Job seekers express disappointment, hope at job fair hosted by candidate for Ill. governor

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Few find work at Illinois candidate’s job fair

CHERRY VALLEY, Ill. — Martina Love had two words to describe the job fair hosted Tuesday by Scott Lee Cohen, the independent candidate for Illinois governor: false advertisement.

Out of work for a year, the 23-year-old said she’s looking for a “real job” at a factory or somewhere else, not selling jewelry or enlisting in the military like recruiters at Cohen’s Rockford-area job fair were offering.

“If he’s supposed to be a governor, I would think that he would have had more things in here knowing how the economy is,” said Love, who used to work at phone customer service company.

The job fairs are a cornerstone of Cohen’s campaign for governor, but the job seekers who lined up Tuesday to talk to more than a dozen companies weren’t necessarily interested in helping him gain employment as Illinois’s chief executive.

“The way I pick my candidates is I look into what they stand for, you know, and I’m not independent, I’m not Republican, I’m not Democrat. It depends on who it is … and I have not decided yet,” said Sherry Baxter, 50, of Machesney Park, who has taken classes and strung together part-time work since being laid off in 2005 from a kitchen and door hardware company.

Still, Baxter said the job fair tells her something about Cohen, who owns a Chicago pawn shop.

“It shows me that he cares,” she said after handing out resumes in her hunt for an office clerical job.

Cohen’s event at the Tebala Shrine Center was called a job fair, but it had all the makings of a campaign event. The line to get in was sometimes slowed because people were completing sign-in sheets that collected their contact information and asked whether they were interested in volunteering for Cohen’s campaign. His campaign signs were everywhere — inside and out — and Cohen spent time milling about, talking to people and doing media interviews.

Cohen’s campaign said more than 500 people came to the four-hour job fair, the fifth one Cohen has had since he began running for lieutenant governor. Cohen won the February primary but dropped out of the race after he was accused of holding a knife to his then-girlfriend’s throat, threatening his ex-wife, using steroids and failing to pay child support.

Cohen admitted the steroid use but said he hasn’t taken them in years. He denied ever threatening or harming anyone.

He launched a long-shot bid for governor as an independent candidate in May. Along with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, his competition includes the Green Party’s Rich Whitney and Libertarian Lex Green.

Cohen plans three more job fairs — one in Aurora and two in Chicago — before the Nov. 2 election.

He said any disappointment in the kind of employers who came to recruit is a reflection of the state’s tough economy, especially in the Rockford area, which had a 14.5 percent unemployment rate in August. That’s higher than the state’s unemployment rate of 10.1 percent.

“Rockford is lacking in opportunity, and I believe that as governor I am the person who is going to bring opportunity back to Rockford by bringing the businesses here,” Cohen said.

His campaign couldn’t say how many people have gotten jobs because of the fairs, which Cohen brags about in campaign ads. But it said it asked hundreds of companies in the Rockford area whether they were hiring and wanted to attend.

David Coupe, chief executive officer of Blue Heron Partners, a real estate investment, development, consulting and education company, was there looking for people to work in sales, marketing and business development.

Coupe said his company also took part in a job fair Cohen held in Chicago. He thought the company might have hired two people from that fair but he couldn’t immediately confirm that.

His goal at the job fairs was to talk to lots of candidates even though the majority of people weren’t qualified, he said. He said there was no inducement from Cohen’s campaign to be there except for a free lunch.

Shari Stoffel, an independent distributor for Premier Designs, was looking for people to do home-based jewelry shows. It was her first Cohen job fair. She wasn’t sure whether anyone she talked to would come onboard.

“I don’t know if it’ll happen today, but I’ve already talked to a couple ladies that I will be talking to more about the opportunity,” she said.

Amanda Musfelt had better luck, scoring an onsite interview with Kay Jewelers.

“They might have something for me,” she said. The 33-year-old stay-at-home mom already sells cosmetics in her spare time and has been looking for full-time work for a year.

She didn’t know much about Cohen but decided to come to the job fair after seeing a commercial for it.

“I need a full-time, real paycheck,” she said.

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