Ask Chicagoist: What's a Ward Committeeman?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Feb 26, 2007 3:00PM

Dear Ask Chicagoist:

What is a Ward Committeeman and why am I being asked to vote for one?

2006_11_askpolling.jpgWhile you're not technically being asked to vote for a Ward Committeeman tomorrow, it will come up in 2008's March primary election. Still, what this obscure role in Chicago politics is actually for is pretty interesting.

Essentially the position is that of an unpaid political advocate. Arenda Troutman, the 20th Ward's Committeeman, has a good explanation of what it is that a Ward Committeeman actually does on her website: "a committeeman is elected to a leadership position for a partisan political jurisdiction. In Cook County, each of the fifty Wards and thirty Townships elect a Committeeman to represent the people of both (or all) major political parties. Each Committeeman is a voting member of their chosen Cook County Party Organization." They are in charge of activities such as "voter registration within the Ward, hosting community forums, providing election materials, and facilitating the smooth operation of primaries and elections." They also recruit Election Judges, Precinct Captains and Area Coordinators.

But as to what the overreaching importance of a committeeman is, we talked to Chicagoist's own political writer, Kevin Robinson, who had this to say on the subject:

Ward Committeeman can be a very powerful position. Sometimes they control the ward, such as John Daley in the eleventh ward, and other times they are controlled by the alderman, such as David Fagus in the 49th. In some instances, the alderman is also the committeeman, such as Tom Tunney in the 44th. John Daley, for example, has the power to anoint (or destroy) the person that will be alderman in the 11th Ward.

Either way, the role carries with it both the glory of being an insider and the clout that comes with being so close to an alderman. In most cases, if the committeeman bows to his patron, he will have the privilege of doling out jobs, favors, and services around the ward, and occasionally he will be able to put his people in other political positions outside of the ward.

Although we aren't voting for ward committeemen this time around, elections such as this one are when the committeeman really gets to shine, going out into the community and whipping up money, volunteers, and support for not only the alderman, but also the slate of candidates that the ward party organization has endorsed. That's why you see stuff that says, for example, 29th Ward Democratic Club. This is the organization that the committeeman runs. They raise money, put out literature for candidates, rally the troops, and get out the vote.

Thanks, Kevin, for doing our work for us!

Wanna form a committee? Need some advice? Email ask(at)chicagoist(dot)com.