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.