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On October 22, Seventh District state senator Carol Ronen sent out an e-mail with word that she was retiring from her seat on January 7. "I am announcing this now so that anyone who wishes to run for the office will be able to file petitions for the February 5, 2008 primary election by the November 5th deadline," she wrote.
Within a day, Heather Steans, a prominent north-side Democratic fund-raiser, announced that she was running and had canvassers rounding up the 1,000 signatures needed to make the ballot. Ronen, who did not return calls for comment, quickly endorsed her. Jan Schakowsky--who plays a curiously active role in the 48th Ward, where Ronen is Democratic committeeman--chimed in with her support.
Ronen's move left local independents seething. The 48th Ward has a long history of politicos resigning only to install hand-picked successors. Ronen herself first took office in 1999, when she was appointed to replace Art Berman, who resigned before his term was up. She got her committeeman's post when Mike Volini, the outgoing committeeman, tapped her. Steans says she was as surprised as anyone to learn that Ronen was retiring. But independents like Chris Lawrence (who was bumped off the ballot in the last aldermanic election) suspect that Ronen tipped off Steans, a large contributor to her campaign. They see this as yet another example of Edgewater politicians lining their ducks in a row to hand of their seats to other party insiders.
Last week Suzanne Elder, an Edgewater school activist, jumped into the race, calling on friends and allies to work round-the-clock to gather the 1,000 signatures she needs to make the ballot.
Will she make it? We'll see on Monday. But the real question is whether she'll gather enough signatures to survive an election board challenge. Our convoluted election laws are riddled with ticky-tacky technicalities that wily election law lawyers -- like the ones the 48th Ward's regulars usually employ -- use to beat off competition.
As Lawrence found out, in Edgewater the hardest part of independent politics is just getting on the ballot.