Friday, January 22, 2010

ideas (and preparation) matter: cook county board president candidate forum

Last night I went to the Cook County President Candidate forum sponsored by local domestic violence and sexual violence orgs and I have never had such a stupendously clear example of how *not* to present yourself to an important constituency.  It was really disappointing that not a single GOP candidate (or Dem O'Brien) mustered the energy to attend.  While there may have been legitimate reasons why they were absent (hey, I know schedules can get weird) they've left the women in that packed room no choice but to say to folks, "XX Candidate doesn't give a shit about violence against women."

Is that an unfair characterization?  Perhaps.  Too bad they weren't there to counter it.

Should the Cook County President even care about violence against women?  Considering how domestic and sexual  violence impacts the women/girls and LGBTQ community in this county, and how we may/may not be accessing services through the public healthcare system or may/may not be interacting with law enforcement - yes, the Cook County President should goddamn care how a public health/safety issue is impacting at least 1/4 of the goddamn population.

(You can read my Tweets about it last night here.)

What I learned last night:

1. The importance of a good moderator:  Kimbriell Kelly was awesome.  She didn't let candidates get away with anything.  When Stroger drifted into generalities, she pressed him for specifics and clarification.  When Brown tried to rest on her laurels about funding, she rode Brown to lay out a specific implementation plan to counter violence against women.  When Tresser just looked nuts and repeated himself about fighting corruption and waste, she pretty much called that a red herring.  And, yes, she also pressed Preckwinkle to be more specific about best practices.

2. The importance of having good ideas:  I would gladly stand next to Tom Tresser in a protest.  The guy is relentless.  He fought against the Olympic bid (yay!), the Oprah show (huh?) and has been a non profit leader, a social justice activist and community activist for years.  I bet he even buys organic vegetables.  But as a candidate he is a disaster.  I have no doubt he wants reform in our county gov't and that it needs reform.  But while the spirit is willing, his talk is crazy.  Ideas matter.  Having a few would be a good idea.

When he said that he would defund the sheriff's department as a response to the practice of shackling female prisoners while they give birth, Brown gave him a 'you are so crazy' side glance that made the two back rows snort aloud.  That's your idea, Tom?  Really?  You're going to stand by that?

Speaking of Brown: it's true the county needs cash.  (Take a close look at CTBA's analysis of the county system, sometime.)  But if your only viable problem-solving solution, with the exception of establishing task forces and committees, is to source revenue then why call yourself President?  Why not just run for the Chief Development and Revenue Officer, or something like that?  I don't see the flexibility in her thinking.

It was disappointing that no one had a sufficient answer to my question: how would they prepare county providers for the fallout should a state budget fail to materialize?

I know that Stroger has become sort of a walking joke in this town - and last night did nothing to dispel it.  The guy is checked out.  He looked disengaged from the entire process.  His answers were defensive, vague and lacking in specifics.  Did anyone prepare him at all for that forum?  I mean, give the guy a fact sheet on the issue, for god's sake.  The only fire he showed was when he snapped on Brown for saying he didn't sit on a certain com'tee.  'My representative sits on that com'tee for me,' he snitted.  Brown snitted back and for a couple of minutes it was like being at a Sunday dinner with some crazy deacons.

Jesus Christ, this is what we have to work with.

3. The importance of knowing what the hell you're talking about - and who actually gets the work done: This is Toni Preckwinkle's strength.  I don't know if she's a fast learner or knew this stuff before, but for every question she answered she gave an example of a best practice.  When asked what they've done to combat violence against women, the only thing Stroger could say was he implemented a program to tow johns' cars in the act of soliciting.  Preckwinkle pointed to the excellent work of a program called End Demand and detailed what they did and how she supports programs like that in order to shift the burden away from arresting protitutes which doesn't do anything except to further destabilize women.  That's a smart answer.  That's an answer that shows some little study; it shows a more flexible way of thinking about domestic trafficking - and it's an acknowledgment that domestic violence and sexual violence orgs actually do the work bloated municipalities can't.

She plays to her strength which is knowing what's happening on the ground.  Why couldn't Tom (who's on the ground) articulate that?  If the county is strapped it's going to have to rely more on community orgs to deliver services for it.  She sees that the county is going to have to become more of a facilitator of services and in order to do that, you need the right ideas and the right folks in place to get that done.

(And no. I have never paid Toni Preckwinkle this much attention before last night. She always seemed kind of crabby when I spoke with her.)

4.  If they can do it, so can you: Swear to god, if these people can run for office, show up completely out of their depth, spout inanities and get away with it, so can you.  But don't do what they do.  Be better than they are.  Apply for training with  Or go to a DFA training.  Or register with The White House Project.  Study your issues.  Raise some cash.  Just be better than they are. 

Please.  For the love of our democracy.

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