Feigenholtz filled her coffers with the help of EMILYs List and the local gay community. With about $700,000 raised, Feigenholtz put in an additional $100,000 of her own money in the last week of the campaign.
State Rep. John Fritchey, the fourth top-tier contender in the race, sat at the other end of the table waiting his turn to speak. Fritchey has the dubious honor of succeeding Blagojevich in the state Legislature, but he has since battled the now former governor in the state Capitol. At this particular debate, Fritchey recalled how he worked with Obama, then a state Senator, on ethics reform in 2003.
When it comes to change, the best thing weve done for change is something that Im very proud to have led the effort on, and that was changing the governor a couple months ago, Fritchey said to a chorus of chuckles.
Although the scandal-tarnished Blagojevich and his now infamous profanity-laced antics loom large in this Congressional race, the irony is that very few of the candidates have ever had a conversation with the isolated former governor. Fritchey said he never had a meaningful conversation with Blagojevich, aside from one time when the former 5th district Congressman called him to wish him well after an illness.
Thats probably the only conversation Ive had of substance with the governor in seven years, other than the kind of passing F you in the hallway, Fritchey said in an interview after the forum.
While there is no clear frontrunner, the next Congressman or Congresswoman from the 5th district is likely to be one of the four officeholders. Several wild-card candidates, however, such as economist Charlie Wheelan or attorney Tom Geoghegan, are centering their campaigns on a message of change but are considered long-shot candidates.
After 18 candidates had delivered their opening statements, the organizer asked if there were any remaining candidates in the room.
Would any of you like to be a candidate? Quigley asked the crowd to a chorus of laughs.
Join the party, Feigenholtz chimed in.
Within seconds, a middle-aged man in a suit the 19th candidate took the podium.
Man Vs. the Machine
Historically, the Chicago Democratic machine would turn out the vote for a contest like this, but the political organizations gradual demise is obvious in the 5th district special election.
When Blagojevich and Emanuel were elected to represent the 5th district, the political organization in Chicago was alive and well. With Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daleys backing, Emanuel defeated former state Rep. Nancy Kaszak 50 percent to 39 percent in an eight-person field in the 2002 Democratic primary.
A city-backed candidate used to be able clear the field, but that kind of machine support has become increasingly less important in Chicago politics.
The machine is tired. The machine has been beat down. The machine has been investigated, said one Chicago-based Democratic consultant. Everyone is kind of watching their backs a little more.
Given that reality, according to one Democrat, Feigenholtzs recent endorsement from state Comptroller Dan Hynes (D) or Fritcheys support from state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) means more in headlines than in the actual ground game in a Congressional campaign.
The last time the Daley machine worked for anyone besides Daley was for Rahm Emanuel, said another Democratic operative knowledgeable in Chicago politics.
Rep. Bill Cassidy has his blood drawn by Alesha Barbour during a free hepatitis screening in the Rayburn House Office Building hosted by the Congressional Viral Hepatitis Caucus to recognize "National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day."
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