Lessons of a Congressional Candidate: Report from Rahmbo’s Old District

I was decked up in the Wolftrap Motel in Vienna, VA for several days covering the presidential election in early November when I learned, with great horror, that Rahmbo Emanuel got Obama’s nod as chief of staff.

This was the first of several millionaires to be anointed to the president’s team: Rahm’s fortunes made largely in the same real estate and banking interests that are responsible for destroying the country.

I hadn’t been permanently back in the district in some time, but it was my boyhood mandate: remembering the glory days of Rostenkowski sent a certain chill down my spine, as I sat there contemplating how the Chicago machine was going to fill the seat With the Blago circus clearly on its way and Mayor Daley concurrently teetering on edge, maintaining power only to ice his legacy with the 2016 Olympic games, I thought that the machine might sit this one out.

In the end, the ward bosses failed to unite behind one goon, though State Rep John Fritchey, a real thug-looking persona in charge of everything from Bucktown to the lakefront, came the closest. He was able to inspire the bulk of his fellow goons in the party to work the polls for him on Primary Day, and he effectively littered the district with his signs. In the end, this didn’t translate into victory for Fritchey, who lost to the recently sworn-in Mike Quigley, former Cook County Commissioner and supposed “reformer” (whatever the hell that means).

I entered the race as a long shot, hoping to inject fiery populist rhetoric into the forums. I initially filed as a Democrat, but was ultimately recruited by the Greens. For me, the party affiliation is a moot point in America: you have two parties of Wall Street and a smattering of minority parties that have no real political power. I don’t get behind any too enthusiastically, though “ecological sustainability” and “making war obsolete” are two worthy endeavors.

The lot of 23 candidates from the Dems, Repubs and Greens participated in about a dozen forums leading up to the March 3rd primary. There was no shortage of outsiders, ranging from the populist labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan, who riled up the progressive netroots (whatever the hell that is) to the nutty Econ professor from the University of Chicago, Charlie Wheelan. I can’t think of any one thing that would disqualify someone for elected office more so than teaching in the Chicago Economics School, and luckily the voters agreed with me.

Illinois held a public Green primary for this election, owing to the party having obtained ballot access on the heels of Rich Whitney’s 10% showing state-wide against Blago in 2006.

This means I had to compete against three others in order to secure a spot on the April 7th general election ballot. I staved off my closest competitor in the March 3rd primary by a mere 11 votes, in what was a late night at the campaign victory party at the Hopleaf on Clark and Foster.

I must admit that the electioneering was fun: traveling around talking to voters, explaining the meaning of “single payer health care,” trying to be witty and charismatic even when I really didn’t feel like it.

“Why are you running, Matt?”

“Because my generation will be the one shouldering this $20 trillion in debt and navigating the world fractured by our imperial foreign policy!”

You see how fun that is?

For all the yack about how “the press” hates the left, I managed to attract an impressive amount of attention despite all of my downside: my staff consisted of two full time volunteers, one of which slept on an inflatable air mattress in the office (also my apartment), I raised a grand total of $4,500 dollars in two election cycles, enough to barely register as existent, and there were plenty of incriminating things I’d written in various online journals and blogs. A little googling of my name would unveil everything from my desire to divorce from the Land of the Free permanently (still remains a long term goal) to various rants against the Green Party, Ralph Nader and the inept nature of the American left in general.

My ranting and raving about how the left needs to get its act together hardly hurt my candidacy, as the majority of door-knockers and petitioners came from the Ron Paul movement (case in point).

Upon securing the Green Party nomination on March 3rd and declaring that voters were now faced with a decision to “Go Green or Go Machine,” the party offered me absolutely zilch to run an effective campaign. While the rank and file helped the best they could, the party gave no money and was reluctant to provide organizational support. Furthermore, I had to engage in the email version of a shouting match with National Green Party Political Director Brent McMillan in order to place a campaign link on the party website. Brent obviously comes from the cooky strand of Greens that believes all resources should be dispensed on local races, because somehow we are going to “make war obsolete” as alderman of the middle of nowhere. Here there is one congressional race occurring in the entire nation, a high profile district en plus, and the party leadership was too worried about the mayoral races in Racine, Wisconsin and Urbana Il to pay attention to me and my tight, though under-funded, campaign.

I pattered on, nonetheless. Six days to Election Day and the high profile public television talk show, “Chicago Tonight,” invited me to debate eventual Democratic winner, Mike Quigley, and the Republican nut-job Rosanna Pulido. The latter was a gem of an imbecile for the Republicans, who was exposed as a blogger on the Free Republic website. Among other things, she scribed: “I would rather live in a meat packing town than a fudge-packing town. . . . Fudge-packing should be banned.” When not mouthing off homophobic hate speech, Ms. Pulido stuck to old-fashioned immigrant bashing, befitting her credentials as the founder of the Illinois Minutemen. To her credit, she was quite a nice lady in person, when not discussing politics.

