Voters in Chicago's 43rd Ward, including I, will choose a new alderman in today's general election. The two candidates, Tim Egan and Michele Smith, have spent $387k and $1.1m respectively.
Is it really worth $1.4m to become an alderman? The ward has a population somewhere around 50,000, or about 1/12th of a U.S. Congressional district, and aldermen have almost no power in city government. Of course, they do have power over things like snow removal contracts and liquor licenses. So possibly both Smith and Egan have deep and abiding senses of civic duty, willing to sacrifice so much for the good of the city.
Not to be cynical, but perhaps it's more than that:
Aside from $3,000 in "in-kind" contributions—apparently in the form of food for fundraisers, provided by O’Brien’s Restaurant—another $22,500 was donated to the Egan campaign by four other companies that share the same Wells Street address (found here and here), and that city records show are affiliated with the O’Brien family.
... But Smith has a major contributor of her own. That would be the retired Helen Meier, of Wilmette. This election cycle, Meier has given Smith’s campaign $95,000. Going back to Smith’s previous run for alderman in 2007 and her 2008 win for Democratic ward committeeman, Meier has donated roughly $360,000 to Smith.
And this is only one race out of 14. (There are 50 wards in Chicago.) Welcome to the political earthquake caused by Mayor Daley retiring at the end of this month. Pass the popcorn.