Politics as it could be, should be

On this past Tuesday night, Feb. 24, attendees of the Central Street Neighbors Association aldermanic forum were treated to a demonstration of the better side of politics. In one hour and 45 minutes, six candidates for the two open  positions in the 6th and 7th wards fielded approximately 18 questions each, after first answering another 18 questions on a CSNA questionnaire. The live questions were not known to the candidates beforehand and provided a test not only of their approaches to some tough problems, but of their preparation for the job, and even their composure.

To the candidates' credit, each one demonstrated intelligence, grace, and coolness under fire. They made good faith efforts to convey their stances in a short amount of time to the audience, mindful that we had a lot of ground to cover in a fairly short evening. While they have some important differences in how they would approach City issues, all shared, and communicated, respect both for each other and for the residents of the community.

Process has become as large a concern in Evanston as the substantive issues themselves. The past two years have seen residents outraged at what they perceived as being ignored and disrespected by elected and appointed representatives, while aldermen have been moved to chide Council meeting attendees for perceived rudeness in the gallery. Aldermen, from the rostrum, have called out and criticized citizens who have no opportunity to respond; Plan Commission members have walked out of meetings, charging "coup."

All this has occurred amidst an overall American political climate in which personal attack and negative campaigning, often using the red herring of "character," have become the norm. Yet not one peep of such tactic crept into the presentations of the half-dozen aspirants to the Council Tuesday night, and to my knowledge none of their mailings or brochures contains anything of the kind either. Rather, what we've gotten from these six has been closer to textbook civics, with each candidate saying, "Here's what I believe and here's how I would vote," and letting voters take it from there.

Partly this may be because the scale of aldermanic salaries, and the relatively small size of an Evanston ward, make a large campaign both unnecessary and unseemly. Partly it may be because, effectively prevented from commencing until after the November presidential election,  the municipal campaigns are relatively compressed — yet another argument for shrinking the overlong Illinois election cycle that governs larger-scale contests. Partly it may be because we all have to live together even after the election, and those on different sides of a campaign will all be running into each other for years to come at the grocery, the library, and in City Hall.

Yet credit has to go to the individuals themselves for choosing, thus far, to focus their campaigns on information that voters need in order to make choices, rather than on distractions and minutiae. "Gotcha" politics exaggerates "news you can't use" while pushing truly more important matters to the side.

In weeks to come this organization will try to assist members and other community residents by providing information on the candidates and their positions on the issues. Our inquiry reveals that that's what voters really want to know. We thank the candidates for coming out and presenting themselves to the community, and for facilitating a better kind of politics.