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Monday, October 30, 2006

Suburbs to Chicago: Butt out of our congressional elections

By Dennis Byrne

If you're a suburban voter and someone knocks on your door asking you how you plan to vote in the congressional election, you might want to ask for some ID.

Chances are the ID would have a Chicago address. That's because Chicago Democrats are being recruited to work against Republican candidates throughout Cook County and collar counties.

The Illinois Democratic Network, or IllinoisDemNet as it calls itself on its Web site, is proud to be transporting campaigners from Chicago (and Evanston) to work for Democrats in congressional races from the Wisconsin line to as far south as Joliet.

There, they are knocking on doors and making calls for Democratic candidates Dan Seals (against incumbent Republican Mark Kirk in the north suburban 10th District), incumbent Melissa Bean (against Republican challenger David McSweeney in the northwest suburban 8th District), Democrat Tammy Duckworth (against Republican Peter Roskam for Henry Hyde's seat in the west suburban 6th District) and John Laesch (against House Speaker Dennis Hastert in the west and southwest suburban 14th District).

This may not sound like much of a deal to some Chicagoans who have no use for the suburbs to start with, but suburbanites, such as myself, might not like it because we, after all, live out here in part to be away from the city's lousy schools, higher crime rates and politics as it is practiced in Chicago. Suburbs to Chicago: Butt out. Do we send in squads of suburban Republicans to work Democratic precincts? Haven't you screwed up Chicago and Cook County governments enough already? Do we need lakefront and limousine liberals to tell us how to vote?

IllinoisDemNet asserts that it has no connection with the Chicago organization or any other Democratic organization, that it's just a bunch of progressives, liberals and moderates who are passionate about their cause. Except that the volunteers are picked up at the 44th Ward Democratic Organization, in the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (the guy who parachuted outsider Duckworth into the 6th District race) and the Democratic Party headquarters in Evanston, in Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky's district. After I inquired, the Web site deleted the fact that pick-up sites were connected to party offices. Not deleted were some destinations, such as the Duckworth and Bean field offices.

As of my deadline, IllinoisDemNet had ignored my e-mail asking such questions as the group's party affiliation and funding.

Such secrecy tells Ryan McLaughlin, Roskam's campaign manager, that the group has something to hide.

"The Chicago political machine's reputation for corruption goes back decades, and it's not surprising that in their efforts to expand their fiefdom, they are trying to implant their proxy in a suburban congressional seat," he said in an e-mail. "Duckworth has embraced the city's agenda, ahead of suburban families, and would merely be an extension of the Daley-Blagojevich-Emanuel machine with a different address."

McSweeney isn't so sure. In an interview, he said that his opponent, Bean, has virtually no organizational support, mainly because her support of the Central America Free Trade Agreement lost her the backing of large organized labor. McSweeney figures that liberal organizing support instead is going to the third candidate on the ballot, Bill Scheurer. The absence of a Bean organization shows she is "out of touch" with the district and her natural Democratic constituency, McSweeney said.

As suburban voting demographics trend in favor of Democrats, it only makes sense for the party to increase its organizing there, relying on the main source of party volunteers and patronage workers: Chicago. Importing outside help is not unprecedented or confined to Democrats. In this country, everyone has a right to speak for or against a candidate, no matter where.

Then why is IllinoisDemNet so chary of saying who it is?

There's good reason to ask about political groups that say they're independent. Consider: Last year, the Friends of Lane Evans (a congressman from western Illinois) paid a $185,000 civil penalty under a federal consent decree. The committee ran afoul of federal election law by creating an organization, the 17th District Victory Fund, that spent $330,000 on, among other things, a turn-out-the-vote campaign for Evans.

The Federal Elections Commission said it "found that these campaign-focused activities were so closely coordinated with the campaign that they represented contributions from the Victory Fund to Evans. The contributions exceeded federal limits and included funds from prohibited sources, in violation of [federal election law]."

IllinoisDemNet won't answer my questions. I wonder why.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune


Anonymous said...

Yes, you're right. These Chicagoans should stay out of Suburban politics. And Dennis Byrne, maybe you should stay out of Chicago news and start writing for the Suburban Tribune! You are constantly commenting on city, suburban, state and national political news so it is only fair that Chicago voters should be able to stick their noses into suburban politics as well.

