Illinois’ Top Elections to Watch

If you ask an average American who’s been tuned in to the news, they can agree that we are in full political overload.
There is a sense of anxiety that has many of us looking forward to Black Friday sales to alleviate the painstaking general election commentaries of both presidential candidates.
However, Illinois has some of the most highly watched campaigns, and our community’s vote rests on the hopes of high voter turnout to affect hopeful change.
The Chicago Defender Editorial Board has compiled key political races that will impact the African-American community in both county, state and federal legislation. Some of the key candidates met with our editorial staff to discuss their platform and how it will benefit key communities of color in the areas of health care, education, public safety, economic development, environment and transportation growth.
Our endorsement of the candidates is based on their history of interacting with our community, understanding of our concerns and issues, the diversity of their daily staff, education and health care initiatives, legislation that includes the building, investment and long-term equity standing that creates jobs within our communities.
One of the most controversial campaigns that rose to national attention is the Cook County state’s attorney office in which Democratic challenger Kim Foxx defeated incumbent Anita Alvarez in the primary race.

State’s Attorney for Cook County

Kim Foxx, D — Defender Endorsed
Perhaps the most dramatic shakeup in the election is Kim Foxx as candidate for state’s attorney for Cook County.  Young, smart progressive and experienced, she comes to the table with fresh ideas.  After the explosive release of the Laquan McDonald tape last November, the lack of trust in Anita Alvarez and with the reputation of the state’s attorney’s office in the sewer, the people weighed in at the polls. Kim Foxx emerged the Democratic Party candidate and faces off with Republican candidate Christopher Pfannkuche, a life-long prosecutor, teacher and public servant. Other than promising to restore trust of the people in the state’s attorney’s office and focusing on prosecuting the violent crimes, saving money by going paperless, he doesn’t have a lot more to say.
Foxx is forthcoming about her life experience growing up Black, female and poor in Chicago’s projects, and is adamant that her life experiences are in part why she’s the best candidate for the position. Most of the youth who enter the criminal justice system share more in common with her than they do her opponent, which she says gives her a certain insight into the pitfalls and cracks that so many fall into, landing them on the wrong side of life. She wants to use that insight, as well as her experience in the criminal justice system and to work diligently to improve the way we handle youth who are often victims of a system stacked against them.
Foxx says that as a state we have neglected large portions of the office that have a huge impact upon our community.
She says, “We talk a lot about 26th and California when we talk about the school-to-prison pipeline, the pipeline gushes out at 26th and California; where it starts is in our child protection division — children in foster care before we even get to the criminal justice system, and the state’s attorney’s office is a part of that, but we haven’t invested in it.”
So Foxx says that she wants “to focus on changing how we navigate our youth through the system, which will require a major overhaul including how we look at the real victims who then go on to victimize others.”
Reflecting, Foxx says, “The power of the state’s attorney’s office is huge — it reaches far and deeper than the criminal justice side. This is what most people don’t know.”
She wants the people to know and understand that it is the state’s attorney’s office that files allegations as to whether a kid enters foster care, whether the kid has been abused and neglected; who recommends whether you go home to a parent. “The gravity of what that office does is immense.” she says.  Foxx says that we must be accountable for the harm that is caused when we make wrong decisions on the front end, which inevitably show up on the back end. “We’ve seen that for instance regarding Laquan McDonald,” she adds.
McDonald entered DCFS as a foster care child, who had been sexually abused, with learning issues, unmet trauma issues and the system watched him crash and burn.  Foxx says that we focus on the death and not on his life. “And there is a role for the prosecutor’s office in there and what has happened is that we’ve kept our hands off,” she says.
“So one of the first things I would do differently is really put a focus and energy into revitalizing our juvenile justice bureau, and calling to attention the impact it has, particularly on communities of color. The juvenile detention center, 94 percent of the kids there are African-American and Latino, 80 percent are African-American —  8 out of 10 kids are African-American in that place.
“And we have to stop focusing all of our attention on once they become adults and oftentimes, almost irrevocably, broken and start working on prevention on the front end.”
What has come up again and again is the question of the unfair approach, or simply racist approach, to how the state’s attorney’s office has addressed cases.
Foxx says, “The way that it bears out . . . let’s just look at drugs. Everyone took drugs at the same rate, Blacks, whites, Latinos. You do not see Blacks and whites prosecuted for drugs in the same way.  That’s just real. People talk about the racial components of it like a paranoia theory when there is actually data. The problem is that the past state’s attorney did not believe in transparency. The way you get to dealing with institutional racism is by opening up the books and look at how the office treats everybody. Let’s just look at the books.”
Finally, Foxx says, “One of the things that has been lacking is a real open conversation about racism in the criminal justice system, whether than accepting that’s just the way it is . . . well, why is that?  We have to have that conversation. Once in office, that is exactly what I plan to do.
“Of course, all this would come after first assessing the entire office of the state’s attorney, examining closely what works and what doesn’t, identifying talent within the department and determining how to best assign them to enhance the advancement of the office to run more efficiently and successfully.”
*Christopher Pfannkuche’s office never returned our calls.

