No contest? No democracy

By Kelly Rix

At the very heart of democracy is the idea of choice. For a democracy to thrive, voters must have more than one party to choose from at the polls. America is built on a two party political system, ruled by Republicans and Democrats, but in some places like Chicago, that system doesn’t work.

In the upcoming election, there are 37 Democrats running uncontested for state legislature seats, in both the Illinois house and senate. When voters in these districts go to the polls, they will not have a choice. They will either cast their vote for the Democratic incumbent or not at all.

Everyone knows that Chicago is as blue of a city as they come and a longtime powerbase for the Democratic Party. But Chicago’s politics are different than many other cities.

This city is run by a well-oiled political machine, also known as the Cook County Democratic Party, which holds almost all the power and clout in this city. The machine isn’t even about ideology or beliefs. It’s not even easy to distinguish most of Chicago’s Democrats from Republicans. The machine’s goal is just to consolidate power and maintain the status quo.

The majority of Chicago’s Democrats aren’t progressive, and who knows if they even really agree with the basic principles of the Democratic Party. To have power in this city, you pretty much have to align yourself with them.

But citizens want their elected leaders to somehow be held accountable. And what better way is there to do that than by forcing them to win over voters in a general election? But when certain elected leaders never actually have to run against anyone, who is holding them accountable? Who are they answering to? Are they beholden to their constituents, to the powerful party leaders who keep them in office, or to the campaign donors who fill their coffers?

Some cynics might say that is exactly the problem-Chicago Democrats aren’t being held accountable, and they never will be until they are forced to by the voters. They just do what all rank and file machine Democrats do in this city-follow the party leaders and vote as they’re told to.

Thanks to the Illinois Green Party winning 10 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election, they can now get their candidates on the ballot without having to meet cumbersome petition requirements. They are running candidates in five state congressional races that would have otherwise been uncontested. Though most of their candidates don’t have much of a chance at winning, the important thing is that they are at least running and forcing the Democratic incumbents to actually answer to their constituents.

In the 39th district, which covers the Logan Square neighborhood, the Green Party’s Jeremy Karpen is running against the Democratic incumbent, Maria Antonia “Toni” Berrios. She also happens to be the daughter of Cook County Board of Review commissioner Joseph Berrios, which is probably not a coincidence given the penchant for political nepotism in Chicago.

Toni Berrios has never been opposed in a general election before, but now Logan Square residents will actually have a choice in electing their state representative. Regardless of who ends up winning, I’m sure it has been a positive thing for them to finally have more than one option and to finally get a little attention from the candidates.

Hopefully the Republican Party will start challenging the Democrats’ power in upcoming elections, too.

Shawn Healy, chairman of the Illinois Young Professionals for McCain, said he hopes some of the young leaders from his group will start thinking about running for offices in Chicago and Cook County.

“More than anything, just for the sake of democracy, we need competition,” Healy said. “Without competition, we see the corruption that it breeds here in Chicago.”

Healy is exactly right. Chicago politics needs more competition, and without it, we will keep getting more of the same from our elected leaders.