Election 2011: Lots of sizzle—but where were voters?

23 Feb

Aldermanic candidate Mitch Newman plants a sign of his own—directly in front of Rahm Emanuels sign—in the 43rd Ward. (Photo by Paige Wagenknecht)

It was one of the most historic Chicago mayoral elections in decades, with Rahm Emanuel now facing arguably the most daunting fiscal challenges since the Great Fire of 1871. But it was decided with only 40 percent of the eligible voters casting ballots, or about 10 percent less than predicted by officials.

That didn’t keep the day from being lively. Here’s a citywide, scrapbook look, compiled by DePolitics1011 staffers and other sources, at election-related happenings from start to finish.

The Morning Shift

6:50 a.m.: A pastor overslept and opened New Heritage Cathedral at 5848 S. Princeton Ave., a polling place, 50 minutes late, according to news reports.

Rahm Emanuel’s “war room” in a South Loop office building is the candidate’s nerve center. Staffers are in constant motion, the lead team set up in a conference room with cell phones and laptops ready. They are trained at scanning voting trends and predicting how the race is looking and where more volunteers are needed. Also sighted in the hallway is 13-year-old Zachariah Emanuel soaking in the political history.

10:40 a.m.: Chico is voter number 46 at his polling place, part of a light turnout up to that point. Before he arrived, NBC News reported officials attempted to bar the news media from access in violation of Election Board policy. Even after reporters and cameras were granted access, investigators circulated, demanding credentials and other documentation.

Noon: On the city’s North Side, voter turnout had been so slow in Warren Park that election judges cheered when two voters walked in. Only 71 voters, out of 600 in the 50th-Ward precinct, had voted as of 12:30 p.m.

The Afternoon Shift

While speaking to the polling place judge at the 43rd Ward’s 11th precinct, nothing was more representative of low turnout than the substantial drop in the number of young voters ages 18-24.

Wonzo Zl, who has served as an election judge for 16 years, referred to Tuesday as the “slowest day” he has ever encountered as a judge. “I guess people just aren’t interested in government,” Zl said, while looking at the ballot counter, which read only 77 ballots by 2 p.m.

Kelly Johnson, a 23-year-old non-voter echoes Zl’s hypothesis. “I’m just not super interested,” he said.

Wonzo Zl in the 43rd Ward said it was his slowest day ever as an election judge. (Photo by Jennifer Schanz)

“They [young people] aren’t as involved in local politics as they are in national [politics],” says Barbara Bayou, an election judge working the polling place at DePaul’s Sullivan athletic center, which counted only 98 ballots by 3 p.m.

According to Bayou, who also worked the polls during the 2008 presidential election, ballot numbers were well into the hundreds by 3 p.m. on that Election Day.

1:30 p.m.: One polling spot improvised after an elevator broke at 2505 E. 79th St., according to news accounts. Judges had to go up and down stairs to help senior voters.

4:30 p.m.: The scene at del Valle’s headquarters: three to five people making phone calls with several high school students getting ready to go door-to-door. Spirits are high and cheerful. The candidate’s daughter, Vanessa del Valle—a Stanford law student—holds down the fort. Everyone here believes there will be a runoff with del Valle in it.

“There is a surge of voter support coming in last minute. People have been responding to his Facebook with tremendous support saying the voted for him,” said Vanessa. “As far as polls go, they aren’t accurate.”

Vanessa tells us that even at this hour, del Valle was out campaigning. For his volunteers, the most disappointing aspect to this election was “the media’s crowning of of King Rahm,” she said. “Why couldn’t they have spent more time reaching out to the other candidates and giving them coverage?”

Vanessa and del Valle’s volunteer coordinator, Monica Embry, said that they would vote for no one else in this election.

“If not del Valle, no one else—and a lot of people tell us they feel that way,” Embry said.

Vanessa del Valle and Monica Embry inside del Valle headquarters. (Photo by Maham Khan)

5:15 p.m.: Commuter greeting Rahm Emanuel at El stop, “Congratulations, Mr. Mayor.” Emanuel responds, “Not yet.”

5:30 p.m.: Board of Elections Chief Langdon Neil speculates to the news media that voter turnout is sluggish because the Chicago electorate is fatigued. He says the lower turnout will make the margins that much closer. With closer margins, there is an extra emphasis on counting each and every vote.

The Night Shift

Nancy Gdowski and Terri Korzeniowski at Braun headquarters. (Photo by Maham Khan)

7:20 p.m.: Nancy Gdowski, a campaign volunteer and friend waits at Carol Moseley Braun’s reception at the Parkway Ballroom.  Gdowski said she would be happy if Braun wins,  but is hoping for a runoff as polls are rumoring 15 percent voter turn up for Braun with Rahm at 52 percent (not confirmed).

“If Braun doesn’t make it then hopefully del Valle does,” she said. “They are both people and community candidates, while the other two are in the millionaire’s club.”

Gdowski believes the media has done a horrible job of being fair in covering candidates.

“Morning shows like MSNBC had already decided for us as if we didn’t have brains of our own,” she said.

Added Terri Korzeniowski, also a campaign supporter: “Media gave preferential treatment to Rahm, while Braun and del Valle were rarely covered. Only Carol’s faux pas were covered.”

As her friend, she would advise Braun to be more careful, but felt that Braun is simply a “real person” who talks like everyone else does and “she doesn’t play the sophistication game.”

7:30 p.m.: As the polls closed across Chicago, preparations for Rahm Emanuel’s election night watch party were well underway. The doors at the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Union, Local 130 opened at 7:30 to an eager line of supporters ready to watch history unfold.