U.S. Senate, Illinois

Tammy Duckworth, D – Defender Endorsed
Democratic U.S. House member Tammy Duckworth represents the 8th Congressional District of Illinois and is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. She will face Republican incumbent Mark Kirk, Libertarian candidate Kenton McMillen, Green Party candidate Scott Summers, Constitution Party candidate Chad Koppie and Veterans Party of America candidate Chris Aguayo.
Duckworth — a U.S. Army veteran — has a platform focused on veteran advocacy, small business opportunity, infrastructure investment, and cutting government waste and fraud.
One of our biggest concerns was her lack of presence within the African-American community. As we near close to Nov. 8th, we understand this race is a crucial one for the Democratic Party to gain control of the U.S. Senate.
Just recently, President Obama was in Chicago making an appearance at a fundraiser in her honor — showing support for his former Veteran Affairs official.
Speaking with the Chicago Defender, Duckworth understands she has a great deal to learn outside of her North Suburb Congressional District when it comes to working with the African-American community.
“I’m very proud of my work with homeless veterans. In fact, I’ve been out there working with homeless veterans for a very long time. Some of the groups that have received grants. The fact is people talk about homeless veterans as if it’s the post-traumatic stress or the drug use that is making them homeless, when the number one predictor of veterans’ homelessness is job loss. You don’t have a job, you can’t pay the rent, you start couch surfing and then you end up on the streets. That’s when your medical care goes untreated.”
Her preparations in covering Criminal Justice Reform, Gun Violence, Law Enforcement and Community Relations as well as increasing assistance for Pell Grants were very thorough, and she spoke in detail to issues that serve our community.
Duckworth currently serves on the Armed Services Committee, including the Subcommittee on Readiness and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, including the Subcommittee on Information Technology and the Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, on which she is ranking member. She also serves on a select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi.
Mark Kirk, R-Incumbent
Mark Kirk is a Republican senator, running for re-election against Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth, Libertarian candidate Kenton McMillen, Green Party candidate Scott Summers, Constitution Party candidate Chad Koppie and Veterans Party of America candidate Chris Aguayo.
There are several Senate seats being challenged in November, and the Democratic Party must win four to regain majority control if Hillary Clinton is elected. Illinois is one of the six states that are on the line to regain control by the Dems and maintain control by the Republicans. But within the Republican Party, the wildcard presidential nominee and the outspoken Illinois senator are not on the same team.
Kirk was elected to the House in 2000, serving until 2010 when he won a special election to finish Sen. Barack Obama’s term plus a six-year term.
In the past, his opposition and criticism of Obama has raised eyebrows within the Black community as he’s gone on record calling him a “drug lord” and joining other Republicans on standstill legislation.
Kirk’s current platform surrounds reducing gun violence in Chicago, providing entrepreneurial opportunities, health, and implementing year-round schools.
“I have real solutions and not your standard guy. I’m also combating violence that is effective, not like average Republicans. With the vacant lot proposal, that would really wake up the real estate community like in Englewood.”
Kirk joined New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2015 to author a bipartisan bill that would make gun trafficking a federal crime and provide tools to law enforcement to get illegal guns off the streets.
Since suffering from a stroke in 2012, Kirk has had a challenging road to recovery, but his recent campaign schedule has the junior senator meeting with more African-American community organizations. Kirk has voted to expand programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicare, but is a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act and co-sponsored a number of bills to change it, such as delaying several of the bill’s mandates and applications.
“I haven’t liked Obamacare. I voted against it when I was a congressman. My job was to offer a better alternative. When we voted on it, I wrote an alternative. The key alternative to make sure we fixed several things in health care. I never lost sight on lowering the costs of health care for Americans. If you put in several key reforms, you can lower the costs for health care for Americans.”
He currently serves on the Special Committee on Aging; the Committee on Appropriations; the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, D-2nd District – Defender Endorsed
Congresswoman Robin Kelly
U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly represents Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District and has focused on economic development and public safety since her election in 2013.
As a junior congressional representative, she has moved in a quicksilver pace, bringing key initiatives to the forefront — public safety, health care and economic development.
Having a district that covers the Cook County’s south suburbs to more rural areas in Kankakee County with one of the state’s largest agricultural regions, economic development is a necessity.
