When Chicago suburbs disqualify candidates running for public office

Local government and control is a cherished part of suburban life. But, the Chicago Tribune highlights today on its front page how often Chicago suburban governments disqualify candidates running for local office:

For its investigation, the Tribune focused on races that critics say are the most troubling: suburban candidates running for city and village offices. Reporters canvassed every suburb in the Chicago region, reviewed scores of objections filed against candidates and interviewed dozens of those involved in the system. The newspaper found:

Widespread abuse. At least 200 candidates faced objections this year, with only a small fraction alleging serious matters, such as criminal histories, residency issues or outright fraud. Ultimately panels kicked 76 candidates off the ballot across three dozen suburbs.

Rampant bias. Of those knocked off, most fell at the hands of panels stacked with members who had a political stake in their own decisions. Conflicts also went beyond simple politics: Even relatives ruled on their own family members’ cases.

Wild inconsistencies. The rules are not evenly applied, with similar infractions leading some panels to remove candidates, but not other panels.

Costly tabs. The challenges cost taxpayers in some towns tens of thousands of dollars each election cycle, many times in suburbs that can least afford it…

The Tribune studied local election systems in the suburbs of the nation’s other largest metro areas: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia. None has Illinois’ combination of difficulty getting on the suburban ballot and ease in getting kicked off.

Local government is often thought to be more non-partisan than elections at higher levels of government. But non-partisanship does not necessarily mean that officeholders aren’t still looking to stay in office and will do what they can to keep challengers out. Local races can be particularly nasty even as very few people vote. I suspect most suburbanites would not like what the Tribune found but ironically probably wouldn’t be too motivated to vote on the issue, pressure politicians about their concerns, or run for office themselves to change the situation.

Underlying all of this in the suburbs is that suburban culture promotes letting people do their own thing and trying to avoid public friction. A great source on this is the book The Moral Order of a Suburb by M. P. Baumgartner. Here is how the Amazon book description puts it:

Drawing on research, observation, and hundreds of in-depth interviews conducted during a twelve-month study of an affluent New York City suburb, M.P. Baumgartner reveals that the apparent serenity of the suburb is caused by the avoidance of open conflict. She contends that although nonviolence, nonconfrontation, and tolerance produce a superficial social harmony, these behaviors arise from disintegrative tendencies in modern culture–transience, fragmentation, weak family and communal ties, isolation, and indifference–conditions customarily viewed as sources of disorder, antagonism, and violence. A kind of moral minimalism pervades the suburbs, a disorganized social order that, with the suburbs’ rapid growth in America, promises to be the moral order of the future.

This is a paradox of the suburbs: we tend to think of transience and fragmentation leading to social disorder but Baumgartner argues this is what actually brings suburbanites together.

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