Weeks after the election, and after being forced to run a write-in campaign, First Ward Alderman Daniel La Spata finally announced this month that he had won the election to be the ward’s Democratic Party committeeman. The alderman pledged to use the position to encourage more progressive candidates to run for office.
The election was held on March 17, part of the same voting day as Illinois’ presidential primary election. But La Spata didn’t have results to announce until April. Delays in vote counts happened in races across the city, Crain’s Chicago Business reported. Officials kept early voting sites open on Election Day due to the coronavirus, so those early voting’ totals weren’t available early, as they usually are.
“The results are finally in and I am honored to serve as the next Democratic committeeperson of the 1st Ward,” La Spata announced on Facebook. “This win is a huge victory for our movement. Against all odds, 1st Ward voters decisively declared that our progressive ward deserves a progressive Democratic committeeperson. I am proud to have once again earned their support and their mandate to build a more transparent and inclusive politics in our ward.”
Committeemen have a powerful role in Chicago politics. In 2011, former First Ward Alderman Joe Moreno wrote, “Every ward has a Democratic and a Republican committeeman. Basically, their job is to handle the politics (voter registration, Election Day operations, etc.) of the ward, while the alderman takes care of the government and service side of things. Committeemen are not paid.”
There is a tendency for aldermen to also be the Democratic committeemen for their ward. By law, political activity cannot be conducted in a government space, so aldermen do not do political work in their offices.
Jay Ramirez and Lauren “Young” Weber also ran for the First Ward office. Ramirez is a longtime West Town resident. Weber is a paralegal and a community organizer.
The race for Democratic First Ward committeeman had drama.
According to La Spata, “The fact of the matter is, we were well above the 1,032 [signature] minimum that was needed to get on the ballot. And one of my opponents submitted affidavits from folks claiming that they never signed for me. This is frustrating because I really try to bring integrity into the work that I’m doing.”
Our Urban Times reported that the opponent who challenged La Spata’s signatures was Weber.
Those challenges resulted in La Spata’s name getting removed from the official ballot. La Spata said the challenges were not valid, and he worked with voters to get their signatures recognized. However, he ultimately fell short of the necessary number of recognized signatures, and so moved to a write-in campaign. Weber told Our Urban Times that her team was combatting fraud committed by other candidates. Her attorney said that a La Spata worker collected signatures without the required notary present, Our Urban Times reported.
La Spata said voters who’d signed his petition to get on the ballot contacted his office to complain about the challenges. He told Our Urban Times that evidence showed that Weber’s team had forged signatures in affidavits when they were challenging his signatures.
“We started to hear from people on Facebook and through emails that they had heard about their names being on these affidavits. And they had never signed these affidavits,” the alderman told LoganSquarist. “So when we heard these rumors, we started going back to the doors of the folks who it was claimed on these affidavits that they had not signed the petition … and the folks we talked to said, ‘Not only is that not my signature on the affidavit, that is my signature on your petition, and I wasn’t even in town on the day that they’re claiming I signed the affidavit.'”
Even with the support of those voters, however, La Spata’s efforts came up short, he said, as his evidence was not admitted. “These folks ended up signing counter-affidavits. … but when we brought these to the Board of Elections, they at the final hearing refused to even see the new evidence. And that was what ended up leaving me one [vote] shy of the minimum for getting on the ballot.”
Plans: Building Democracy
La Spata said he plans to “build democracy” through the power of the committeeman’s office, similar to how he’s gotten people involved in government via the alderman’s office.
“In short, I think the real goals on the government side we have are to get people involved in the work of government through participatory budgeting, through the way we do our community zoning process,” he said. “I want to do the same thing where democracy is concerned, in terms of helping people feel like elections are something that should matter to them, that running for office is something that they can do. To make sure that we use this office of the committeeman to really lift up progressive candidates who match the values of our community and to get folks excited about voting for those candidates.”
La Spata said that there is space for aldermen to simultaneously serve as committeemen.
“I think it can be challenging depending on who the alderman is,” he said. “I know that there’s a lot of people who are given over to the status quo to use backroom deals and horse trading that is just so prevalent in a lot of government. But if your goal is to open up the doors and open up the process the way I’m committed to — [and] I know that community organizations are going to hold me accountable — then I think that there’s a space for it.”
He added that he thinks the office can inspire future political leaders. “Truly, my goal is to use this to help a whole new generation of leaders get into politics and government,” he said. “My goal is not to take all this power and keep it for myself. That can’t be what democracy looks like.”
La Spata said he will be working with the independent progressive organization 1st Ward United to construct a process for slating, or selecting, candidates, an action that can be done unilaterally by a committeeman.
Featured Photo: Tom Vlodek.