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‘Ghost’ candidate: Serious about mayor’s race, despite disappearing act

Neal Sales-Griffin announces his mayoral bid Saturday morning at the Shapiro Ballroom. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Neal Sales-Griffin is fully aware that he’s “kinda been a ghost” in the Chicago mayoral race, including in the weeks since he beat a petition challenge and sealed a spot on the ballot.

Most candidates would have pounced on that opportunity for free publicity.

But the 31-year-old tech entrepreneur has held no news conferences and issued no press releases. He’s rarely at any of the mayor forums and hasn’t filled out many issue questionnaires for newspapers or interest groups.

“The forums are scatter shot, and most people aren’t going or aren’t paying attention,” Sales-Griffin said. “There are 14 candidates and, from what I can tell … a lot of people are undecided, or overwhelmed, with their options or disappointed with the options they have.”

But Sales-Griffin insists it was his decision to run and no one else’s. He said there is no truth to the speculation that he jumped into the race last April as part of some ploy to help Mayor Rahm Emanuel by splitting the opposition vote.

Emanuel has since announced he has no interest in another term.

But Sales-Griffin says he’s still serious about the election even though he’s not banking on winning.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks with Neal Sales-Griffin of Code Academy before a news conference at 1871, a space for digital startup compaines, in 2012. File Photo. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

“I’ve been focused on building resources and tools to elevate this conversation to a level of greater substance in the final days,” Sales-Griffin said. “I started going to forums and events this week … but it didn’t make sense to play catch up and try to be the 14th horse in this race. I wanted to build the Model-T.”

While the 13 other candidates have sent out mailers or posted new ads or launched full scale efforts to replace Emanuel, Sales-Griffin and his team have set about creating three tools for Chicago voters — two were released Thursday.

“This is my form of campaigning,” Sales-Griffin said. “I can use the final two weeks to share this information with voters. … I think everyone’s doing their best, but the 14 candidate model for forums is broken, and I want to fix it.”

Neal Sales-Griffin, co-founder of Startup League

Neal Sales-Griffin | Sun-Times file photo

One of his tools will let voters see the breakdown of Chicago’s budget and offer users the chance to get a hypothetical “receipt” — if you give the city $100, how will it be used, where will that money go?

The tool will eventually be a calculator, so users can enter whatever amount of money they want and see how the money could be used, but for now it’ll be a “receipt” showing how that $100 breaks down into the line items of the city budget.

The other tool is a database of all the questions and answers the candidates have fielded in a format similar to a Google search — interested in transit or taxes or schools or whatever else, voters will be able search by those keywords and see candidate’s answers pop up.

The third is more of a framework, Sales-Griffin said. It’ll be released later on his website, and will be his campaign’s plan for delivering on all of their campaign promises, starting with government accountability and transparency.

He hopes it’ll “compel other candidates to show their work and break down specifically how they’ll fulfill their promises.”

He sees the tools he’s making as a way to “leverage technology to get people out there” to cast their ballots — even if it’s not for him.

Whether he’s elected — and whether he’s a viable candidate — is “less important to me than building a framework to hold people accountable for what they promise,” Sales-Griffin said.