D's WORLD - 'Why is that man smiling?'

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

I’ve been to some political debates for the three candidates vying to fill the 18th Congressional District seat being vacated by Ray LaHood (R-Peoria.)

I’ve served on the media panel for two of them. Every time, I’ve been struck by something — the smile on the face of Sheldon Schafer, the Green Party candidate. It always takes me back to one of the newsroom scenes in “All The President’s Men,” in which Jason Robards, playing Washington Post executive editor says, “Why is that man smiling?”

Schafer has no money. He has no big political machine behind him. His name recognition is very low, by his own admission.

I met with Schafer last week to see if I could get some answers. I didn’t tell him I wanted to interview him because I was curious about his smile, but I got some answers just the same.

Schafer said he has plenty of reasons to smile during the craziness of a political season in which he is a player.

Schafer said he smiles every time he sees a TV ad for Aaron Schock, the Republican candidate for the 18th Congressional District seat, and Schafer’s opponent.

Schafer can also smile when asked if he really has a chance to win as a Green Party candidate for the seat being vacated by Ray LaHood (R-Peoria).

“Winning isn’t the only reason to do something. If only the presumed winners run, it’s not much of a race... In a horse race, the presumed winner doesn’t always win,” Schafer said.

“I’m not delusional about my chances. But, I’ve already had an impact. My opponents are running greener campaigns.”

Schafer smiled as he pulled out one of his campaign flyers showing him in front of a windmill. He then mentioned a TV ad for Schock in front of windmills talking about alternative energy sources. Another Schock TV ad shows the Republican candidate talking about preservation of the Illinois River.

Schafer said the Illinois River ad could be his, except for one thing.

“I can’t afford the helicopter in the ad,” Schafer said.

For Schafer, smiles come easy in this campaign because, he said, this campaign is more about opening avenues for third party candidates than the seat being sought. He said third party candidates face hurdles that Republicans and Democrats do not.

“I’m an educator,” he said. “This campaign is a struggle, but I’m dedicated. I’m dedicated to offering a change. I’m dedicated to the environment and social justice.”

Schafer said he was inspired to get involved with politics in 2000 when Ralph Nader ran for president.

“When he ran, I said, ’He’s doing the right thing,’” Schafer said.

Schafer said he decided to step off the sideline of politics. But, he added, 38 years ago, he had already stepped off the sidelines when he joined the Peace Corps working in India advancing science education.

Schafer smiled again when asked, “Why him?”

“I guess I had the standing in the community and the guts,” he said.

“What will come of the campaign is the realization we will be back in 2010.”

So far, this campaign has cost Schafer $1,000 and, he said, his sanity. But, it has not cost him his principles, he added.

The smile ran from his face quickly as he was asked what issue was most important to him.

“I’m about putting people first. We have our priorities wrong. The people have taken second place behind economic interests,” he said.

“If you put business interests in front of people, survival of our civilization will not be the eventual outcome.”

But, just as quickly as his smile faded, it returned.

“I hope a lot of people make a snap decision in the ballot booth to support me,” Schafer said, again smiling.

“But, in the end, we’ve established the Greens can put out viable candidates.”

That thought brought an ever bigger smile to Schafer’s face.