Anonymous said...

I'll assume your closing question is not rhetorical and answer it just in case: you are a partisan hack, not a reporter.

Spare us your phony outrage.

Greg said...

I couldn't disagree more. You say yourself that we all have the right to speak out for or against any candidate, anywhere. So, why would you deny me the chance to talk to my neighbor about our country?

If a lobby group from Washington wants to spend money to run negative TV ads in our state, is that somehow better than when I give up my Saturday to drive out to the suburbs and talk about politics with someone face to face.

In any election, many groups battle for the attention of "swing voters". I say that if someone is going to truly change their mind about an issue, it will never happen because of a 30-second spot during Deal-or-No Deal; all those commercials can do is frighten us away from voting. And this process is supposed to be about debate, not just between candidates, but between ideas. Any person willing to knock on my door and talk to me represents the best in society, not the worst. And that includes all the evangelicals who keep failing to save my pinko-liberal soul.

Dan L said...

This sums up all I have to say about that

I didn't even know you had a blog until now.

Sean Clark said...

I'm not sure if you are trying to push an agenda with your column but your point that city Democrats should stay out of suburb congressional races is unfair and unfounded. It has long been the case that Democratic candidates win on the ground and Republican candidates win in the bank. If you want city people to stay out of suburb politics, why do you only highlight the ground operations, which almost always are smaller and have less of a presence on the Republican side? Why don't you look at where the money is coming from? Do Roskam, McSweeney, and other suburban Congressional candidates accept donations from outside their districts? Of course they do. It's probably not from any organization in the City of Chicago because Republican organizations are few and far between in the city. But what is the difference between IlliniosDemNet (which, with Dem in their title, does not pretend to be an independent organization) sending volunteers to ID voters in the suburbs and the NRA sending a check to pay for the same thing? "FEC disclosures show Roskam has received financial support from Americans for a Republican Majority, a PAC formed by Tom DeLay. Roskam accepted financial support from the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where Jack Abramoff worked as a lobbyist." from

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Dennis, but by the same token why not tell the GOP national organization to butt out too? Outside is outside. If you are evoking Rahm Emanuel, who is in the national Democratic Party you have to tell the GOP national people to stay out too. That means no robo calls from Laura Bush, for example. If you want to claim that "corrupt Democrats" from the city are trying to get involved, what about the corrupt Republicans from Washington?

You are trying to propose some kind of moral position here, but you partisanship is showing. Unless you say that everyone should butt out.

Great Lake Defender said...

I live in Evanston but am a strong supporter of John Laesch. I grew up in Joliet, and remember Denny Hastert (who was then a State rep)visiting my grade school during an assembly. That corpulent old gas bag needs to be defeated, as his corruption affects the entire country.

I'll damn well get involved in suburban elections or in congressional races anywhere in the U.S. I'll give money and support to anyone I please.

I could care less what Dennis Byrne thinks of my involvement in suburban races. If the Tribune Editorial Board, with its many suburban members, can opine on events in the City of Chicago, then I can do the same.

EqualTime said...

There’s an old saying, if you don’t have the law, argue the facts, and vice versa. I guess the political corollary is if you can’t win on the issues, shoot the messenger and emphasize the less or irrelevant. Dennis Byrne is aggressively following this path in his Oct 2 column supporting Bush’s failed Iraq policy (criticizing the NIE report, followed by the most deadly month for US soldiers since Jan 2005) and his Oct. 30 denigration of the efforts of Duckworth, Bean and Seals supporters. I am a 22 year resident of the 6th District, 11 in Glen Ellyn, and for the first time in my life, I was knocking on doors in my neighborhood Saturday and Sunday to support Duckworth’s efforts to begin to repair the devastation of Bush/Republican control. Rather than defend the Republican agenda on the issues (because he can’t), Byrne chose to use precious newspaper space to spout the Republican talking point that support for this federal election is not local. As an independent voter, I would have preferred him to try and convince me on points that matter, like: Vote Republican because when the President said the buck stops with him, he didn’t really mean it; because $3 trillion in more debt is good for you and your children (compare the 10/29 Business Section front page article “Warning of Fiscal Disaster” on how we’ll be at $46 Trillion in National Debt in a few decades) ; because the Bush/Rumsfeld Iraq policy is really good for America (and Iran!) so there’s no need to change it; because Byrne has no problem with billions in US aid to Iraq being wasted and stolen; because it’s not an insult to drag out bin Laden in this election (good thing we gave up on capturing him, his presence “out there” comes in handy at election time); because Bush’s one-time use of a veto in 6 years is not an indication that the Republican Congress is a rubber stamp and vice versa; because he believes that using immigration after 6 years of Republican control makes sense because they don’t want to talk about Iraq; because it’s OK that Roskam and McSweeny will continue this trend and give us two more years of international embarrassment and inability to influence world events as the leader of the free world should. To top it off, he gives Roskam’s campaign manager a free swing at Duckworth. Dennis, you’re doing a heckuva job.