Quigley, on the Democratic side, sold himself as a “reformer,” and it is no secret that he Cook County President John Stroger don’t get along. However, Quigs got his start working for ward boss Bernie Hansen, who was by-and-large responsible for starting the mammoth gentrification of the city we’ve seen over the last 20 years. He also expressed blanket support for Obama’s imperialist foreign policy, opposition to single payer health care, and support for the crook bailouts. In short, it was easy to oppose him from the left.

The video from Chicago Tonight is available here. While I addressed the issues, and talked of the importance of electing an activist congressman in these dire times, Quigley talked about his favorite movies, which emphasize the themes of hope and redemption, such as “Dave” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

I’m not making this stuff up. All of this actually happened.

This performance on Chicago Tonight, together with numerous other appearances on local television and the entirety of the Chicago radio news circuit, saw the campaign explode in the final week. Our volunteer core easily doubled, our fundraising picked up dramatically, and more and more news media wanted a piece of the action. We put Matt Reichel signs up in people’s yards throughout the district, Ah the existential crisis, and showed up everywhere we needed to be in order to maximize exposure.

The movement really took off, but unfortunately it was all too little, too late. Running a third party campaign in just 5 weeks in the heart of the machine is no easy task. In the end, we registered an impressive 7.3% across the inner-city part of the district. In three full wards we passed 10% and even beat the Republican in two of them.

If one ranting and raving peace activist with a campaign manager asleep on an inflatable air mattress alongside piles of campaign literature can register over 7% of the vote in just five weeks, imagine what could happen if the party had a little organization to it. Imagine if instead of hating the media, we learned to mingle a little with the corporate news hotshots and convinced them that Green is the future! Imagine if instead of always being negative, we were occasionally positive: if we smiled and said, “history is on our side!”

As the economic crisis continues to deepen, jobs continue to vanish, and public health continues to diminish, the people are desperately looking for a populist movement to rise to the fore.

We face numerous challenges in organizing a genuine leftist movement: weak unions, archaic labor laws, rampant anti-intellectualism, 50% of the country can’t find Iraq on a map, nor can they tell you the difference between the political left and right, and so on. Nonetheless, more difficult tasks have been accomplished by strident men and women. If the Left can get off their egotistical high-horse, do something in life rather than complain, and put in the countless hours of necessary organizing, there is little standing in the way of progress.

Matt Reichel is a writer currently living in New Orleans. He can be reached at: mereichel@gmail.com. Read other articles by Matt, or visit Matt's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Kimberly Wilder said on April 25th, 2009 at 12:24pm #

    I am a former enrolled Green Party member, and someone who still cares about green values and the success of them and other third parties.

    I find Matt Reichel’s writing to be full of naive egotism and arrogance. And, it is a kind of flippant “grunge writing.” Silly, facile, and just negative enough to make someone feel discouraged instead of encouraged.

    It is amazing when someone just gets somewhere, thinks they understand it, takes a lot out of a system, and than decides they are the judge and can attack and dismiss to the outside world.

    Matt had not worked for the greens, or even identified as a green, for hardly any length of time before this race. He is a politician, looking for a path, who used the greens. But, he expected the greens to give him more money and resources…probably more than they had, because he, himself, notes how powerless minor parties are. It is pretty awesome that as a candidate chosen in the state of Illinois, he was able to get some publicity not just from the state party, but from the national Green Party. The national Green Party is not perfect, but they put his face on their web-site. And, that is a favor. And, something more than he would have gotten if he was an obscure, Democratic candidate in a primary he was going to lose.

    The idea that the press was good to him because he is better or more positive than other greens is also b.s. I have seen a lot of green campaigns – good and bad. How much press you get is a complicated formula related not to your own brilliance, as Matt seems to imply, but related to how much of a threat they think you are, or how amusing they believe your race to be. The Green Party is ignored because they have power, and the more a candidate has a chance to win or change the public discourse, the less likely they are to get covered. The press probably realized Matt was just a Democrat playing a game with the greens, and that Matt wouldn’t put out the pure, shining message of the Greens which the mainstream press fears.

    Finally, it is so easy for people to attack the left.

    That last line, “If the Left can get off their egotistical high-horse, do something in life rather than complain, and put in the countless hours of necessary organizing, there is little standing in the way of progress.”

    What b.s. I have heard that from someone people. Many of them people who hang out with activists, but don’t want to do the work. Just tell us why we are all wrong, and they are right (but too busy to show us this week.)

