Human touch can only go so far for Pappas

`What's doin'?" asks Maria Pappas.

Not much. The young couple at the table are having coffee and cigs at the Blue Angel, a 24-hour restaurant on North Milwaukee Avenue near Northwest Highway. And now their flirty conversation has been interrupted by the Cook County treasurer.

Riyad, 23, and Ashley, 21, don't mind.

"Hey," says Riyad.

"Do you vote?" Pappas asks the couple, both of whom are wearing knit caps.

They nod. "Sure."

"Well, I'm running for the United States Senate," says Pappas. "The primary is March 16 and I'd really, really appreciate it if you'd vote for me, and if you'd tell your friends to vote for me."

Riyad sizes her up. "Just because you're doing this," he says, referring to the unhurried circuit she is making around the Chicago restaurant, "I will."

"This is me," Pappas says. "One-on-one. It's who I am."

"I'm going to read up on you first, though," Riyad teases her.

"Do that!" Pappas beams as she moves on to the next table. "Go to"

She loves this. She loves, loves, loves this--the greet, shake and smile of retail politics.

She does it nearly every evening now, she says, going to community and club events and dropping in unannounced at bowling alleys and restaurants, going person to person, selling Maria.

On this Thursday night I have listened to her speak at the Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce and Industry's annual banquet and (in Greek) at a fundraiser for Cook County Circuit Court judicial candidate Peggy Chiampas, and I am now tailing her around the Blue Angel.

Her political positions and legislative ideas have not come up. What does she stand for? Why, aside from the fact that she's so darn personable, should these people vote for her?

If Riyad goes to her Web site and clicks on "issues," he'll find just 189 words, total, on three topics: Economy, health care and education.

Compare this to the "issues" area of the Web sites of the Democrats with whom she is tied atop the recent Tribune poll: More than 9,000 words on 12 topics from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and close to 3,500 words on nine topics from state Comptroller Dan Hynes.

Pappas did not appear at two big debates this week--one in Carbondale, one in Evanston--and suburban cable-TV talk show host Jeff Berkowitz said Pappas' campaign staff recently refused to book her on his "Public Affairs" program because he would not agree to limit his questions to those concerning her duties as treasurer.

Pappas says the debates so far have been "wastes of time [conducted in front of] people who have already made up their minds," but she will appear at Wednesday's City Club of Chicago debate and any televised debates in the future. She doesn't know about the cable TV show, and she promises to post longer position papers on the Internet next week.

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