Saturday, May 19, 2007

Condescension Is Not A Family Value

The following blog post pertains to: Doug Ibendahl; Jack Roeser; Otto Engineering; The Family Taxpayers Network; The Champion Foundation; and RYP (Republican Young Professionals).

Committed Republicans are extremely rare here in Chicago. I am such a rarity. I have voted for Republican candidates for more than 20 years, primarily on account of my agreement with the party's pro-life, pro-family views.

Not all Republican candidates or politicians have agreed with my views on subjects such as abortion and gay marriage, and there have been a few rare Democrats (such as Bob Casey and Glenn Poshard) who have agreed with me about such issues. But not enough to cause me to switch to the Democratic party.

Around the time of the 2000 elections, when I first served as a Republican election judge here in Chicago, I began to meet with a small handful of likeminded conservative Republicans. One such Republican was an attorney named Craig Simmons. Craig and I had had some enjoyable conversations about our mutual beliefs and values, so we kept in touch on a regular basis.

Craig called me not long ago to let me know that his wife Susan Simmons had been appointed to be the "committeeman" of the 42nd Ward Republican Organization after the previous committeeman Rich Gordon stepped down from that position. Craig was very happy about that appointment. He'd always had a passion for politics.

Back in late 2005, I had spoken with Craig about my vision for a Christian ministry focusing on the arts. (For more information, visit I had gotten a lot of positive feedback from various people, concerning that vision, but I had received very little in the way of tangible support for the project.

Craig told me that he knew of a man who seemed to be likely to show an interest in my project, and who also had the financial means with which to help fund the project. The man's name was Jack Roeser.

Jack Roeser is the Chairman and Founder of Otto Engineering, a company with 500 employees. Jack is also the leader of a couple of conservative political organizations, known as The Family Taxpayers Network and the Champion Foundation. In 1994, Jack Roeser ran for Illinois Governor against Jim Edgar in the Republican primary election. (Jack received 25% of the vote, according to Wikipedia.)

Craig said that he felt he had reason to believe that Jack would be interested in supporting my project, based on Craig's knowledge of the types of organizations Mr. Roeser had supported in the past. Craig didn't have a direct connection to Jack Roeser, but he did have a secondhand connection to Mr. Roeser, via a man named Doug Ibendahl. Doug Ibendahl is the attorney for the Family Taxpayers Network, and he is also the leader of an organization known as the Republican Young Professionals. Craig seemed to feel that he had a good working relationship with Doug. Craig felt that he could persuade Doug to introduce me to Mr. Roeser in order to enable me to make a presentation which might potentially lead to Jack's support for my project.

Doug Ibendahl and I had discussed our mutual preference for gubernatorial candidate Jim Oberweiss during the most recent Republican primary election. I thought that I had established a nice rapport with Doug during those e-mail exchanges, although we had never met in person.

On May 3, Craig invited me to a nice little get-together in a penthouse apartment on Lake Shore Drive. The gathering consisted of various Chicagoland Republicans who wanted to watch the Republican presidential debates held in the Reagan Library. I wanted to watch those debates, of course. But my primary reason for attending the event was that Craig had told me that Doug Ibendahl had agreed to meet with me on that occasion and to discuss my project with me. I came prepared with a nice little package I had put together specifically for the occasion.

Unfortunately, I had only spoken with Doug for a few minutes before I began to feel a distinctively negative vibe coming from him. He acted as if I was imposing on him merely by asking him to sit down on a nearby couch and speak with me. When I gave the package to him, he told me that he would look at my package, in a tone of voice which made me fairly certain that he had no intention of giving any serious consideration to my proposal. So I spoke with Craig later that evening, telling him about the inexplicable cold shoulder I'd received from Doug. I asked Craig to wait about a week (in case I was wrong), and then to contact Doug and find out what was up. Craig did so. It turned out that my perceptions had been quite accurate.