    What discouraging b.s. It sounds as if “the Left” is foolish or lazy in its work. When, the reality is that the Left – and the greens – try to do things in more genuine ways, and the Left has harder work to do – ie: the path less traveled.

    I think it is piggish to take the line of a party you have no history with, run on their line because it is easier to get, and then right after you lose the race start slinging mud because they did not give you enough. Just piggish and immature.

    Matt asks the Left to stop complaining and be positive and all. So, go to it. Right a tip sheet for green candidates. Or, try to plant positive articles in the press about your Green Party experience. Aha. That is the oddness of this peace. It tells us all to be positive and do work. But, it is negative as all get out, and accomplishes nothing.

    Thanks,
    Kimberly Wilder

    Annoying quotations from Matt’s article, which was apparently written on Matt Reiche’s “egotistical high horse”:

    Upon securing the Green Party nomination…the party offered me absolutely zilch to run an effective campaign.

    -
    For all the yack about how “the press” hates the left, I managed to attract an impressive amount of attention

    -
    Imagine if instead of hating the media, we learned to mingle a little with the corporate news hotshots and convinced them that Green is the future! Imagine if instead of always being negative, we were occasionally positive: if we smiled and said, “history is on our side!”

    -
    If the Left can get off their egotistical high-horse, do something in life rather than complain, and put in the countless hours of necessary organizing, there is little standing in the way of progress.

  2. Brad G said on April 25th, 2009 at 12:34pm #

    Reichl was a terrible candidate whose candidacy worsened with every public appearance and whose personality resulted in his being disliked and mocked by virtually every other candidate in the race, regardless of party affiliation. The only victory he accomplished was actually setting the Green Party back as the result of his wholly inept campaign.

  3. lichen said on April 25th, 2009 at 2:20pm #

    “50% of the country can’t find Iraq on a map” There is nothing wrong with that; in a good and just world, the US would have nothing to do with Iraq; it would be none of their business.

    As for the green party, it has failed to become democratic, and the national committee probably wanted to support the winning democrat in the race instead of the author.

  4. VAGreen said on April 25th, 2009 at 3:18pm #

    “As for the green party, it has failed to become democratic, and the national committee probably wanted to support the winning democrat in the race instead of the author.”

    Here we go again with the “Demogreens” canard. Both of my state’s delegates to the National Committee helped out in my state’s Presidential petition drive, and one of the alternates to the NC collected about 6,500 signatures herself. This was in one of the states most heavily targeted by the Obama campaign.

  5. Laver said on April 25th, 2009 at 3:44pm #

    our neighborhood was made a wreck due to State Rep and Lobbyist Fritchey greasing the wheels for a developer and rappers building of a monstrosity in our neighborhood.

    two faced. yes. Ruined our neighborhood yes.

  6. Joey Funk said on April 26th, 2009 at 6:46pm #

    Matt Reichel was the best thing that ever happend to the green party. And for Kimberly he didn’t use the green party, they used him. He got 7% of the votes with 5 weeks. No other candidate talked about the real issues in america. This corruption, unjust war and health care. And for brad, where were you when all these debates were happening? He got the most respect out of all 23 candidates. Matt Reichel isn’t afraid to go against this machine and that’s why you will see him in D.C one of these days….Chicago Green unite

  7. greenferret said on April 27th, 2009 at 4:44am #

    Reichel had a good message, and I appreciated his efforts to bring independents and Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich supporters into a Green campaign. It seems a lot of people don’t trust him because he entered the Democratic primary before filing as a Green, but he clearly doesn’t have illusions about the Dems, and I doubt he’ll ever go back. Besides, do you think he’s naive enough to expect a career as a Democratic politician after spurning them like this?

    As for the issue of state party support for the race, I’ll quote an IL Green who commented on another site:
    “The Illinois Green Party cannot legally donate to congressional candidates because we do not have a federal committee. This is being worked on, but hampered any ability to donate to Reichel. A balance of winnable races (like the Aldermanic race in Urbana where we received nearly 40%) and high profile races (like Reichel’s) is important. Although I wasn’t going to abandon my local races for Reichel, I was glad to provide an individual donation, as were many others.”

    It seems that Reichel overestimated the ability of the party to help him, based on some strong recent Green campaigns in Illinois. However, those campaigns were successful because of volunteer energy, not institutional support.
    He’s right about the potential of the Greens in Chicago, but no one is going to make it happen for them…. if he expects others to support him, then he’s got to support other Green candidates with his own cash, blood, sweat and tears. The machine may work from the top down, but the alternative has to come from the bottom up.