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Why City Elections Today Suck

One (fake) alderman pines for the political days of yore.

Photo: Lisa Predko; Photo Assistant: Brian Gladkowski; Illustration: Julia Bohan; button: Busy Beaver Button Co.

Well, here we are: Time for another Chicago election. Like any of you really care. Half of you probably won’t even vote. More people these days show up to a goddamn Chicago Sky game than turn out for city elections.

Typically, this is my favorite time of year, like my ’86 Super Bowl every four years. But this year, my heart just ain’t in it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still runnin’. Unopposed. The Chicago way, of course.

See, I’ve been alderman of the 53rd Ward for over 50 years—since Rahm Emanuel was still wearin’ diapers. Never heard of the 53rd Ward? Then you really know nothin’ about nothin’ in Chicago politics. I’m not just the alderman; I’m the committeeman, a precinct captain, and also the ward’s 16-inch softball commissioner. I still drive a 1983 Cutlass, and I wear a hardhat. (You never know when you’re gonna be called to a groundbreaking ceremony.)

I’m essentially the 53rd Ward’s dad. Which is why I’m so disappointed with this election. All the endless advertising, polling, and political-horserace horse crap in the news makes me wish we still lived in simpler times, like the ’70s. Now, that was a great time to run for office! Once Boss Daley—God rest his soul—picked you to be on the ballot, you could just coast through Election Day. All you had to do was go door to door every now and then, hold a few barbecues, march in one or two parades, and kiss some babies. Easy friggin’ peasy.

Nobody goes door to door anymore. I remember the good ol’ days, when I’d go out after work and knock on doors. I’d say, “How you doin’?” hand you a flier, and maybe stick around for the occasional Old Style or, if I was lucky, a wild key party. There were many times where I was invited into someone’s house, and the next thing I knew I was playing Yahtzee with no pants on. But I always got their vote.

Nowadays? You don’t dare go door to door. Instead, my robot phone calls your robot phone. You got some robot telemarketer who sounds like C-3PO tellin’ you who to vote for. It’s ridiculous! No wonder nobody votes: You can’t ask no robocall for no political favors.

And don’t even get me started on the money. It’s sickening how much money politicians have to have just to represent the people. Sure, I’ve raised some money. I did a couple fundraisers over the years, like a car wash or a dunk tank. Once in a blue moon, I’d do a raffle.

But today? Instead of a five-buck donation to dunk me underwater, you gotta fork out $1,500 a person for a fancy-schmancy dinner where the main course is caramelized carrots or scented air. Double that if you want to sit at Rahm’s table. I sure as hell ain’t paying $1,500 to breathe my dinner. And not a damn penny more to hear Rahm talk about how much better he is than the Daleys.

Speaking of Rahm, he just gets his rich golf buddies to write him half-million-dollar checks. My buddies? They can’t even pay for curly fries in the clubhouse.

And I wish it was just about money. That’s just part of it. Now you have to be available, practically 24-7, for the media: interviews, articles, appearances. Those snot-nosed public-radio a-holes always asking me about this or that no-bid contract or why I hired my wife to be my campaign manager. (What gives? She can run my household for free, but I can’t give her 90 grand to show up at my campaign office once a week?)

It used to be enough to host your own public-access show. Mine was on channel 19. You know, I sat there behind a desk while the phone number scrolled underneath. And you’d call about your garbage pickup or some graffiti on your garage, and I’d fix it after the show. Now it’s not enough. Now I gotta get all spiffed up in a cardigan sweater and pretend to talk to a bunch of residents—they gotta be all races, mind you—in some phony-baloney, politically correct commercial. Then I gotta record it all over again in Spanish, for chrissakes.

And speaking of the media, because of all these HD television sets people got nowadays, you gotta wear makeup wherever you go. The only makeup I ever wanna wear is when I dress up like Cookie the Clown every Halloween. (Thirty years runnin’.)

I get it. It’s all about the marketing. Politicians gotta do certain things now to get elected. But good marketing used to mean getting your name stenciled on a sawhorse. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Pinterest. Now I gotta take pictures of every darn thing I do and put it up on the Internet so some guy I once met at the Jiffy Lube can “like” it? Who cares about “likes,” anyway? Elections used to be about votes, not who likes you.

Same goes for all the staff everybody’s got now: a fundraising guy, a marketing guy, a voter engagement guy, a press secretary guy. Back in the day, I had one guy. He was a commissioner’s kid and he’d sleep in the office half the day, but it was great training. That same kid now gets paid 140 thou to sleep in the clerk’s office! Tell me that ain’t a win-win. The kid wins and I win, ’cause I got his pop’s endorsement.

And all this new voting technology has completely ruined Election Day. I remember a time when instead of electronic voting, we had a bunch of guys just stand at the front door to tell people who to vote for. Oh, sorry, I mean persuade people. Now you can’t be within 100 feet of a polling place. What? I used to stand inside the voting booth with you! Now, that’s what I call voter engagement!

And the parties, man, the election night parties are so lame now. Balloons, confetti, and a cash bar? C’mon, really?! Back in the day, me and my supporters, we’d go to the back of the Ed Bus Chophouse (best T-bone in the city). We’d put on our finest duds and dance the night away to the sounds of the house polka band. And after I won, I’d stand on a chair and belt out Sinatra tunes while the entire bar sang along. There was no “I want to thank my opponent” garbage. We’d all get drunk and go pee on my opponent’s yard signs.

As I look at this year’s municipal election, I can’t help but be depressed. All these mayoral and aldermanic candidates are talking about a new Chicago. But is that what we really want, a new friggin’ Chicago? Most of us just want to keep it as it was.

*Ed Bus is not a real alderman. He is a character created by Justin Kaufmann, who works at WBEZ and also performs with the comedy troupe Schadenfreude.

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