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Election '08-A-Go-Go

By Hunter Clauss in News on Oct 31, 2008 4:50PM

20081_10_31_vote.jpgThere may never be a presidential race quite like the current one (proof enough), but don’t let that fool you into blowing off important local races (and yes, voting for judges is important so don’t even take the easy way out by voting “no” for all of them). The long list of candidates and offices, some of which you may never have heard of, can be intimidating, but we at Chicagoist have come up with a quick guide highlighting some of the important races. We've also included other resources that might come in handy on Election Day, which should just happen already.

The first thing you should consider is downloading a sample ballot available on the Chicago Board of Elections website. Your ballot may differ than the person who lives across the street from you (as is the case with the expansive U.S. House, Illinois House, and Illinois Senate races). Also check out the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times, who have made endorsements on most of the races.

U.S. Senate
The senatorial race is arguably the second most important for Illinois voters. Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic Majority Whip in the Senate, is up against Republican Steve Sauerberg, Green Party candidate Kathy Cummings, Libertarian Larry A. Stafford and Constitution Party of Illinois candidate Chad N. Koppie. While this race has a plethora of candidates, it essentially boils down to Durbin and Sauerberg. Sauerberg, a doctor from Willowbrook, has proposed a tax credit plan that would allow the poor and elderly to purchase private insurance rather than receive government-backed insurance. Durbin says that plan is unrealistic and instead favors a subsidized healthcare plan. If Durbin losses this race than consider hell frozen over, especially since polls show Durbin with a significant lead (2 to 1).

State's Attorney
The next big local race is for state’s attorney. If you don’t think this race matters then look up Jon Burge to see what happens when the state’s attorney’s office doesn’t do anything. Democrat Anita Alvarez and Republican Tony Peraica are squaring off for the spot that can, in theory, keep local governments accountable for any misconduct. The office has been criticized in recent years for being too cozy with the police department (again, Jon Burge), but both candidates say they’re not afraid to go after abusive cops. Alvarez, a career prosecutor, joined the state’s attorney’s office back when Richard M. Daley was running the place, which makes some skeptics worried that the office under Alvarez will be more business as usual. Peraica, however, has been using some of his time campaigning against his old foe, Cook County President Todd Stroger. Peraica, a county commissioner, lost against Stroger for county president in 2006 and the two have been at odds ever since. Peraica says that if he were elected, he’d go after corrupt politicians rather than the blue-collar crimes that the office typically handles. The central question voters will ask themselves in this race is who they think will actually deliver on tackling corruption.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is probably one of the most obscure government agencies in the state. It’s a nine-member board that’s responsible for water quality and flood control. It’s also been criticized as a patronage dumping ground. Three spots are up for grabs and two of the incumbents could be on the ropes. Commissioner Cynthia Santos is under fire for her less than stellar attendance record and Commissioner Kathleen Therese Meany has been attacked for her lack of independence. It’ll be interesting to see whether the two will be able to retain their seats with the stiff competition they’re receiving from Green Party candidate Nadine Bopp and Democrat Frank Avila.

Board of Review
The race for the 2nd District spot on the Board of Review, a little-known agency that can indirectly raise property taxes, is interesting because it pits Joseph Berrios, the incumbent and chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, against Republican Lauren Elizabeth McCracken-Quirk and Green Party candidate Howard Kaplan. Critics have Berrios say is the king of inside deals who gladly supported Cook County President Todd Stroger’s controversial sales tax hike. Although, Berrios’s main challenger, McCracken-Quirk, doesn’t appear to be campaigning at all, which means Berrios has a good chance of winning.

Constitutional Convention
Illinois voters have the option of calling for a Constitutional Convention every 20 years. The Con-Con's purpose is to revise the state constitution, which will be done by a delegation created by a special election in 2009 (that is if the Con-Con passes on Nov. 4).

Supporters of the Con-Con, which include Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, say that the measure can help enact new ethics and campaign reforms. Others, like Governor Rod Blagojevich, worry that a Con-Con could create restrictions on civil liberties and increase the state government's power. If a Con-Con is called, the new constitution must be approved by voters.

It’s now time for the ass-end of the ballot—judges. Selections made by contention and retention will be voted on for the Illinois Supreme Court, the Illinois Appellate Court, and the subcircuit courts. There are more judicial selections than we can handle, so we'll pass along some resources. The best resource we’ve able to find is from the Northside Democracy for Chicago, which put together this helpful chart [PDF]. It includes recommendations of various legal groups, such as the Asian American Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago. And if that's not enough, another good resource is Vote For Judges, which gives a similar rundown of this year's selections as well as a helpful FAQ.