Brian Gallagher

Glen Ellyn, IL

Anonymous said...

Of course when the big time Republicans come into town for fundraisers, they're more than happy to do so in the comforts of Chicago. But you know, I'm sure George Bush would have been more than fine with having a $1,000 a plate dinner at the local Arby's, or any other dull restaurant or banquet hall, in the suburbs.

markg8 said...

Byrne do you live in Chicago as you say in your bio or the suburbs as you say in the article? If you've moved you might want to change your bio.

Dems have a decided advantage in volunteers willing to give up what most likely will be the last nice days of the fall and even a Bear's romp to come out and canvass and
phonebank for their candidates. Most of the young people I've seen getting off those buses are students from Northwestern, U of Chi.,
Depaul and Loyola. Smart kids who know that Bush and the Republicans are mortgaging their future with their wasteful spending, disastrous war in Iraq and massive tax cuts for the top 1 percent.

In the IL-06 Peter Roskam has so few canvassers and phonebankers I hear the Republican powers that be in DC flew out over 80 hill staffers this weekend to walk the district and call voters. I hope they're not being payed by the federal government to electioneer. I also understand they don't actually talk to voters one on one and ask for their votes. They simply doorhang literature. I guess their accents would give them away.

I tried calling Roskam's office last week to ask what he thinks of "occult promoting" Harry Potter books and before I had a chance to say more than hello I was put on hold by a harried staffer who evidently forgot about me. I hung up after 10 minutes. They're not going to get many volunteers that way but evidently he doesn't need them.

The NRCC and the RNC are putting so much money into IL-06 they're actually mailing packages about 7" long x 3" wide by about an inch high labeled "America's start up kit". Inside are just 3 pieces of attack literature with slander about Duckworth. That's a lot of cash to fool people into looking at that junk.

Another dirty little trick right out of Rove's playbook from the RNC in DC is robocalling with a recorded message that starts out, "I have some important information for you about Tammy Duckworth". Most people hang up on robocalls and that intro is made to sound like a Duckworth call. If they listen to the full message they get an earful of Republican attacks on Duckworth. If they don't they are redialed, sometimes immediately but always multiple times a day. One guy said he got 14 of these calls in one day.
This is an attempt to block Duckworth's phonebanking advantage. Numerous times voters have screamed in my ear "Quit calling me!".

Roskam knows he can turn out his anti abortion and gun nut base. He also knows serious Dems won't be dissuaded by these tactics. But if he can get independents to stay home, to say a pox on both their houses he can sneak in.

Are you proud to associate with people who've done this our democracy Byrne?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the extended comment ("Arby's").

How come there is no mention of the fact that the national GOP is also interfering in both suburban races?

From the Daily Herald:
"To that end, the national GOP is dispatching more than 100 volunteers to help Roskam and the 8th District’s McSweeney down the home stretch. "

What do the the vanilla, cookie-cutter, highway-centric, stip mall-loving, conservative suburbanites have to fear from Chicago? That their old tricks of "smear and fear" won't work, even in their own backyard?

Ann said...

