Squabbles over turkey dinner are a Thanksgiving tradition of sorts — but on the South Side they’re starting early.
The organizer of a turkey giveaway is accusing an aldermanic candidate of using the event to try to force people to sign his petitions — a charge the candidate denies.
Jihad Shoshara, director of the Chicago Muslim Turkey Drive, said he was inside Emmett Till Math and Science Academy in the West Woodlawn community working the drive when he and school officials got word from parents coming inside that canvassers for Andre Smith were asking for signatures to help Smith get on the ballot to run for alderman of the 20th Ward.
“What happened was there were people collecting petitions outside one of the schools, they were coming up to people in line and telling people they had to sign the petitions to get a turkey,” Shoshara said.
When event hosts came out to confront the canvassers, they stepped away to the sidewalk, and nearby police officers came to the scene, Shoshara said. That’s when a turkey drive volunteer started recording video.
“This is city property, they will not be in front of the school, but they will be out here getting signatures, nobody can stop them,” Smith said in the video. When asked that his volunteers not associate their petitions with the turkeys, he agreed “they should not be saying that, that’s not good. If they do let me know.”
In an interview, Smith said he and his volunteers went out to the school that day to get signatures because he knew there would be a crowd at the school for the giveaway.
“My office is not too far from the school, we knew they were gonna hand out turkeys; everybody throughout the city is circulating right now,” Smith said.
A campaign volunteer who was out there that day, Machael Martin, said volunteers “most definitely did not” offer turkeys in exchange for petition signatures.
“Really we didn’t even get that many signatures, maybe two or three,” Martin said.
Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said when it comes to the circumstances in which candidates gather petitions, it’s up to rivals to file objections. In the 20th Ward, there are more than a dozen aspiring candidates looking to fill Ald. Willie Cochran’s post, though only two have submitted their petitions. Smith said he plans on filing his signatures on the last day Monday.
But even though he denies that his campaign offered a bird pro quo, Smith’s campaign tossed out the signatures from the turkey drive.
Shoshara said the turkey drive has been coming to Till Elementary for 18 years and has also expanded to serve eight schools on Chicago’s South Side. This year, they gave away 5,000 turkeys, and the Emmett Till drive alone gave away 500.