“Politics is war without bloodshed.” ~Mao Tse-Tung.
First, a primer:
Political campaigners know the truth: every vote counts. Winning isn’t as complicated as pundits would have you believe; it’s a simple formula. Winning is about getting your neighbor to vote. And your other neighbor. And his neighbor.
That’s where precinct committeemen come into the picture.
Think of political influence as an inverted pyramid, with a precinct committeeman on the bottom. Sure, it might just be one person, but it’s the building block that holds the entire structure upright.
Precincts are the smallest unit of organized political structure. Precincts are geographic in nature, contiguous, and manageable. How does a politician get his votes out? He gets his precinct committeemen to walk their neighborhoods, to hand out literature to neighbors, and to keep an eye on what is going on during election day and call registered party voters who haven’t voted yet and get them to the polls to vote.
Precinct committeemen are infantry. They are the ground troops. A good committeeman is of great value; a group of dedicated committeemen can win an election.
Committeemen select their party’s county chairman, with their vote weighted for size of party voters in their precinct.
That’s why, especially for local elections, the person in charge of the infantry has a lot of political power.
And it’s about money, too. Political offices, most of which are part-time positions, come with a paycheck. Whoever controls the precinct committeemen controls the votes, the jobs and the political power.
That’s how it works.
Although Cook County gets the lion-share of media attention for its political cronyism, DuPage County is not immune to such shenanigans. The Downers Grove Township RepublicanOrganization (DGTRO) is quietly embroiled in a controversy that now has reached into the courts.
On Monday, December 5, the last day to file nominating petitions, 10 residents in the Downers Grove Township filed to run for Republican precinct committeemen without the prior knowledge and approval of Brian Krajewski, who is Chair of the DGTRO.
Several are running against committeemen who hold an additional elected office. Bob Grogan, DuPage County Auditor, is being challenged, as is Frank Wurster, Downers Grove Township Supervisor.
Four of the non-sanctioned candidates have had their nominating petitions challenged by their incumbent opponents. One of those is Wurster, who has filed an objection to the nominating petitions filed by his opponent, Donald Peters III.
According to Wurster and the objection, Peters’ petition is marred by the inclusion of voters who are Democrats. Wurster’s objection states, “Candidate’s nominating petition can only be characterized as a raid by an opposing party on the Downers Grove Township Republican Party and the election of one of its political offices.”
Wurster’s opponent, Don Peters III, disagrees, saying that he’s always voted as a Republican.
“I suspect that the incumbent is unaccustomed to being challenged in this position and was ill-prepared for another person to run.” he said. “Many of us are like-minded and believe that things can be run better than they have been. It’s not surprising that those who are comfortable with the way things are would feel threatened with the attempts by any other person seeking office.”
In an interview, Wurster said, “When 14 out of 20 [signatures on the petition] are Democrats, it seems like it might be a takeover of the organization.” He went on to say, “There’s a Republican [running] for 81st District, Ron Sandack. It appears that he has run 10 people against standing committee precinctmen.”
When asked why Senator Sandack, who was appointed by DuPage County Republican Party Chair Dan Cronin to fill his empty senate seat when Cronin was elected as Chair of the DuPage County Board, would want to support a Democratic Party takeover of the Republican Party, Wurster replied, “I don’t know the answer to that. It’s not normal to run people against standing precinctmen,” adding that he’s been a precinct committeeman for “15, 16 years.”
Brian Krajewski, DGTRO Chair, also named Sandack as being responsible for the additional candidates.
“When it’s a concerted effort, like Sandack, you have to wonder why he’s doing something like this.” Krajewski said.
In fact, Sandack and Krajewski are long-time political opponents. In 2007, Sandack, then a Downers Grove village commissioner, beat then-Mayor Krajewski in a landslide mayoral election. Krajewski’s name was also floated to replace Cronin in the Illinois Senate, with Sandack getting the appointment instead.
When political maps were redrawn earlier this year, Sandack was pushed into the same senate district as Republican Senate Leader Christine Radagno, and decided to run instead for the newly formed 81st House district.
The DGRTO, headed by Krajewski, is not supporting Sandack in his election bid.
For his part, Sandack says that he notarized nominating petitions simply because he was asked to do so. “It’s not about him, and it’s not about me, and I don’t know why Brian’s threatened by the democratic process of elections.”
Downers Grove Village Commissioner Sean Durkin is one of three running for committeeman in the same precinct, and he doesn’t understand why the DGTRO is challenging petitions. “This is Cook County politics in Downers Grove Township.”
“I have run 5 times for office, 4 times successfully,” he said. “I have never challenged anyone running against me. I am a staunch Republican, and I am ashamed that in our party we are sinking down to this level. I think challenging is a cheap shot. If the signatures [on the nominating petition] are valid, then so be it. Let the public decide who they want to have in office.”
When asked why he is running without prior approval from Krajewski and the DGTRO, Peters said, “I feel like the process has lost its value. My goal is to bring both process and party into light and call awareness to the issues that are important today. I’ve lived in this precinct for 15 years and I’ve never even met my committeeman.”
“I intend to respond to this common legal instrument and provide supporting information to clearly indicate that all my signatures on my petition are valid.”
Peters and Wurster will meet for the first time on Monday, December 19, when they are required to appear before the DuPage County Officers’ Electoral Board on the matter of Wurster’s objection.
“War does not determine who is right- only who is left.” ~Bertrand Russell