Learning how to play the game of politics

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By Arlene Jones

Columnist

'Sure, politics ain't bean-bag. 'Tis a man's game, an' women, childer, cripples an' prohybitionists 'd do well to keep out of it," said Mr. Dooley in an 1895 newspaper column. He was a Chicagoan, Irish-American, fictitious character, the brainchild of writer Finley Peter Dunne.

Although an individual beanbag can't hurt you, a lot of them can be tossed at you. And candidates who have filed to run for office are now seeing how ugly/ruthless it can be.

Take mayoral candidate Ja'mal Green for example. Earlier this year, he appeared on Chicago Tonight. He's a young, confident, community activist who wants to see changes in Chicago. He filed his nominating petitions to become mayor but was soon challenged, allegedly by someone out of mayoral candidate Willie Wilson's camp.  

In the world of Chicago politics, the rule is that if you need X number of signatures, you better turn in 10 times that number. That way when they challenge the signatures, you'll still have enough valid ones to get you on the ballot. Unfortunately for Ja'mal Green, that doesn't appear to be the case. They took away about a thousand of his signatures. The only way to try to get them back, is via unlimited fight in court. That kind of politics is the norm for this city. Everybody can run, but not everybody can make it on the ballot.

Ja'mal took to Facebook and began a rant. He lamented the unfairness of the process. He challenged the powers to allow him on the ballot so he could battle fair and square. Sadly, that's not the way the game is played. If you can knock off a challenger, you do it. I know. I ran for alderman of the 37th Ward in 2003 and 2007. Both times I was challenged to get on the ballot. But I'm not the kind of person who doesn't follow the rules. I made sure all my signatures were valid. So when I sat there with the Board of Elections person, and he began to toss out a signature, I had the person's voter ID number, and sure enough when you looked up the voter via his/her voter ID number, the signature on the registration card matched the one on my petition.

Both times I made it on the ballot. Both times I lost the election. But the experience taught me more and more.

Ja'mal's diatribe on Facebook — and it can probably be found on YouTube — went from a legitimate lament, about the process being rigged, to personal attacks. He began to mention things about Willie Wilson's private life, Wilson's estrangement from an out-of-wedlock child, and his speech patterns. The problem with a young candidate doing that is the same things he attacks the other candidate for, also applies to voters. So they take it as a personal offense.

The coming weeks will reveal if Ja'mal makes it on the ballot or not. But knowing the way this city works, I'm not going to put too much money on it. Politics ain't beanbag, and when you run, you need to learn how to play the game!

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