University students are known for their frank, outspoken political views, whether debating at a Bartlett dinner table or using political arguments in clubs like Parliamentary Debate and the University's chapter of the ACLU.
But Christopher Coordes, a 21-year-old undergraduate and the treasurer of U of C College Republicans, took his political interests one step further: He successfully ran for Republican committeeman in the Fifth Ward of Chicago, including all of Hyde Park and the University campus up to 60th Street.
"The honorable" Chris Coordes, the third-year economics and mathematics major defeated incumbent Clara-Simms Johnson for the unpaid position in the March 16 primaries. Coordes won by just 16 votes, showing that Hyde Parktraditionally a bastion for Democratsmight be seeing a growing Republican presence.
"What made me decide to run was that here in the Fifth Ward, there really [was] no Republican activity," Coordes said. " I blamed the former Republican committeeman for the lack of interest. So someone then approached me and asked if I wanted to run for the seat; I said sure. Something is better than nothing, and I thought I could do a better job."
Grace Lin, a second-year in the College and the president of the College Republicans, also enjoyed a victory in the recent primary elections. She became the newly-elected Republican committeeman for the 20th Ward. Lin, who won by a wider margin than Coordes did, had nothing but praise for her fellow College Republican officer.
"As an officer, Chris Coordes is one of our best," Lin said. "He has had extensive experience in grassroots works; he is innovative and efficient; he knows how to rally the members to get them involved. He is very focused on the vision of the Republican Party."
"As a friend Chris is one of the most ethical," Lin said. "He holds dear a set of values, yet he knows how to fun and is easy to talk to. While Chris may seem initially a bit quiet, he is always willing to discuss ideas with an open mind."
The College Republicans mobilized to get the word out during finals week of winter quarter. During the primary, signs supporting Lin and Coordes were posted outside of their dormitories, Burton-Judson and the Shoreland, respectively, and all around the Midway and the Point.
"For their campaigns, we sent out two letters and three postcard reminders," said recent graduate Erin Onsager, the co-vice president of the College Republicans. He worked on both Lin and Coordes's campaigns. "Chris also did phone banking. On the day of the election, I personally sat in Bartlett handing out doughnuts and encouraging students to go vote. Since Chris won his race by 16 points, the little efforts seem to make a difference. Lots of U of C students seemed more inclined not only to vote, but to pull a Republican ballot because it was a U of C student running."
Lin said the election started with a petitioning process to get on the ballot, where supporters had to collected signatures from five percent of Republican voters in the wards. "We launched voter registration drives and started to campaign," she explained. "We sent a series of five mailings and phoned each and every Republican in the wards twice. Election day was tough because it was during finals week but we had two cars shuttling people to the polls and we had yard signs that we posted across the ward."
Coordes now has the task of reviving the Republican Party in Hyde Park, especially for the November elections, when Republican Jack Ryan will go up against Democrat and Hyde Park State Senator Barack Obama for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
David Axelrod, a media consultant for Obama's campaign, said to the Hyde Park Herald that Obama's popularity on the South Side is solid and he will probably garner the same level of support that he received in the primaries.
"He can put his scooper out there, but I don't think he'll get anything," Axelrod said of Coordes. "I think you'd have an easier time selling snowballs to Eskimos than selling Jack Ryan's politics in this senatorial district."
Coordes recognizes that Obama enjoys overwhelming popularity in the Fifth Ward, and that the Republican Party may never become as established as the Democrats in Hyde Park. His main long-term goal is to reach out to the disenfranchised Republicans in the area and make Hyde Park visible to the Republican Party.
"I want to reach out to the Republicans in the Ward and put up a strong organization for them so that in four years, when there's at least a Republican presence in the area, I can say I helped build this in," Coordes said. He added that he plans to meet with Ryan's campaign staff and the Cook County Republican Chairman later in the spring.