Voters go to the polls in 5th District

March 3, 2009 5:28:37 PM PST
They stood in the cold March air for hours mostly alone, sometimes on the cell phone, until a rare voter approached and the pitch began.In the 33rd Ward, Alderman Dick Mell's precinct workers were out en masse and the candidate they were told to push was John Fritchey. Click here to see the results in the Illinois 5th Congressional District election.

"I believe he's a good man and I believe he can do a good job for the people," said Justin Malave, Ald. Mell precinct worker.

And in 33, a ward boss's endorsement can still make a difference.

"If they come around and personally ask you it seems that they can get out the vote. They're the ones to go to if you have a problem," said Seth Gomez, voter.

It's estimated that fewer than 60,000 of the 5th Congressional District's 330,000 registered voters will cast ballots on Tuesday. That's a less than 15 percent turnout.

Historically, in low turnout elections the most organized candidates have an edge.

At Mike Quigley headquarters, volunteers worked the phones, targeting those voters they contacted before and believe will come out on Tuesday for their candidate.

"People are motivated to go out and to voice their opinions and to do so in a way that shows we are turning a page in Illinois government, to fight for a forum," said Billy Weinberg, Quigley campaign spokesperson.

In another development, the Quigley campaign filed a complaint related to an incident in west suburban Melrose Park on Tuesday. They allege municipal workers there campaigned in polling places for rival Sara Feigenholtz.

"What we're investigating is whether or not municipal vehicles in Melrose Park and municipal employees in Melrose Park are handing out campaign literature for Sara Feigenholtz.

Polls open early

Voters started going to the polls at 6 a.m. in the 5th Congressional District for Tuesday's special primary election.

The district is choosing from nearly two dozen candidates vying for Rahm Emanuel's seat in Washington.

In an Illinois primary election, voters have to declare a party - the Democratic Party, Republican Party or Green Party - and vote to the candidates from that party.

The general election will be April 7, in which the winner will be declared.

Chicago Board of Elections Commissioner Langdon Neal say s because of the high-profile nature of the race, he expects high turnout.

"I think everyone, the voters, realize it's a very, very important position, a high visibility position in the United States Congress," Neal said. "I think that the number of candidates - there are some tremendous candidates running for office here - they are going to create some interest, too, from the voters."

The number of military voters was up for this particular election as well.

"We have had over 4,000 ballots returned to us from overseas voters," Neal said. "Many of them are military personnel. For the first time in our history in Illinois, we can receive an actual marked ballot by fax from our military personnel. So we're very proud of that, making it a little easier for these military men and women to get their votes counted here."

Polls will be open until 7 p.m.

Peter Bauer was the first to vote at 6 a.m. at the polling place on Wrightwood.

"Well, I always try to get here. I want to make sure I vote. I think it's a responsibility to go out and vote. You know, filling that seat from Rahm Emanuel is an important thing. We have been hearing a lot about it in the news. I wanted to make sure I got early to vote so I could get it done," said Bauer.

"This special election seems to spark a little more interest than normal. I think the large number of candidates and the high visibility of the office and the person who occupied it previously is creating more interest," Neal said.

As for some of the candidates, County Commissioner Mike Quigley voted early- Fortieth Ward Ald. Patrick O'Connor and labor lawyer Tom Geoghegan both voted Tuesday morning.

"I ran, decided to run, stepped out of my normal day job because I wanted to put forward specific solutions that I know as a labor lawyer will help us get through this economic crisis," said Geoghegan.

State Representative John Fritchey cast his ballot with his daughter by his side

"It's a big district. It goes from the lakefront all the way to the DuPage County line. But across the district, from Lincoln Park to Melrose Park, people are worried about staying in their jobs. From Galewood to Ravenswood, people are worried about staying in their homes," said Fritchey.

Voters agree, saying big issues like education and the economy motivated them to vote.

"This is an important district. It historically has had a lot of sway in Washington. I think it's important to have a good candidate there. Obviously, the economy is a mess," said Wendy Freyer.

Candidates had just two months to campaign for Tuesday's primary and will have just another month before the special election to decide the next representative from the strong Democratic district that's home to the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field.

The primary pits a dozen Democrats against each other, including politicians from Cook County, like Commissioner Mike Quigley and longtime Chicago Alderman Patrick O'Connor, to state Reps. Sara Feigenholtz and John Fritchey.

Quigley garnered endorsements from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times.

The race also includes six Republicans and five Green Party candidates in a district that stretches from Chicago's wealthy North Side lakefront to ethnic enclaves on the Northwest Side and neighboring Cook County suburbs.

The 23 candidates are vying for the chance to finish out the two-year term Emanuel won in November and then resigned to become President Barack Obama's chief of staff at the White House.

The special primary will cull the field for the upcoming special election.

The largely white district of Poles, Germans and Irish with a sizable Hispanic population has been Emanuel's since 2002. The district has voted overwhelmingly Democratic in past elections for Emanuel, according to the 2008 Almanac of American Politics. It's the same seat once held by ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich and former House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski.

Whoever wins, candidates are counting on having some advantage in Washington -- although not seniority -- coming from Emanuel's old district in the home city of the president.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.