Camera crews, reporters and volunteers had already staked out prime spots on the floor of the Stephen M. Bailey Auditorium. City flags set the backdrop on an empty stage for the night’s guest of honor. The perimeter of the hall was reserved for press on platform risers and campaign volunteers acutely monitoring the latest numbers from their laptops. A giant projection screen adorned one wall to inform the crowd of Emanuel’s standing as the night progressed.

7:52 p.m.: The screen refreshed the map of Chicago’s wards and read, “Percent Reporting: 81.05%… RAHM: 54.5%,” which was good news to campaign volunteers like Daniel Comeaux of Lafayette, La., who said he couldn’t wait for this to end so he could finally sleep. The University of Chicago student began interning for Emanuel’s campaign in January.

According to Comeaux, he spent more than 70 hours this weekend making calls and hitting the streets to encourage voters to visit the polls. Donning a “Rahm for Mayor” t-shirt and campaign button, the political science major was hollering and jumping in the air with friends as they watched the big screen.

“This is the first time the city’s had a chance to pick a Mayor in decades,” said Comeaux. “I really wanted to be a part of this. It’s been a great introduction to Chicago politics.”

While U2’s hit, “It’s a Beautiful Day,” played in the background, those addicted to social networking took pictures of the big screen showing Rahm’s latest wins to blog about to those following from home.

Demetria Giannisis was one of them. A manufacturing consultant, she worked with the front-runner when he was known as Congressman Emanuel.

“I’m excited for the average person who’s concerned about education and healthcare,” said Giannisis. “It’s exciting to see people volunteering and taking this moment in our city’s history seriously.”

8:13p.m.: The projector screen flashed again and the winner was clear. “Percent Reported: 86.07%… Rahm: 55.63%.” The crowd erupted.

“This is a critical time and we need a vibrant and experienced individual to lead after Mayor Daley,” said J. Mentee Teah, producer of “The Africa Talk Show” and documentary on Liberian Peace.

“Rahm has a working knowledge of our Government,” Said Mentee Teah. “He will not hesitate to pick up the phone today and call on Washington or another individual who can help Chicago.”

At Gery Chico’s reception at the Westin River North, Fox News announced Rahm Emanuel had been elected—there would be no run-off. As the news spread volunteers and staffers became visibly emotional by the loss.  Guests of the election night event ranged from volunteers fresh off the street to professionals in suits. One attendee looked at his phone reading a text from a friend aloud. It said: “Emanuel the next Mayor. What have you done Chicago? What have you done?” Staffers Brooke Anderson and Leda Santo Domingo talked with news crews as they awaited results.

Emanuel staffers toss t-shirts to supporters at Rahms election night rally. (Photo by Courtney Sturgeon)

8:20 p.m.: Those who played key roles in the campaign began to file on stage to each say a few words. They included campaign co-chair, Juan Rangel, the CEO of United Neighborhood Organization and Annette Nance-Holt, co-founder of Purpose over Pain. As the now-crowded auditorium anxiously awaited Emanuel’s arrival, campaign staff began throwing “Rahm for Mayor” t-shirts into the crowd.

Gery Chico makes his concession speech. (Photo by Maham Khan)

8:32 p.m.: Chico entered the Westin ballroom with his wife and children. Supporters began cheering, “We love you Gery!” His children were upset as their father delivered the news that he had congratulated Emanuel on his victory and pledged his support.

Chico’s speech lasted a few minutes and he exited the room soon after. Tom Petty’s hit “I Won’t Back Down,” played after he spoke. The cheese, sub sandwiches and sweet breads had been sufficiently picked over and guests began to leave. The $10.50 drinks didn’t hold enough incentive to stay.

8:45 p.m.: The announcement came in Plumbers Hall: Rahm was in the building. Preceded by his family and colleagues such as, Congressman Mike Quigley and Secretary of State Jesse White, the new Mayor of Chicago walked to the podium.

After a speech of emotional thank yous and goals for the city’s future, Emanuel stepped down from the stage to shake the hands of the people who got him there. Followed closely by cameras, he signed autographs and took pictures with citizens before a final wave good-night.

Rahm Emanuel greets his supporters—including a surprise cameo by Larry David—in Plumbers Hall. (Photo by Courtney Sturgeon)

9:22 p.m.: Rahm exits the stage. Joseph Cranford, a tour guide in the Loop, said, “We wanted a grand finale and we got Rahm’s landslide victory, now that’s something we’re all going to want to remember.”

The Last Word?

Ron the cab driver got the early word from Emanuel workers. (Photo by Maham Khan)

8:05 – 8:20 p.m.: On DePolitics1011 reporter Maham Khan’s way from Moseley Braun headquarters to Chico’s in a taxi, Rahm is announced the winner. The cab driver tells her he was driving some of “Rahm’s people” around on the South Side early in the morning. They were putting up signs.

“They knew at 8:30 a.m. this morning that they had won it with the kinds of things they were saying to each other,” said Ron J., 42, the driver. He said he has been a cab driver for eight years and knows how to read people very well. He doesn’t like Emanuel.

“He smiles too much and you can’t trust people who just smile all the time,” said Ron, who voted for Braun.

Ron described the polls he visited, like ghost towns.

“It’s because people just don’t care anymore,” he said. “They are sick of it all and tired of hearing the same things again and again.”

Ron is not optimistic about Chicago’s future.

(This story was reported by DePolitics1011 staffers Jennifer Schanz, Christine Hurley, Maham Khan, Paige Wagenknecht, Zoe Barker, Courtney Sturgeon, Megan Ashley and Len Kody.)



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