Ordinarily, I rarely agree with you on just about everything. But this time I do. I live in Lombard and a kid from Tammy Duckworth's campaign came to my door on Saturday. I talked to her about the election and asked her where in the neighborhood she lived. She said that she lives in Chicago and goes to Loyola University. She said the campaign bussed out a bunch of kids from several Chicago colleges for the day and paid them. When I asked the girl questions about Duckworth and how she was different than Peter Roskom (I haven't made my mind up yet), she said that she was from Indiana and wasn't very familiar with the area or either candidate. Now how come Peter Roskom has volunteers from the neighborhood coming to my door while Tammy Duckworth has to hire Chicago college kids? That made me very suspicious! And put me off. I know there are Democrats in my neighborhood. How come they aren't coming to my door for free instead of some kid from Chicago they have to pay?

Anonymous said...

gimme a break...

once again the red state hackles are raised with any seeming threat to the status quo.
you know, your grotesque rationalizations would be humorous if you weren't circulated so widely. but then again, i suppose we need to consider the source vis-a-vis the fascistic, corrupt legacy of Col. McCormick.

goethean said...

If it was the corrupt liar Roskam getting outside help, I'm sure you'd be singing a different tune.

Mike said...

What about the out of district volunteers helping out in the Roskam, Kirk, Hastert and McSweeney campaigns? Why don't you tell them to butt out??
Following your logic, anyone not living in (or registered to vote in) a particular district should not be involved in that district's election. Therefore you are unqualified to be speaking on behalf of three of the four campaigns you please butt out!

All the best,
Alajuela, Costa Rica (via Winfield, IL...6th District)

Anonymous said...


You're a complete idiot if you think the suburbs are void of crime and corruption and while the schools might be better in some areas of the burbs, there are plenty of suburbs where your comment about city schools vs suburban schools does not apply. You are ignorant and I'm surprised the Tribune even hired you.


A saddened Tribune subscriber.

John Garceau said...

My girlfriend received a call from Laura Bush the other night telling her just how im-por-dant this election is. If you think that Chicago residents should butt out of a suburban congressional race, what should we say to this Texas school marm?

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

No political organization wants to give away its strategy. That is why they are not answering your questions. Are you a Watergate plumber?

Anonymous said...

Emanuel can butt in on these races, and lots of others because the media has swallowed the idea that he has no race in his own District. He does but it gets very little coverage.

wdamico said...

As one of the cadre of volunteers for the Melissa Bean campaign doing the door to door campaigning you speak about, I can tell you that your asssumption about the origin of these get out the vote volunteers is wrong. If someone had taken your advice and asked where I came from I would have been glad to prove to them that I live in the neighborhood and, in fact, walked to their house from mine. Furthermore, at the organizational and training meeting I attended in September, everyone I met also lives in the district.

I would like to say one thing though, according to your blog, you are from Chicago, so I suggest you take your own advice and butt out of the suburban Congressional elections.

Anonymous said...

Chicago to Dennis Byrne: You obviously don't live far enough away. Keep moving.

Anonymous said...

Dennis Byrne is a liar. And why should Chicago Dem Net respond to him. He will make things up anyway.

Proud member of Chicago Dem Net.

From Calumet City.

And proudly volunteering for Tammy Duckworth because she is a billion times more decent then liars like Byrne.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Byrne,

I am a volunteer for the Laesch campaign. Sorry to tell you, sir, there is not one - nada, nyet - Illinois Dem. Network person, from Chicago, working in the Laesch campaign.

I would suggest you check ALL of your facts on each campaign before you publish them. In this case, with respect to the Laesch campaign, you have lied.

Dick Flesher

Anonymous said...

You are shocked (SHOCKED!) that Democrats would actually volunteer in races outside their home districts.


Your shock, really, in overshadowed only by your hypocrisy.

But hey, at least you're still amusing.

Anonymous said...

Gee are you this stupid, Byrne... Chicago is NOT Detroit. Go move to their suburbs.

RossR said...

Many of us who have joined Illinois Dem Net have done so for the same reasons we join or Democracy for America. We really don't care that much for the party organization, but groups like these help us find things to do, instead of just asking for money, money, money. I think most progressives feel we are more issues-based than party-based; and when push comes to shove issues trumps party loyalty. Just come to one of the functions and see for yourself. At one of the last socials I attended there were party regulars standing outside leafleting us as we went in, trying to convince us to support their candidate. There are many people in this area who want to do some meaningful volunteer work. For us, that often means going to other states and districts.

