Buttons point to popularity, and no one is winning in Illinois

SHARE Buttons point to popularity, and no one is winning in Illinois

Beyond the voters and candidates, the pundits and public relations people, there’s another group that lives for election season: the collectors.

The button hunters go to rallies, campaign offices and conventions looking for “their” candidate; they’re looking for pieces of history from someone who inspired them. Their passion goes beyond a vote: Many collectors fill their homes with memorabilia and their time with tracking down more.

The collectors’ quarry doesn’t have much monetary value, but it can reveal voter excitement — or the absence of it.

It’s slim pickings this year for Illinois collectors, despite a race for governor and Chicago mayor. Area collectors say they haven’t come across many buttons made by fans of the candidates.

Neither Gov. Pat Quinn nor Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaigns are producing buttons. Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s campaign didn’t respond to button inquiries, and Ald. Robert Fioretti’s (2nd) mayoral campaign hasn’t made any yet.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has buttons, which were donated by an outside group, but she hasn’t declared her candidacy for mayor.

There’s not huge demand for local candidates’ buttons, but collections of Illinois mayoral candidates and gubernatorial candidates do exist. A campaign might make some pins, but collectors say what really fleshes out a cache are buttons made by candidates’ grass-roots supporters.

Marc Sigoloff of Springfield is known among Illinois collectors for his focus on Barack Obama buttons. At about 5,400 buttons, it is the largest Obama collection in existence, he said.

“I’ve always had an interest in history and politics,” Sigoloff said. “I prefer collecting the modern campaigns because it’s something I can be part of.”

By his own admission, Sigoloff says he spends hours every day combing the Internet, buying and selling buttons. He estimates there could be between 50,000 and 100,000 Obama buttons in existence.

“With Obama, the grass-roots movement is where a lot of these buttons come from,” he said, noting that before the 2008 election he would search online and found “a lot of these little grass-roots groups popping up.”

“I was telling people Obama was going to be our next president in 2007 and no one believed me. You could predict who the Democratic nominee is by the number of buttons. If a grass-roots group puts out a button, that shows real interest,” Sigoloff said.

Outside of Obama, he looks for Illinois governors — “basically everything I can find of governors. They don’t put out nearly as much as they used to,” he said.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was into buttons, but interest in gubernatorial buttons has fallen off since then. “I actually have nothing from this campaign,” Sigoloff said of the Quinn versus Rauner race.

Dottie Palombo, of Highland Park, is coordinating a show for the Chicago chapter of the American Political Items Collectors, which will be held Oct. 5 in Deerfield.

Palombo, an Obama button collector, says she expects to see some Quinn buttons at the show for sale or trade, but not a lot.

“People really invested in [Obama], making buttons … I don’t see any of that yet,” Palombo said. “[Quinn’s] not the most popular candidate in the world.”

Sigoloff has a few Emanuel buttons from the 2010 mayoral campaign, and a host of Harold Washington buttons.

“There were probably more buttons that were issued for [Washington] than for any other politician who didn’t run for president in history,” Sigoloff said.

“People tell me there were hundreds. That’s not normal for a mayoral campaign. He must have been really popular,” he said.

At the Busy Beaver Button Museum in Logan Square, Christen Carter and her brother Joel display the thousands of buttons in their “generalist” collection.

Besides the blue horizon “Harold Washington for Mayor” buttons made by Washington’s campaign, they have homemade buttons with a portrait of Washington and no words.

“If you see somebody and they’re wearing it, [you think] ‘Oh, they’re voting for Harold Washington,’ ” Christen Carter said. “It’s a personal endorsement.”

The museum is in the front room of the Carters’ Busy Beaver Button Co. Poll watchers take note: The only potential candidate who has grass-roots supporters ordering buttons from Busy Beaver is Karen Lewis.

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