It’s not easy being Green for 5th District candidate

In the special congressional election on April 7th, Green party candidate Matt Reichel came in third out of three, getting about 7 percent of the vote.  Reichel endorsed the National Initiative and Mike Gravel endorsed Reichel.

As voter’s trickled into the polls Tuesday to vote in the 5th District Congressional race, Green Party candidate Matt Reichel was hoping the meager turnout would improve his chances for an upset over his heavily favored Democratic opponent.  

Reichel, a 27-year-old Northwest Side resident, is running against a frontrunner he described as part of “the Democratic machine establishment.” Although Democratic candidate and Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley is expected to win easily, Reichel wasn’t ready to concede the race Tuesday morning.

“We really have a chance to strike hard because Quigley’s kind of in that middle ground where he’s not the machine favorite, but he’s not a progressive,” said Reichel, sitting behind a cluttered desk in his modest Lincoln Square campaign office. “What we’ve seen today is that the presence out at the polling places isn’t quite what you’d expect in Chicago. Meanwhile, we’re out there, we’ve done well in the forums and the debates … this is all helping us.”

The 5th District has historically voted heavily in favor of the Democratic Party. In the special primary elections leading up to Tuesday’s race, Quigley received about 12,100 votes, almost three times more than Reichel and all six Republican Party candidates combined.  

But despite long odds, a few volunteers joined Reichel Tuesday morning as he set out placards in Lincoln Square, shook hands with morning commuters, and voted at the Bethany Retirement Community on Ashland Avenue. Another two dozen Reichel supporters were out canvassing the 5th District neighborhoods as polls opened at 7 a.m.

“Matt’s a really charismatic speaker and he gets people excited about politics,” said 23-year-old Columbia College student August Grebinski, who became Reichel’s campaign manager after learning about the election on Facebook.  “It’s obviously a long shot, but like any long shot there’s always a chance he could pull it off.”

The 5th District seat opened up when the incumbent, Democrat Rahm Emmanuel, was named President Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski previously represented the district, which spans the North Side and western suburbs from O’Hare International Airport east to Lake Michigan.

While Reichel faces an uphill battle, he’s already overcome one hurdle that tripped up some 20 other candidates – securing a place on the ballot.

Reichel, a freelance French interpreter and translator, beat out four other Green Party members to claim the third ballot slot alongside Quigley and Republican candidate Rosanna Pulido, the state director of the Illinois Minutemen Project.

Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal agreed that “the real competitive election was in March for the primary.” But, despite Reichel optimism, Neal said that the “disappointingly low” turnout on Tuesday morning would likely lead to a Quigley victory.

“This is a heavily Democratic district,” Neal said, “and usually the primary winner is the easy winner in the general election.”

Not taking anything for granted, Democratic candidate Mike Quigley was out early Tuesday morning at the Ravenswood Metra station, shaking hands and urging commuters to visit the polls.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Quigley, whose campaign emphasized his role as a reformer on the Cook County Board. “But we know if we don’t do our job today we could be disappointed.”

Back at his office after a long morning of greeting voters and putting up campaign signs, Reichel seemed less sanguine than he had at the start of the day.

“We could pull off a historic upset, and we hope that happens,” he said, seated beneath a wall covered with campaign signs. “But if it doesn’t happen, the real realistic goal is to beat the Republicans.”

When asked what lessons he’d take away from his first campaign for public office, Reichel exhaled as he sat forward in his folding chair. “It’s harder than it looks."