the committeeman position around the 47th Ward.
“I was so enthused at how engaged the community was around the aldermanic position [last February],” Melander says. “I would like to see the community feel that when they walk into their election sites [next] March to see how they feel about one candidate [for Committeeman] or another.”
Tom Jacks’ name might sound familiar to you, since he was a dark horse candidate for 47th Ward Alderman last February. Jacks is back to being a full-time graduate student now and Melander says Jacks has no plans to run for office any time soon. Melander, who is an attorney, says he and Jacks are just trying to raise voter awareness of the position.
“I would like for people to pay attention to the campaign and [not] ignore the election in March. Beyond that, [we would like] to create a discussion and build an understanding of what our ward wants out of our committeeman,” says Melander.
If it sounds like a very grass-roots effort, it is. Melander says his wife, who is an art teacher, designed the flyer and they plan to run off as many copies as they can afford. They don’t have any outside funding for the project. Just their own earnestness.
“The plan is to go to Staples and run a bunch off and not carpet bomb the ward with them, but get it out there,” says Melander.
The pair aren’t sure their efforts will make a difference, but they feel driven to make as much of a difference as they can.
“I would say that whoever ends up running, who knows that maybe the content that’s in here will change things. I thought there was a fair chance [candidates] would ignore it all together, maybe it won’t make a difference at all,” says Melander.
“If [the candidate is] well known or not well known it will give them food for thought on running a good campaign and talking about what they are supposed to do.”
You can email Mike Melander at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in assisting with their project.