The Chicago Urban League hosted a Third Ward candidates’ forum Tuesday night. It started 20 minutes late and was over about 2 minutes later.

At 6:30, the forum’s scheduled start time, challenger Pat Dowell was sitting by herself at the candidates’ table, facing a restless audience of more than 200 people. By 6:40 she was in the lobby conferring with her staff and event organizers. At 6:45 one of the organizers stepped to the podium. “One of the candidates has a conflict and sent a surrogate,” he said. “The other candidate is discussing how to proceed.”

It wasn’t too hard to figure out which candidate was which. By 6:50 the “surrogate”–longtime political activist Jacky Grimshaw–was sitting in the seat everyone had expected Third Ward alderman Dorothy Tillman to occupy, while Dowell leaned into the microphone.

“I think tonight demonstrates exactly why we need change in this ward,” Dowell said. “I was here to have a candidates’ forum, not a surrogates’ forum.” She left the room.

Grimshaw hurried to the podium. “Dorothy is busy taking care of the business of the Third Ward,” she said.

People from the audience were out of their seats, and several were crowding around her. They booed. Outside the entrance to the building Dowell supporters kept up a chant of “Where is Dorothy?”

“You can boo all you want!” Grimshaw yelled. “But the bottom line is that Dorothy Tillman is the alderman of the Third Ward and she gets to decide where she wants to spend her time!”

The boos turned to hostile shouts insulting Tillman and Grimshaw. Grimshaw returned them. 

Word spread that Tillman was planning to attend the monthly meeting of the Gap Community Organization, just about a mile away; the group had invited the candidates from the Second and Third Wards to make a few remarks. About a half hour later, as she strolled into the event, Tillman brushed aside questions about her failure to show up for the Urban League’s forum, which had been scheduled since shortly after the first round of balloting on February 27. “They knew I wasn’t going to be there,” Tillman said. “I never confirmed.”

She had committed to the Gap’s meeting–but just this Monday afternoon, a little more than 24 hours beforehand and a month after she was invited to it, according to the group’s president.

Dowell arrived at the Gap meeting a few minutes after Tillman. They were each given 15 minutes to speak without interruption, and they spent it ripping into each other.