What a weird election.
What a weird election.
Yes, many of them are, but Tuesday’s balloting in Springfield takes the cake in a couple of ways.
In all of Sangamon County, for example, only one race is on the ballot — for Springfield mayor. So people in unincorporated areas and smaller towns will just have to wait until the April 5 general election to vote on anything. Many voters in Springfield will probably be surprised when they get their ballots Tuesday and realize it will take a mere five or 10 seconds to do their civic duty.
Then there’s the fact that a change in state law, designed to save money by saying that a primary is needed only when five or more candidates are in the race, will have the odd ramification in Springfield of sending along Tuesday's top four finishers to the April 5 general election.
That opens the field to a wider variety of choices, but I’ll sure miss the clarity of candidate A versus candidate B. As state Rep. RAYMOND POE said in proposing to change the law, there's something unsettling about electing a mayor, potentially, with just 30 percent of the vote. It probably won’t happen, but it could.
Mix all that in with the still-mystifying suicide on Dec. 14 of Mayor TIM DAVLIN, and there is a shadow over Tuesday’s vote. Yes, the initial pain has subsided a bit for those of us who knew Mayor Davlin personally, but weren’t family members or constant companions. And yes, it’s become OK again to talk about problems that existed in his administration, as many candidates have done in calling for changes. But it’s still a shame that, for whatever reason, he was pushed to do what he did. He left a void.
By the time of Davlin’s death, we already knew he wouldn’t be a contender for a third term. We don’t know for sure, but it sounds as if Davlin might have hit the campaign trail for MIKE FARMER. Just add that to the list of unknowns.
Meanwhile, I have a tradition to carry on — to make predictions just before an election. As always, I need to stress that the following predictions are not endorsements. They are my political judgments, based on observations and conversations and, of course, some guessing, about how things will go.
Here’s what I predict — that the top four finishers will be, not necessarily in this order, the three Mikes — Farmer, MIKE HOUSTON and MIKE COFFEY Jr. — and SHEILA STOCKS-SMITH.
Houston, mayor of Springfield from 1979 to 1987 and now on leave as chairman emeritus of Town & Country Bank, had the early advantage of name recognition. Even after his two terms as mayor, Houston has been no shrinking violet on the local scene, leading the local Chamber of Commerce for a time and also running for mayor in 2003.
Houston’s declaration that dozens of positions at City Water, Light and Power could be eliminated without affecting city services came early, and it seems to have set the tone for some other candidates to talk about waste and the need to change. He’s fighting a couple of candidates who contend a “fresh face” is needed by saying the next mayor should have direct knowledge of how the city operates.
“We can no longer have inexperienced elected officials managing city finances,” Houston says in one commercial. I believe he’ll get the chance to continue this quest.
Like other patrons of Saputo’s restaurant, but also as someone who has covered many meetings of the board that oversees the nearby Prairie Capital Convention Center, I was a bit surprised when Coffey, an owner of the restaurant and the chairman of the convention center board, got into the race. He didn’t seem to enjoy controversy much in the past.
In recent years, things have gone smoothly under his leadership at the board, as more fellow Republicans have been elected or appointed to board seats and a creative and energetic general manager, BRIAN OAKS, was promoted into that top spot. Meetings of the board often last only 15 minutes - much different from the sometimes contentious city council.
But Coffey, with the help of the backing of the Sangamon County GOP and some labor unions — and some Democrats, he is always quick to say — has raised big bucks, has advertised a lot on a theme of “many ingredients, one great city,” and has handled himself with increasing ease in public. He’ll get another six weeks to prove that he's really, as a mailer says, “an independent leader … committed to ending the city’s history of insider politics.” And he’ll do it from the free-rent headquarters provided by Frank Mason Real Estate, named for one of the late honchos of the vaunted Sangamon County GOP.
Farmer, a Davlin appointee as the city's director of planning and economic development, is playing the Davlin angle to the hilt — a tactic that has made some observers cringe, at least a bit. He released a letter from NORENE DAVLIN, the late mayor's mother, saying the family supports him. Former Sangamon County Democratic Chairman TIM TIMONEY, who was close to Davlin and helped Farmer get on the ballot, recently wrote Democratic precinct committeemen:
“(I)n one of his last statements prior to his death,” Timoney wrote, “Tim let us all know that he believed that one of the people running to succeed him as mayor has got the experience and temperament for the job.
“I’m talking about Mike Farmer,” the letter says.
An aunt and uncle of the late mayor, JAMES and PHYLLIS DAVLIN of Granger, Ind., combined to kick in $10,000 to the Farmer campaign in recent weeks.
The fact that Timoney sent another pro-Farmer letter to Democratic voters, with the line “Sangamon County Democratic Party” under Timoney’s name, raised objections from Stocks-Smith, a Democrat herself. Current party Chairman JIM MOODY called the letter “inappropriate,” because people might think the party endorsed Farmer. The party has made no mayoral endorsement.
Another letter sent on behalf of Farmer is from an uncle of his, retired GOP Circuit Judge DON CADAGIN, lauding Farmer as “intelligent, compassionate and hard-working.”
The Cadagin family is a big one, so Farmer, who has a Republican voting record himself, has an interesting combination of helpers here. I think it gets him through — though the controversy about his support could make that guess wrong.
Stocks-Smith has a long track record of community involvement, but again, her entry into the mayor’s race surprised a lot of people. She did, after all, lose a close race for school board in the past, and mayor is a hot job.
Still, it became clear early that she had the support of U.S. Sen. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill., and some who work with him in Springfield. Robo-calls recorded by Durbin for Stocks-Smith made it onto some state phones, and even out of town — Rochester Village President DAVE AMSTRONG got one — but they were clearly noticed. The Durbin connection helped Stocks-Smith raise a total of more than $80,000, which makes her a player. And she is the only woman on the ballot.
If my guesses are right, Ward 3 Ald. FRANK KUNZ, former Williamsville Village President WILLIAM McCARTY and tailor MARIO INGOGLIA will fall short of the April ballot.
Ingoglia is an involved citizen, but $100 does not a campaign fund make.
McCarty is smart, knows finances through his state job and business experience, and has Springfield roots. He’s campaigned hard, as evidenced by lots of yard signs, and he could be a sleeper here.
Kunz could easily make the cut as well, given his reputation for honesty, openness and super-blunt talk. He startled some people — not in a good way — when, at a Citizens Club of Springfield forum, was given four minutes to introduce himself but basically said “you know me,” and left others to blather. In a WICS-TV interview just this week, he repeated his view that incentives for development on the edges of town reduce the impetus to rebuild older neighborhoods.
“At some point in time, the city of Springfield has to put a stop to its growth,” he said.
Is that a message that brings more people in? I’m guessing not.
Still, turnout could be very low. That means customers of Kunz in his heating and air-conditioning business, and people who have heard from McCarty about his “education, experience and enthusiasm,” could make Tuesday night very interesting.
As always, happy voting.
Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or email@example.com.