Ricky Nonlib said...

Dennis, sounds like you found a way to annoy Democrats. Normally that's not that difficult a task - seems they are always right at the breaking point, just waiting for something to set them off. Keep up the good work!

Sush said...

I am Chicagoan who campaigns in other districts for progressive candidates. In the beginning, I grappled with the thought of imposing my ideals on other communities. I resolved this for myself by realizing that these are not isolated communities -- their decisions, especially at the national level, affects all of us. I don't want to my country's future to depend on a few uninformed and apathetic voters. Through our campaigning we make people at least aware of the issues and alternative candidates (with less money to spend on TV ads), so that they will a) make more informed decisions and b) VOTE!

McCain/Duckworth Supporter said...

Nice one-sided hatchet job. I hope you'll be out checking IDs of all those 100+ BELTWAY REPUBLICANS who have parachuted into the suburbs this week. Hopefully they all brought maps and AAA tourbooks with them so they can enjoy the sights.

If suburban voters believe a trial-lawyer/political hack like Roskum is the best they can do, God help them!

Nate Zeke said...

You're all wrong about IllinoisDemNet. This site is actually paid for and maintained by a single guy! I'll try to get him on the phone with you Dennis, so that he can set the record straight, but I can assure everyone from first-hand knowledge that this is truly an independent person that keeps in touch with truy independent progressives. Although most of those involved in the events advertised on the site are in fact working for Democratic candidates (thus "Dem" net, many of them actually live in the suburbs and just about every one of them despises the "Chicago Machine." I'm one of these progressives and I personally hate the Daley administration, have trouble voting for Blago, and will actually be voting for Peraica because I am ashamed of the Stroger situation. Get your facts straight Dennis! It's editorials like this that pushed me to cancel my Tribue subscription years ago.

Nate Zeke said...

You're all wrong about IllinoisDemNet. This site is actually paid for and maintained by a single guy! I'll try to get him on the phone with you Dennis, so that he can set the record straight, but I can assure everyone from first-hand knowledge that this is truly an independent person that keeps in touch with truly independent progressives. Although most of those involved in the events advertised on the site are in fact working for Democratic candidates (thus "Dem" net, many of them actually live in the suburbs and just about every one of them despises the "Chicago Machine." I'm one of these progressives and I personally hate the Daley administration, have trouble voting for Blago, and will actually be voting for Peraica because I am ashamed of the Stroger situation. Get your facts straight Dennis! It's editorials like this that pushed me to cancel my Tribune subscription years ago.

Dennis Byrne said...

Dennis Byrne replies:

I don't consider myself the home team here, so I usually allow readers to have the last at bat. However, some responses presume that I made no effort to verify the facts. Here's a copy of the email that I sent to IllinoisDemNet prior to writing the column. Notice that I had to send it to the "info" address, because no actual contact person was listed. Whoever runs the site chose to ignore it. But whoever runs the site can still answer the questions, if he chooses, and I'll post the responses.

Subject: Media question
Date: October 25, 2006 3:23:45 PM CDT

I'm a freelance op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune, with some questions about IllinoisDemNet:

I see that your website is seeking volunteers from Chicago to canvas and work the phones in some suburban congressional districts. How's the response? How many would you estimate altogether have you gotten? Do you think that it will impact the races? Is your effort tied to the Democratic Party, or a particular organization within the party? For example, Rahm Emanuel's? (I'm presuming that because they're picking up the volunteers in the 44th ward, in his district.) Is using Chicago workers in the suburbs something that's usually done, or is it something that you're pioneering in this election, especially as traditionally GOP districts are turning more Democratic and becoming more competitive? Has anyone complained about the fairness about importing campaign workers? Do you know of Republicans who also do it, bringing suburban workers into the city?

Other comments are most welcome. I'm writing on Thursday, so a response by early Thursday would be much appreciated. If you wish, you may call me at [number deleted by db]. If you don't wish to comment, can you please hit reply with "no comment" in subject?

Thanks very much.

Dennis Byrne

Chris said...

