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Rich Ward, Poor Ward

For a ward under as much economic distress as the 15th, votes there sure cost a lot.

Toni Foulkes led the field of a dozen (well, 11 after ex-con and former Ald. Virgil Jones got tossed off the ballot) in last month's election with 34 percent of the vote - after spending $225,000, about half put up by the Service Employees International Union. With 2,037 votes to her name, that's about $110 a vote.

By contrast, her runoff opponent, Felicia Simmons-Stovall, spent $65,000 en route to winning 26 percent of the vote. With 1,603 votes to her name, that's about $40 a vote.

That might bode well for Simmons-Stovall's chances in April to win the seat vacated by retiring Ald. Ted Thomas, no matter how much more union money floods the ward.

The 15th Ward, encompassing neighborhoods such as Englewood and Chicago Lawn, is one of the poorest in the city, and despite the union's interest in Foulkes - a Jewel bakery employee and steward for the United Food and Commercial Workers local there - candidates campaigned more on housing, crime, and education than on labor issues such as the big box ordinance.

Simmons-Stovall, an attorney in the office of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, received most of her funding from the 27th Ward Regular Democratic Organization and Friends of Walter Burnett Jr., the alderman in the 27th.

Despite the expense, union officials maintain they are pleased with the results so far. "We'll do everything we did before only more of all of it," said Jerry Morrison, the executive director of the union's state council. "We will spend whatever it takes to elect Toni Foulkes to the Chicago City Council. I will not put a dollar figure on it but it will be substantially more than we spent on the first round and whatever it
requires to get the job done."

Still, Morrison added that a change in strategy is pending for the runoff.

"If we don't change our strategy we'd be stupid," he said. "A 12-person race is completely different from a strategy in a two-person race."

Foulkes, too, says she's happy with where she's at.

"Thirty-four [percent] was phenomenal for the amount of candidates that were in the race," Foulkes said. "We're pretty satisfied."

(Multiple attempts to reach Simmons-Stovall were unsuccessful.)

Of course, money isn't always the deciding factor in elections. Lesser-funded candidates prevailed in the 12th, 20th, and 42nd wards, for example. And candidate in the 2nd, 32nd, ,and 50th wards earned runoffs against opponents with bigger pocketbooks.

While more money is often equated with winning elections, it doesn't always guarantee victory according to David Morrison, the assistant director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

"We've said for years that money does not win elections," Morrison said. "Money is one resource that campaigns have at their disposal, but having a good candidate and a good message and a good organization are also very important."

Even Foulkes doesn't think her $160,000 advantage over Simmons-Stovall meant much on Election Day, given the turnout.

"I'm just assuming that people figured, 'Well Daley is going to win and there's going to be a runoff in the 15th Ward, so we'll just vote at one time,'" Foulkes said. "Now it's time for us to go back and touch bases with those residents, and just tell them and educate them the importance of coming out to vote."

History, however, says the turnout may actually decline for the runoff. Four years ago, about 6,500 votes were cast in the February election (compared to 6,041 this year), and 4,500 in that year's runoff.

Foulkes's local is hoping to combat a similar drop off by continuing to bolster her candidacy. The UCFW has already donated about $7,300 to her campaign. But it's the SEIU where most of her money will come from, and from where they sit, it's not a waste if they get the alderman they want on the council.

"Part of the problem with that dollars-per-vote analysis is that candidates go into races expecting, hoping and planning to take 50 percent plus one of the votes cast," said David Morrison. "It may not pan out that way, but that's not that they wasted the money . . . The future's unwritten. You don't know until it happens."

Additional reporting by James H. Ewert Jr.

*

Allison Riggio has been covering the 15th Ward for The Columbia Chronicle. She previously wrote "The Fighting 15th."



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Posted on March 11, 2007


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