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Those ghostly-looking figures on the streets of Austin Wednesday morning were actually brave individuals out trying to shovel snow, get to the few stores that were open, or trying to get to work or back home.

Chicago suffered the third worst blizzard in its
history late Tuesday and into Wednesday – joining the 1967 and 1999 storms that transformed the city into a white desert of snow. The estimated 2-feet-plus of snow crippled the city and its most populated neighborhood, Austin. The Chicago Public Schools cancelled classes Wednesday for its 410,000 students. That includes elementary and high schools in Austin. Buses and trains, however, were running, with trains on a 5-minute delay from normal.

Social networking to the campaign rescue

The blizzard also stifled some of the campaign activities for aldermanic offices in Austin and no doubt other races in the city.

In an e-mail early Wednesday from the office of 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin, spokesperson Larry Shapiro confirmed the cancellation of planned town halls this week. A town hall meeting scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled as the blizzard began wreaking its havoc. A Thursday event was tentatively scheduled for Fellowship Baptist Church, 4817 W. Madison.

“Winter campaigns under ‘normal’ weather conditions always carry unique challenges; the blizzard obviously multiplies those challenges” Shapiro said in his e-mail.

He added that the office will use Facebook and Twitter “to provide instant updates of campaign activity.”

Mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins held an event at Wallace’s Catfish Corner, 2800 W. Madison, early Tuesday morning just before the major storm arrived, but she cancelled campaign stops on Wednesday, according to campaign spokesperson Sara Sedlacek, in an e-mail to Austin Weekly News Wednesday morning.

The Van Pelt-Watkins campaign is also relying on social media to provide updates.

“We are using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr (a photo-sharing site), and we are constantly pushing out our message through those sites. We also use our website,, to post news and other things that might be happening,” Sedlacek said. “Unfortunately, though, the blizzard has overcome the news cycle and today is going to be a difficult day to reach voters in the way we would like, less than three weeks out from the election.”

Speaking to Austin Weekly by phone from her home Wednesday afternoon, 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts said she closed down her North Avenue office today and gave staff a furlough because of the blizzard. A meeting with business owners and a separate one with the 25th District police commander that morning were also cancelled. Mitts said she’d be working from home and using e-mails and the phone to contact people.

“Stay home and don’t go out,” she said. “Only in case of an emergency should people go out.”