Dennis, this a silly column. How many hundreds of thousands (if not millions) have the NRCC and other outside groups spent in advertising, mailing, and GOTV on behalf of Roskam? They're all from outside the district. So why are you getting all hot and bothered about people from other parts of Chicagoland who are volunteering for Duckworth in IL-06?

AND, didn't Roskam just hold a fundraiser with Bush, Hastert, et al at the Chicago Hilton a couple weeks ago?? Apparently, he's happy to have their involvement.

What a crock.

Anonymous said...

I want to respond to your comment that suburbanites "live out here in part to be away from the city's lousy schools and higher crime rates." Quite frankly, this infuriated me. Why? Because it suggests that people in the city have decided they prefer lousy schools and high crime rates. For the most part, the city residents who are the most impacted by low-quality schools and higher crime are low-income people. While it's obviously technically possible for people to leave such environments the reality is that it's very difficult for many people to do so. There are many reasons why this is the case. However, one hugely important one is the fact that for at least half a century political power in this country has migrated from cities (and rural areas) to the suburbs. The effects have been devastating. Though illegal now, redlining decimated many urban areas economically for decades. Government routinely spends more transportation money on roads and highways than on public transportation. School funding is closely tied to the wealth of local communities. All of these policies have favored suburban communities and hurt urban ones.

The effect of these policies, in addition to the inequality they have engendered, has allowed suburbanites to think that the problems of cities are not their responsibility when in fact they should be everyone's responsibility. When your understanding of the city comes only from local news broadcasts that look like episodes of COPS or from trips to Navy Pier, Wrigley Field, and the Art Institute you lose sight of the fact that the city residents who send their children to "lousy schools" and live in high crime neighborhoods are people, too. And most of them are trying to get themselves and their children out of those negative environments as best they know how. Unfortunately, there are a lot of factors stacked against them that make it harder.

Siobhan Murphy said...

I talked to my mother in Oregon today about ... local elections. A friend in Texas called earlier this week. My brother called me from ... Florida. Our topic? Local elections. More locally? I've talked to friends in suburbs and the city. We are all concerned about the national and international import of our local voting.

Both Republicans and Democrats have these get out the message / get out the vote efforts, and neither turns away a volunteer (or a check) from across a city, county, or district border.

I hope we never grow that provincial.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, Chicagoans will stay out of the suburbs when you and every other self riteous egotistical man who can't see around their blinders get out of my uterus.

Anonymous said...

Wow, nice comment there Dennis showing us all how amateurish you are. Can't you decipher enough out of the "about us" page on that website to figure out what is what? You really dropped the ball. I hope the Tribune doesn't pay you for the trash you write, they're in trouble enough as it is.

Anne said...

Dennis, I so did not understand this column until today. How disgusting it was to see outsiders coming into the suburbs to rally for a candidate they can not even vote for, and for the Tribune to put the picture on the front page of the Metro section! Shame on you Laura Bush!

Kate said...

If US Representatives had absolutely no influence outside of their own district, then I'd agree with you. But they do. A suburban representative votes on national issues just like a city representative does.

My husband spent last year fighting in Afghanistan without the proper equipment or support, not because of the votes of our representative, Jan Schakowsky, but because of the votes of suburban representatives like Dennis Hastert (who received an F rating from IAVA). My husband and I have every right and obligation to care about races in the suburbs. And that's why we're working for Tammy Duckworth, a fellow war veteran.

Give me a break.

Brie said...

Aside from the comments that everyone else has made (though they could stand to be less abusive), I reject the notion that "lakefront and limousine liberals" are coming in to tell you how to vote.

Firstly, most of the people with boots on the ground are people like myself - young, ardent people making less than 30,000 dollars, taking time out of their day (and probably paycheck) to engage other citzens in politics. There is nothing wrong or illegal about this.

Secondly, I volunteered in Ohio for the 2004 race. Yes, I was sent to houses previously identified as Democratic, but if I encountered a Republican, I encouraged them to vote anyway.

As I understand it, only those in power want fewer people to vote. Getting out and talking to people, wherever it may be - possibly even getting them to vote! - sounds like a good idea to me.

It saddens me that you appear to think that civic activism is a problem.