CHICAGO -- Like a mythical beast haunting the imagination, in recent years the Illinois Green Party has re-emerged on election day to the consternation of local Democratic party officials. Though as is often the case in Illinois, the Democratic challenger, (who now happens to be the city's homestate senator Barack Obama), would most certainly make quick work of winning the state come November.
Nevertheless, bothersome chatter from the far left is noise the Dems probably wish to drown out if they can leading to the general election, when the party aims to draw in moderates and independents and so-called "Reagan Democrats". The Green Party national convention, scheduled to open here in a little more than two weeks, will certainly produce exactly that kind of needling chatter.
Although the story is out in the blogosphere that Obama may have centrist underpinnings, to anti-war and left wing voters this reads like a headline from "Life"magazine: old news.
In addition, many locals on the left remain cautiously skeptical about the senator's ties to Democrat officials such as six-term Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. Daley is said to wield enormous influence over the city and its future. Many left voters are understandably wary and seem concerned over how much power and influence Daley would gain with Obama in residence on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Richard M. Daley was elected mayor of the city in 1989 and is the son of Richard J. Daley, the the notoriously powerful Democratic Party deal maker columnist Mike Royko described in his book "Boss". The Daleys make other family political dynasties seem subtle by comparison. In Chicago, the idea that one could virtually christen one's own offspring with political positions is nothing new or surprising.
Further examples include Todd Stroger, current Cook County Board President, who stepped in to fill the position his father vacated after he suffered a stroke, only days before the primary election held. In addition, the state's current Governor, Rod Blagojevich, is the son-in-law of a man many describe as the most powerful alderman in Chicago, Richard Mell of the 35th ward.
When I grew up on the city's northside, Mell's name was a fixture on campaign yard signs in my family's 33rd ward neighborhood as far back as I can remember. The message of the signs was evident. Imposing at nearly 4 feet high and almost as wide with bold yellow letters on dark blue spelling out the single word: MELL. Party affiliation and office were understood.
In a few short weeks, the Green Party's 2008 nominating convention will be be held in downtown Chicago at the Palmer House Hilton -- though you'll find little about the event from local media until at best the convention commencement on July 10th.
Granted, many people still snicker at the idea of a Green Party exerting any real influence in the United States, but the environmental ideals of the party's platform are gaining currency as the eco movement becomes increasingly mainstream. Since Gore's loss in 2000, the Green Party has also worked hard to put the Ralph Nader spoiler myth to rest, focusing instead on building the party through state races.
The Green Party has made a few inroads in Illinois' well-oiled Democratic machine locally. As of 2006, when downstate lawyer Rich Whitney took 10 percent of the general election vote in his bid for governor, the Green Party earned established party status in the state and now enjoys the same ballot access as the Republican and Democratic parties do. Despite reports of suspect voting "irregularities" during the Feb. 5th 2008 primary in which Green Party ballots were either non-existent or altered in several area polling places, their candidate numbers are growing.
Now, if some Illinoisans know little about the Green Party, it's also no secret that there are many who know little about Obama as a politician. After all, he has not been our state senator for all that long and local papers rarely cover routine Senate votes avoiding the nitty gritty of issues such as war funding and surveillance measures.
In his defense, Obama has said a few things activists and environmentalists, who lobbied hard against Chicago transit cuts, want to hear. But when the senator continues to vote to fund the war under the pretense that he is for the troops, but not the war, anti-war voters and many of these same activists scoff.
In the past month, state ballot challenges facing the Illinois Green Party have been attributed to the state Democratic party. This month four candidates from the Green Party have been removed from the Illinois general election ballot. The Green Party has called foul placing the blame squarely on Democratic election officials.
In the weeks leading up to the Green convention, one thing is certain: Illinois Green Party activists and supporters will turn up the heat on local, state and national Democratic leaders, perhaps drawing in wider circles of the left in the process. Obama and city Democratic party bosses may work to contain that influence, hoping their problems just blow away, as political troubles so often do in the Windy City.