Why had Doug Ibendahl so quickly dismissed my ideas without really giving me a fair hearing? The first reason he cited, when speaking with Craig, was that he believed that Jack Roeser was uninterested in funding "nonpolitical" projects. I felt that there was a political component in terms of my vision for a Christian arts ministry, since the objective was to use the arts in order to make a positive impact on the nation's moral values, thereby strengthening the American family. It would have been nice to be able to sit down with Jack Roeser and explain why I felt that there was a strong connection between his goals and mine.

But what really shocked me was the second reason Doug Ibendahl cited for dismissing my ideas. He told Craig that I lacked credibility because I currently resided at the Lawson House YMCA in Chicago.

I'd never tried to keep that fact secret. I thought that most people were intelligent enough to evaluate my ideas on their own merits, rather than dismissing my ideas for no better reason than the fact that I lived in a low-rent apartment because my personal income level was low.

I responded by writing an e-mail message to Doug. In that message, I pointed out that Jesus had been a homeless man during the last three years of his ministry on earth, and I cited the specific scriptures to prove it. I pointed out that if Mr. Ibendahl's premise was correct, then Jesus Christ didn't have any credibility either.

(Just for the record, I was not in any way trying to say that I was comparable to Jesus in all respects. I know that I'm not worthy to tie the sandals on Jesus' feet. But I think that my point was clear. Dismissing a person's ideas solely on the basis of that person's place of residence is misguided, to say the least.)

I also pointed out that Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards, had founded that billion dollar company while living in a Kansas City YMCA. If a person had dismissed Mr. Hall's ideas and impugned his credibility, solely on the basis of where Mr. Hall lived at the time, that person would have been a fool.

After receiving my most recent e-mail, did Doug Ibendahl apologize for his insensitive and condescending dismissal of my ideas, based solely on where I chose to lay my head? No. In his mind, I was apparently in a social class lower than his own, so there was no need for an apology.

As I discussed in the opening sentences of this blog, I have been a Republican for a very long time. In general, I think that the Republican party stands on the right side of most of the crucial moral issues of the day. But I am aware of the fact that many people in Chicago prefer the Democratic party because they perceive that Republicans are often rich people who are indifferent to the needs of the poor. Sadly, Doug Ibendahl personifies that negative stereotype.

If it were solely up to Mr. Ibendahl, I would become a Democrat tomorrow. His presence in the Republican party is an anchor which is dragging the party down. And it's not as if Illinois Republicans are not already floundering. In the wake of the various scandals which have occurred in recent years, the Illinois Republican Party cannot afford to further alienate people.

What kind of person treats an ally in such a way as to convert that ally into a potential enemy? That doesn't strike me as a wise way to insure the success of one's own political party. Yet, that is exactly what Doug Ibendahl did during his most recent meeting with me.

One would think that Doug would appreciate the political value of being able to point to a committed Republican whose existence disproved the idea that all Republicans were wealthy, but apparently, he does not.

I don't hold Jack Roeser directly responsible for Doug Ibendahl's actions, but I do worry that Doug's attitudes are a reflection of the overall attitudes which are considered to be acceptable at the Family Taxpayers Network. I think that Jack needs to know that the person he has chosen to represent him legally is doing him more harm than good.

What I find strange is that I found one article on the web which suggests that there was a time in Doug Ibendahl's life, back in 2001, when he recognized the value of reaching out to the poor people in the community. But I suppose that a lot can change in six years, in terms of a person's attitude.

Or perhaps an alternative explanation is that painting schools in inner city neighborhoods was motivated primarily by the self-serving goal of building RYP and the Republican party, and not by any genuine concern for the people they were helping.

All I know is that the "compassionate conservatism" to which the article refers was noticeably absent when Doug spoke with me on May 3, 2007.

As for Craig Simmons, I do not in any way hold it against him that Doug treated me as he did. He had no way of knowing that Doug wouldn't keep his word. (He misleadingly caused Craig to think that he'd give my ideas a fair hearing.) Craig Simmons continues to be a good friend of mine. If Doug Ibendahl had half of Craig's class, the world would be a better place.