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An Opening Salvo on the Impending Geneva Mayoral Race

It's already getting way too complicated, folks. Please have your scorecards ready!

I know y’all just love to go into conniptions whenever I tell a starry eyed young City Council hopeful like Zac Ploppert to keep his powder dry, but the truth is, running for office, even one as nondescript as alderman, isn’t merely a matter of getting your name on the ballot.

There’s a heck of a lot more to it.

Yes! I get that we’re genetically predisposed to root for the underdog, and we desperately want to believe the system is fair and balanced, but it isn’t. It favors incumbents, name recognition and money.

Lose two elections before holding a public office and I’d put your odds at winning the third at a meager 10 percent. Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham wasn’t willing to go quite that far, but he did say two opening losses mean “you’re seriously damaged.”

So, more often than not, getting elected is a matter of timing.

And it’s with that thought in mind that I want to examine just how Geneva’s mayoral race is starting to shake out.

Of course, after recently announcing his intention to seek a fourth term, the only candidate, so far, is Kevin Burns. But truth be told, he’s vulnerable for the first time in years.

Though he can probably overcome setbacks like the Steve LeMaire thefts, the frequent power outages, and the those fascinating county chair campaign emails, he’s going to have a much more difficult time explaining away how he single handedly kept a property tax hike alive.

Despite his previous proclamations to the contrary, the mayor isn’t fiscally conservative on his best day at a time the electorate is demanding some real cuts. And by “cuts” I don’t mean the current Geneva fantasy game of budget to budget comparisons where you brag about not spending money you haven’t already spent.

A new half-million-dollar computer system and we still need every last city staffer?

Losing the GOP county chair primary contest by a stark 40 percent doesn’t help matters, either. The key stat there is the mayor didn’t even carry Geneva, and once people get used to voting for someone else …

So our bottom line is, the timing is such that a reasonable mayoral opponent has a chance to prevail in April. Should Kevin Burns win this election, short of some massive new revelation, he will probably have the job for life.

Since two terms is good enough for the president, and the mayor is far too close to city staff to make those real cuts, I’ve been encouraging 2nd Ward Alderman Rich Marks to take advantage of this window of opportunity and give it his best shot.

Marks has served admirably on the council, he has an amazing grasp of city finances, he’s a real fiscal conservative, his comportment is more suited to that central dais chair, and it’s time for some new blood.

But just when I thought I was wearing him down with threats of running myself, (remember, being gung ho about an office is never a good thing), the prospect of a third entry gave him pause.

He hasn't been taking my calls, but word on the street is, with Mike Bruno and Mike Olesen also competing for Sam Hill's soon-to-be-vacant 1st Ward seat, former Alderman William Barclay has shifted his sights from that office to the one Kevin Burns now holds.

Despite whatever delusions he might harbor, he can’t win. Just because Mayor Burns is vulnerable that doesn’t mean he’s vulnerable to anyone. To beat even a damaged incumbent, you need some combination of:

A. Charisma

B. Gravitas

C. Money

Charisma is obvious, gravitas is a combination of demeanor and track record, and we all know what money is.

Though I’ve always been quite fond of Mr. Barclay, having to chose “D – none of the above” is never a good sign. Because even if your timing is just right, being the alternative candidate isn’t good enough to win an election. Bill Brady ran for governor on the “I’m not the other guy” platform and, right in the middle of a vast Republican sweep, he lost to a guy who promised to raise taxes.

Add Barclay’s consistent indecision to the fact he temporarily bowed out of Geneva politics and Kevin Burns trounces him by 15 points.

Though I’m convinced he’s not in cahoots with Burns—my observation is they don’t care for each other much these day—since the mayor automatically wins any three-way race, Barclay is essentially holding the opposition candidacy hostage.

So I’m calling on him to either poop or get off the pot. Waiting till that last Dec. 24 minute to announce only reinforces that wishy washy image. Either say you’re running for mayor or make it clear that you’ll be sticking to your former 1st Ward plans.

The citizens of Geneva deserve to know.

Jeff Ward September 26, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Colin, You are correct, that's a case of fingers being faster than the brain. I'll call Rick to correct it. Jeff
Kurt Wehrmeister September 26, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Jack Cunningham lost a whole lot more than two elections, between his 1965 election to the Aurora City Council and his finally winning the County Clerk's office in 2002. My favorite was when he ran for State's Attorney in 1980, roughly six months after receiving his law degree. (He lost in a three-way primary to Bob Morrow.)
Rick Nagel (Editor) September 26, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Officially corrected. Probably my typo when I added the link.
Jeff Ward September 26, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Kurt, Jack is clearly the exception - on so many levels. My favorite one is the guy who throws people off the ballot got thrown off the ballot. But even then, he won early on so those multitude of losses didn't mean as much. All people will remember are the wins. And Jack has exceptional charisma which can offset a host of ills. The real exception is Jim Oberweis who spent $6 million to win a State Senate primary. Again, access to that kind of money can trump those early losses. Jeff
Colin C. September 26, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Thanks for making the correction (Jeff, the person running for alderman in the 1st ward is named Mike Bruno, not "Brunon". I know that you know that and that it's a typo but some of your readers might be confused.) Mike is a successful Geneva businessman who worked as a computer engineer for Burgess Norton for many years before opening his own technology consulting firm here in Geneva. We could use a tech guru on the City Council. Mike has served for eleven years on Geneva's Historic Preservation Commission and really understands the important economic role that our history plays in our downtown, which is much of the 1st ward. He's been a blogger on the Patch for a long time and addresses some pretty difficult issues in a thorough, calm, and reasoned way. I think that Mike would be an excellent choice for alderman and a great replacement for Sam. Anyone wishing to know more can go to < http://mikebrunogeneva.com/ >. It's all there.
Mitotero September 26, 2012 at 02:31 PM
You have left out the Pure Oil building fiasco, which the Mayor did not handle well. However, I was not impressed by the questions asked by alderman Marks during this process, either. Wouldn't it be refreshing to get a mayor that is fresh, and not a former alderman? My thinking here is for Mike Bruno to set his sights higher. The mayor is vulnerable, and it seems like a good time for a city hall outsider to run.
Kathy Zang September 26, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I appreciate reporters who bring up all the old bad (and good) decisions in a candidates past. I don't always remember all those situations and how they were handled. Helps me make my decisions. Thanks for reporting, really. Because some news media today seems to have given up on reporting.
Terry Flanagan September 27, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Assuming Kevin is the only candidate or that he does win the mayoral race, Geneva may find itself in the proverbial space between a rock and a hard place if Chris Lauzen becomes the county chair. It's obvious that there's no love lost between these two and getting them to work together may be impossible. I would like both Chris and Kevin to publicly state that they are going to set aside their differences and work together should both win their respective races. However, I believe they both pledged to avoid personal attacks and run a campaign based on the issues during the primary. So I'm a bit skeptical about this being a real possibility. But we need this to happen for the good of Geneva.

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