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Politicians On Parade

Amanda Vinicky

Children across Illinois had the day off from school Monday in honor of Columbus Day. Despite soggy weather, both Governor Pat Quinn and his Republican rival Bruce Rauner celebrated by walking down State St., for Chicago's Columbus Day parade. In an age when campaigns are increasingly high-tech, Amanda Vinicky took to the streets to find out why so many politicians spend so much time pounding the pavement.

Candidates have less than a month left to complete their missions. Grasping for your attention, and convincing you to vote for them on election day.

Mostly they do it through expensive commercials during your favorite T.V. shows. Sometimes, it's through a glossy brochure in your mailbox. Or perhaps it's a sponsored ad that pops up in your Facebook or Twitter feed. In the modern age of campaigning, strategists can even use "micro targeting" to pinpoint just what issues you most care about.

So why would Bruce Rauner, a businessman who so far has pumped more than $17 million dollars into his bid for governor, spend a sunny, September Saturday, walking down a street in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood for the Mexican Independence Day parade, where he could get "booed" -- like by a set of parade goers who shouted "Quinn's my man!"

It wasn't all bad for Rauner; he also met fans as he stopped to chat up nearly every person along the route, saying "Viva La Independencia! Viva! Great to see you! Enjoy the parade!"

Chicago residents Jesse Montoya and Toni Reynoso both say they'd seen Rauner's commercial but wanted more details about him and his plans. Both lean Republican, so supporting Rauner isn't a big stretch. But they say meeting him in person helped lock in their votes.

Gov. Pat Quinn wasn't at this particular parade -- though both he and Rauner walked in another one the following day. But Quinn's lieutenant governor candidate, Paul Vallas, was.

Vallas didn't walk past a hand without shaking it, even ducking inside to quickly meet people watching the festivities from a coffee shop. A considerable effort, given how many miles he's presumably logged in parades over the campaign season.

Credit Amanda Vinicky
Paul Vallas, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate, ducked into a coffee shop along the Mexican Independence Day parade route, in order to meet a few extra voters.

Rauner says he walked in fifteen during the Fourth of July weekend.

Practically every town has an Independence Day parade. But politicians have plenty of other opportunities. It seems like there's a parade for just about everything.

"It starts in Quincy. Usually, the first Saturday in May is the Dogwood Festival, that Sen. Mary Kent started when the dogwoods bloomed," says State Rep. Jil Tracy is a Republican from west-central Illinois. "And then we usually ... one of the biggest ones is the Beardstown parade. And what they do is coordinate it when they have all the high school band competitions. I seriously think it went out for three miles. And I can't tell you how much you spend in candy on that!"

Probably not a bad way to get votes, and to raise name recognition.

Tracy says there are also other reasons for a candidate to hit the parade circuit.

"You know, it's a good chance to let people know that you care about their community," she says. "Because that's usually why you have a parade. It's celebrating something. You want to see what they're doing and how their community's doing. I've walked down a lot of bad roads and streets. and then you know that these cities and towns need economic recovery."

You can learn a lot about a district and its residents by parading through it.

That's was the experience of Lt. Gov Sheila Simon, who's now running for comptroller, when she walked in the Bud Billikin parade this summer.

The parade is on Chicago's south side. It's one of the oldest and largest parades in the nation, and a "must" for politicians. This year, however, two people were shot near the route.

"It was eye opening," Simon says. "Because my husband and I, from Carbondale, are standing there thinking -- were they fireworks? Or was that gunfire? And to realize that a whole lot of the people around us, number one, knew right away that it was gunfire, and knew what to do -- was to drop down, and here we were were standing up -- I learned a lot, about a culture of violence that people are used to and planning for. And that was, that was a sad thing."

Credit Amanda Vinicky
Bruce Rauner and his running mate, Evelyn Sanguinetti, have taken part in a lot of parades throughout the summer; here they're at the Pilsen Mexican Independence Day parade.

Back at the festive, party-like atmosphere of Pilsen's Mexican Independence Day Parade, Rauner and Vallas keep at it. Shaking hands, meeting voters. Neither are handing out candy --- just stickers and campaign brochures. Between the cowboys on horseback, a beauty queen and dancers twirling in grand, bright costumers, you have to figure that two guys in street clothes aren't a major draw.

"I'm out here with my family, I'm not looking for politicians," says Stella Reyes, a mother who lives in the neighborhood.

And that's right after meeting both Rauner, and Vallas.

Reyes may not be looking for politicians, but you can be sure politicians will continue looking for her to cast a vote. And hoping that maybe, just maybe, that brief bit of face time will increase the chances Reyes will join the parade of voters heading to the polls on election day.

Credit Amanda Vinicky
Gov. Pat Quinn kicks of the 2013 Illinois State Fair with the Twilight parade; this year's was canceled due to forecasts for bad weather.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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