In reality, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Deborah Sims reversed her vote and upheld Todd Stroger's veto of the recent tax increase repeal. It was a surprise that she ever voted to repeal the tax increase in the first place.
Sims is as loyal to the Strogers as one can be. As a resident of the 5th County Commission district, this would be less distressing if we actually got something from her loyalty. You wouldn't know it unless you drove around the county, but the condition of county property, facilities and roads are much worse in the South Suburbs than in the Western and Northern suburbs.
While this neglect suggests to people that the South Suburbs just doesn't care, it is really evidence of the lack of money spent by county government in the Southland and a massive failure of leadership on the part of those who represent us.
Deborah Sims. Joan Patricia Murphy.
Deborah Sims can vote with impunity -- or so she believes -- because of several factors. First of all, she doesn't really represent the South Suburbs, she represents her Chicago Wards -- and, specifically, her loyalists are very proud of her residence in the 34th Ward. If Sims can get the votes out of the Chicago Wards and Thornton township, then she wins. Her work -- her neglect of the Southland -- is evidence that she understands this political calculation.
Hence her continued loyalty to Todd Stroger. Thus her neglect of the Southland.
Unlike the Northern and Western suburbs, people in the South Suburbs don't really know who their county commissioners are. We conducted issues canvasses down in the South Suburbs this summer, and while the number of respondants in each county commission district was small (~200), the results were not. Joan Murphy had almost no name recognition in her district and Deborah Sims was only a little better. The numbers aren't statistically significant, because an issues canvass conducted by volunteers via door to door canvassing isn't methodologically sound, but Sims had less than 10% name recognition in the South Suburban doors we knocked. (I'd assume that it was higher in the city.)
There's a good reason for this. In the decade that I've lived in Flossmoor, I've never seen Deborah Sims in the South Suburbs (except for once before at Frank Z's annual summer picnic) until petitions started being passed this year. Over that time, she may have conducted one Southland appearance (probably always in Thornton township) a year. Sims simply doesn't leave the city that often. When she does, she certainly isn't coming to the South Suburbs.
In the place of presence, Sims has built up a culture of fear. Opponents are confronted, with the purpose of beating them down. Pretty standard political tactics for Chicago machine wards. My own experience with Sims' loyalists seems pretty typical. Down in Springfield, for Governor's Day, a Sims' supporter asked me about why the political group I work with had allowed Sims' opponent to speak before the group. "Lies and misleading facts" were being used against the commissioner.
You know me, I'm fairly blunt. "The South Suburbs," I told her, "are getting f*cked and where's Deborah Sims? You can't be surprised that there's a lot of anger out there."
With irony dripping from every word, she replied: "It's those MEN on the county commission. That's why. They don't care about the South Suburbs."
I didn't have the heart to explain to her that it wasn't the job of "those MEN" (I can't properly explain the disgust with which she referred to the male commissioners) to care about the South Suburbs. They don't represent us. They are supposed to care about *their* districts.
I was struck by the admission of failure on the part of Sims' loyalist. The South Suburbs are getting screwed because we don't have effective leadership. The South Suburbs are screwed because our elected leaders can't negotiate effectively with the rest of the board. The South Suburbs are screwed because everybody on the board already knows how she is going to vote.
With the Strogers. The South Suburbs (two thirds of the voters in her district) be damned.
This admission of failure to lead on the county commission is reinforced by her work with Southland representatives in the General Assembly to get state money for South Suburban projects. Deborah Sims is quite proud of her working with our local state reps to bring in money from Springfield. I'm not complaining, but where's the money from Cook County? I pay county taxes, too, and it seems that the only benefits we see down here from Cook County are the politically connected county employees who have two and three county jobs. Many of them appear to work outside of the South Suburbs, so while they may be politically useful, they aren't helping to better *our* communities.
In an environment of fear and an absence of knowledge about who their county representatives are, voters in the South Suburbs may be more willing to consider the recommendations on the palm cards they are given at the polls. Even if both sides wage competitive campaigns and spend real money courting votes, the lack of name recognition on the part of Deborah Sims and Sheila Chalmers-Currin (in the 5th) and Joan Murphy and John Fairman (in the 6th) will be problematic. As Doug Price, one of the few organizers in the South Suburbs, pointed out, voter anger won't know who to direct itself at if voters don't know who is the incumbent.
On the other hand, there's a real possibility that both Sims and Murphy could be outspent in this election cycle. Neither one had much cash on hand in the last report, and both are aware that they face an angry electorate. Conventional wisdom down in the Southland is that neither Sims nor Murphy will get the endorsements of the newspapers. While the unions are generally expected to endorse the incumbents, unless they import workers into the South Suburbs it's hard to imagine that this will have much effect. Local AFSCME members say they expect their union to support Sims and Murphy, but they say they won't vote with their union leadership. They may feel differently if the union has an actual presence down here -- especially if they have to walk by a union member to enter the polls.
We should never forget that political machines -- of all varieties -- are more effective in low-informational races. Whether or not these county commission races are low information is up to opponents. It is the incumbents who benefit otherwise.
In the end, Deborah Sims has to do two contradictory things: have a strong presence in the South Suburbs (especially in Thornton township) and hope that voters don't realize who she is. Todd Stroger won't be successful down here -- John Stroger wouldn't have done that well if Forrest Claypool's campaign had tried to compete in the South Suburbs.
If Democratic reformers want to break the stranglehold that the machine has on the Cook County board, they will have to take over these two seats. Which won't be difficult in this particular political environment. Voters in the South Suburbs are pissed and there is no reason to expect them to be loyal to the machine. Toni Preckwinkle figured this out early, and has found the Southland to be a rich hunting ground. The era of Sims and Murphy is fast fading from the scene...