Maywood Election 2013: Sights and Sounds (Part II)

~ 3:45 – ~5:00

After riding around for about a half-hour, Crawford stopped at his house to pick up his two sons and grab something to eat. From there, we headed over to Garfield Elementary, the election’s main hub of attention. Earlier in the day, David Orr, former Mayor of Chicago and current Cook County Clerk, had stopped by. The energy had ebbed from its high point during Orr’s visit (it had rained off-and-on since then), but the candidates were still queued on the sidewalk leading up to the gym’s entrance, approximately 100 feet away. 100 feet is the distance between the space where campaigners are allowed to pass out literature and the entrance to the space where citizens vote.

Jason Ervin Campaigns Outside of GarfieldEdwenna Perkins Outside Garfield

100 Ft. Marker

Throughout the day and into the evening, this line would be crossed countless times by virtually all parties, each implicated in an unspoken pact to look away if the other does – all parties bonded, despite their many differences, by this commonly committed infraction. Sometimes it takes a little corruption to do what reform can’t. Moreover, if there’s ever a thing as reasonable corruption, this might be it. “It’s something” Crawford said of the 100 feet rule, “that’s very difficult to enforce.” With everyone agreeing to look the other way as long as they can indulge in the rule-breaking themselves, a certain harmony is created. In fact, to attempt to strictly enforce this rule might be rather reckless, yielding all sorts of Promethean consequences. No big harm, no big foul.

For now though, as far as I could tell, all of the candidates, campaign workers and volunteers standing outside in the biting breeze were in front of the chalked markers. There were representatives from just about every team, with mayoral candidates Edwenna Perkins and Gil Guzman out shivering in person, while their surrogates shivered in front of other locations or stiffly walked door-to-door, often producing nothing but the whitish plumes of their own breathing. One guy, who was standing outside of Garfield distributing palm cards, wondered aloud: “Why can’t election season be in the summer?”

Some of the people out in front of Garfield, such as Trustee Perkins, former Village Manager Jason Ervin and Trustee Gil Guzman, had been standing out there since 6 or 7 in the morning. In between the waiting and reaching and greeting and pacing, there are conversations shared between rivals; united, in this instance, by a special determination, a unique will to suffer several hours of discomfort so that they or their representatives might win. There is no love lost between Edwenna Perkins and Jason Ervin, but being in such close proximity to each other for so long forced an exchange about the effectiveness of standing around all day. “Does it work? Standing in the cold?” I wanted to know.

Both agreed that it does, albeit for different reasons. “It helps some people further down the ticket, closer to the bottom of the ticket,” Ervin said. Perkins, an independent candidate without a ticket didn’t exactly disagree, but added, “It helps out at the top, too.” And then I looked up at the sky tinted gray, residue of steady rain and/or signal of more rain to come. When I’d walked inside of the gym where the voting booths were set up, I saw nothing but space. Turnout was low so far. Both Ervin and Perkins agreed that the damp, windy weather had a lot to do with the depressed morning and afternoon rates, but both were hopeful about rush hour – between 4 pm and the time the polls closed at 7 pm. Trustee Guzman, standing some feet away from Ervin and Perkins, was also hopeful for a crowded sprint to the finish. “Right now, there’s no excuse [not to show up and vote],” he said. The clouds were beginning to disperse.

Garfield Elementary GymGarfield Elementary Gym II

Further away from the actual candidates, a crowd of volunteers and campaign workers talked to pass the time. I wondered aloud why Garfield was such a hot spot. Lennel Grace, sitting in a canvas chair, then began an explanation that was part sociological analysis and part history, both qualities of his story informing the other. Garfield is a polling location that attracts residents from the 40th and 42nd precincts, some of the most affluent in the Village. The precincts comprise what’s often referred to as the seminary district. According to Weichert Realtors’ economic summary, the median household income in the district is over $62,000, well above the approximately $48,000 median household income for the Village overall (city-data.com). “It goes from 9th to 17th and from Van Buren to Prairie Path,” Grace said. I wanted to know why it was called the seminary district (for the longest, I thought I’d been hearing ‘cemetery’ district, which only added to my confusion).

Election Day Workers
Election Day Workers Braving Cold

According to the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, “The Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church at Chicago” was established in 1891. In 1910, “the city of Maywood, Ill, over the invitation of other towns, succeeded in having the seminary located there.” For a long time until it moved, the seminary lorded over “fifteen acres located between 10th and 13th Avenues on the east and west and between Van Buren Street and Harrison Street on the north and south.” “Maywood was known globally for one reason,” Grace said, “that center.” Now, the seminary’s spirit lords in other ways. Voters in the district, not surprisingly, are among the most consistent and sophisticated in the Village. To run for office in Maywood, one must woo them accordingly.

Part 3, tomorrow.

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