Volunteers drum up support for mayoral candidates

February 18, 2011

By Icoi Johnson

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(AP/Nam Y. Huh)
Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel flanked by supporters at a campaign stop in Welles Park.

There are four days left until Chicago’s municipal election. The candidates have been out in full force - stumping hard for votes. But behind the scenes, it’s the army of volunteers that have helped really make the difference. So who has recruited the most "will work for free" folks?

WBEZ Pritzker Journalism Fellow Icoi Johnson went out to discover whether volunteer turn-out might be a bellwether for overall interest in the race:

 

At a Rahm Emanuel campaign office in Hyde Park, volunteers put out calls to voters. The South Side office is small but busy with supporters. Armed with a list of names, staff used cell phones to reach out to voters.

"My name is Clinton and I’m a volunteer with Rahm Emanuel’s office and we were wondering if we could count on your support for the upcoming mayoral election," an Emanuel volunteer said.

The Emanuel campaign has roughly 6,000 Chicago residents signed up to volunteer. Dick Simpson thinks it's an impressive number. Simpson’s head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"There are approximately 3,000 precincts in the city of Chicago. You need about 9,000 workers to be able to simply deliver messages door to door. Having the volunteers to do the phone banking and to do the other steps in the campaign is a major resource and will have an affect in voting," Simpson said.

One volunteer, Fred Thomas not only volunteers for Emanuel but also stumps for him in his personal life.

"I always try to speak up for Mr. Rahm Emanuel. Everybody that I meet I try to convince to vote for Rahm," Thomas explained.

Over in Gery Chico's camp in the Loo, volunteers also reached out to voters.

"Hi, Sylvania, my name is David. I’m a volunteer for Gery Chico who’s running for mayor…" a Chico volunteer said.

Chico volunteers worked late into the night to show their support. Vanessa Allmon works of the American Bar Association explained that while it’s not easy to volunteer after a long day at work, she believes Chico is worth it.

"It’s tough but because I do believe in Chico and believe he’s the best for Chicago I make the effort to come here after putting in about 8 ½ hours at my regular job. Usually I’m here for about two-three hours in the evening but he’s worth it," Allmon said.

The Chico campaign has over 1,000 volunteers citywide. That may be far less than what the Emanuel campaign but supporter dedication is still the same. John Franklin, a retired police officer said when he’s not spending time with family and friends, he’s out supporting Chico.

"I’ve supported him at press conferences, working the phones to drum up support, and just trying to get the vote out," Franklin said.

Acoording to Simpson, there’s a reason why this upcoming election has resulted in more engaged voters.

"I think the fact that it’s a real contest and that we’re in some ways beginning to choose the future of Chicago in the post Daley era is extraordinarily important," Simpson said. But in the end, Simpson went on, what will really matter for the candidates is who shows up on the big day.

"The public opinion polls so far don’t really matter. What matters is who shows up on Election Day. And if your campaign can get out all your potential supporters, even if it’s not a majority, you will win because more people will have shown up on your side," said Simpson.
 

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