Calabrese switches focus to winning student vote

By Paolo Cisneros

University senior Frank Calabrese may have stated his intention to run for a seat in the Illinois House months ago, but it wasn’t until recently that he felt like a viable candidate.

“Technically, I’ve been a candidate for a while now, but, financially, I’ve only been (in the race) for about three weeks,” he said.

During the summer, Calabrese’s ability to generate campaign revenue was forced to take a backseat to legal challenges from Champaign County Democrats’ Vice Chair for Labor Pat Devaney, who brought suit against Calabrese. Devaney claimed Calabrese was ineligible to run because of problems the Republican Party had with filing his certificate of organization.

In early June, both sides presented their case to a Champaign County tribunal where it was determined that Calabrese was eligible to run.

The ruling was later reviewed and upheld by a state court.

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Now that the legitimacy of his candidacy has been confirmed, Calabrese has begun focusing his efforts on raising funds and introducing himself to the Champaign-Urbana community.

“During the summer, I’ve been going door to door mainly in the town,” he said. “I’ll begin covering the campus very seriously in October.”

He said he intends to have a fully functional campaign headquarters on the corner of Sixth and Green streets operating by sometime next week.

Plans to hire a campaign manager are also in the works.

“I want to hire someone who knows the local area very well,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of my friends who are politically inclined helping me out, but I’m looking for someone that’s really knowledgeable of Champaign-Urbana.”

On the campus side of the 103rd’s constituency, Calabrese believes he has the ability to connect with University students.

In fact, students have been quick to come forward and help out with his campaign, he said.

“I understand the campus, I think, as well as anyone,” he said. “I’m going to rely a lot on speaking to RSOs and other student organizations. I have a lot of challenges in this race, but finding volunteers isn’t one of them.”

Kristin Williamson, president of the Champaign County Young Republicans, believes that although Calabrese is an exceptional candidate, he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to defeat incumbent Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, in a district where University students make up only about a third of the total voting population.

“He has to turn out the community vote and prove to people that he’ll work just as hard in Springfield as he has been on the campaign trail,” she said. “He’s done a very good job of getting (the Young Republicans) excited about campaigning for him.”

Williamson, Calabrese and Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman agree that as students return to campus, the Calabrese campaign will receive the boost it will need on election day.

“It’s all about the students,” Barickman said. “He needs to get out there and let the students know that he’s one of them and that they ought to have one of their own representing them in Springfield.”

On his part, Calabrese said he will continue to focus his attention on informing district residents of his positions on the issues; prime among them, obtaining more state funding for the University through prioritization of the budget, creating new revenue generators, funding the pension system and passing a capital bill.

On the Democratic side of the race, Jakobsson said she does not intend to change her campaign strategy because her opponent is a University student.

“I’m busy serving my constituents, but I’ll also certainly be campaigning,” she said. “The University has always been one of my priorities so I don’t believe I’ll be approaching it any differently.”

Other area Democrats feel confident that Jakobsson will be able to win her reelection bid without an unusual strategy.

“Frank doesn’t have much experience, and I feel like the Republicans are looking for someone to throw in the race just to make (Jakobsson) work,” said Eric Preston, junior in LAS and president of College Democrats. “Naomi has always been very strong for student issues.”

At the heart of their objection to the Calabrese candidacy is the idea that Jakobsson remains a stronger candidate to speak for University students.

“I know Frank ran for president of the (Illinois Student Senate) and his peers didn’t vote for him,” Preston said. “The people who know him best rejected him because he doesn’t represent the students very well, and I don’t think he’d be any better at it in Springfield.”