I became a Chicago Election Loser on February 25, 2015, when I lost my aldermanic race. Due to some absentee ballot counting and a lawsuit, the race wasn’t called until much later, but since I was in 3rd place, I had the pleasure of losing on election night.
I ran against a Machine candidate (the daughter in a Chicago dynasty) and a teacher’s union-supported candidate. I was the nobody, nobody sent. I am a community organizer, with a degree in public affairs, twenty years’ experience in community development around the world, and I know five of the 45+ languages spoken in the ward. And yes, based on that statement, I obviously thought I was the best person for the job. You have to believe you are the best candidate… or you are a bad candidate.
After my loss, there were the “expected” responses, which the 95 new Chicago Election Losers will be hearing over and over in the next couple weeks.
- I am sorry you lost, it was a good run.
- You can try again in four years.
- You made a difference and changed the debate; hold on to that.
- At least you tried.
- Don’t forget what you’re going through is a loss, remember the five stages of grief.
None made me feel better – but it helped that so many people said them to me.
But I also got reactions that made me want to scream and rip my hair out. I suspect some of the new Chicago Election Losers will hear these as well.
- You were never going to beat the Machine, so I don’t know why you feel bad.
- I wanted to vote for you, but I voted for him/her because I thought she/he had a better chance.
These last two frustrated me because I would not have run if I hadn’t thought I could win. Don’t get me wrong, I understood I could lose. I knew the Machine candidate would come in first, but I expected a closer margin between the teacher (who got 34%) and myself (15%). In addition, the aldermanic race is a 50%+1 race, not winner-takes-all. With only three candidates, it is in a voter’s best interest to choose the candidate that they like the most to go to the run-off. If there are more than three candidates (or say 14 mayoral candidates), you can think about the odds and vote strategically, but with three candidates, it is not a gamble to vote for your favorite.
I truly think people meant well, but it ended up being former colleagues, non-Chicagoans, who provided some solace. These are the two conversations I replay in my head if I start to feel down about it all.
The first came from a friend who had been a politician on the East Coast, someone who likes to call himself “The only Republican who lost in 2010.” He advised, “Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel and I’ll go over the numbers with you when you are ready.” As someone who had won an election, then lost the seat in a subsequent election, I figured I should listen to him. He knew the gut-wrenching waves of anger, denial, depression, and bargaining that would come before the acceptance stage of grief.
Another friend checked in and see how I was doing. I told him, “The Machine kicked my ass.” He responded, “Honey, from where I am standing, you took on one of the most powerful political dynasties in Illinois, maybe the country, and you got 15% of the vote. No one kicked your ass.”
I have thought back both of these conversations over the last four years, more so lately with elections on everyone’s mind. I reviewed the final data from my race, and the numbers from many elections before that. For more than 20 years, no one running against the dynasty in my ward had ever gotten more than 13% of the vote, so my 15%, was “not nothing.” And as it turned out, “No one kicked your ass,” turned out to be a good life mantra.
To those of you who are joining us in the Chicago Election Losers club, grab a malort and raise your glass:
Welcome aboard. I’m sorry you lost, but at least you tried. At some point, go over the numbers. And always remember, no one kicked your ass.
*There will be 12 mayoral candidates that do not make the run-off. If every aldermanic race with more than 2 candidates goes to a run-off, there will be 83 that do not make the run-off.