“We have to invest in underserved communities. When I say underserved, I don’t just mean poor communities. I feel in the south suburbs, we’re underserved because of who people think live there. They put us all under one umbrella. In the south suburbs, we don’t have the Macy’s, the Nordstrom’s, etc. Not just retail, where are the tech companies? I feel like it’s all connected and we need to do a better job in investing in underserved communities.”
Kelly recently sponsored the Urban Progress Act of 2016 to expand economic opportunities, improve community policing and promote common-sense gun violence prevention in underserved communities and co-sponsored the Making College More Affordable Act to create an income-contingent repayment program for Federal Interest Free Education Loans for undergraduate students.
Prior to her work as a U.S. representative, Kelly worked as community relations director in the Village of Matteson before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where she sponsored bills to support economic development, increasing the minimum wage and protecting consumers from fraud. She then served as chief of staff of the Illinois state treasurer’s office and chief administrative officer of Cook County.
Kelly currently serves on a number of key committees such as Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. Recently, she became co-chair of the Caucus on Black Women and Girls, which she created with representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Yvette D. Clarke of New York.
Her mission is to open up opportunities to young students, preparing them for various jobs in tech, engineering and solar energy.
“We started the STEM Academy to wet the whistle of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. To show them doctors and lawyers — there’s a whole world out there. It’s possible for them to do this. We’ve had people come in to do coding and the last thing we hosted, they spoke with astronauts from the International Space Center. We’ve also exposed them to different energies like solar and wind.”
As Kelly faces Republican candidate John Morrow for a 2016 re-election, Kelly’s platform focuses on low-income housing, gun control, small businesses, protecting seniors, and supporting the needs of middle-class families.
Congressman Bobby L. Rush, D-1st District – Defender Endorsed
Congressman Bobby L. Rush represents the 1st District of Illinois and has served over two decades, winning consecutive re-election since he was first elected in 1992. He will face Republican candidate August Deuser and write-in Tabitha Carson in the 2016 general election.
Rush’s platform focuses on issues important to low- and middle-income families and communities such as job opportunity, access to health care and fair financial practices. He introduced the Trauma Relief Access for Urgent Medical Assistance of 2014 bill to provide grants for emergency care response, trauma centers and trauma-related specialties, and the expansion of emergency care for children.
Rush currently serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee as well as the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Subcommittee on Energy and Power, on which he is ranking member.
One of his top priorities in this area is to increase opportunities for minorities in the energy industry and has introduced the 21st Century Energy Workforce Development Jobs Initiative Act of 2014 — a program to improve the education and training of workers for energy-related jobs, with an emphasis on increasing the number of skilled minorities and women in this field.
Congressman Danny K. Davis, D-7TH District – Defender Endorsed
Congressman Danny K. Davis has served the 7th Congressional District of Illinois since his 1996 election and will face Republican candidate Jeffrey Leef in the 2016 general election.
The former Chicago alderman worked as an educator, community organizer, health planner and administrator, and civil rights advocate before entering public office. He then served on the Chicago City Council as alderman of the 29th Ward for 11 years before being elected in 1990 to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, where he stayed for two terms.
Davis’ platform focuses on job creation, poverty, health care, education, youth and criminal justice reform. His Second Chance Act of 2007 helped provide expanded services to offenders and their families for re-entry into society. He recently sponsored the Protecting Foster Youth Resources to Promote Self-Sufficiency Act — a bill to help to ensure that foster children’s Social Security benefits are being used for them — as well as the Education Stability for Foster Youth Act to require a state plan for academic content and achievement standards for children in foster care.
Davis currently serves on the Ways and Means Committee, including the Subcommittee on Health, Subcommittee on Human Resources, and Subcommittee on Oversight. In past terms, he has also served on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Homeland Security.

State Comptroller Race

The Illinois State Comptroller race has become a high-profile campaign with the state’s budget going the longest in history without approval by the General Assembly.
Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger — Defender Endorsed
North Shore resident and Republican incumbent Leslie Munger is defending her office in this year’s Illinois State Comptroller general election. After being appointed in 2015 by Gov. Bruce Rauner to replace the late Judy Baar Topinka, the Republican candidate is running for the office.
Munger holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and worked as a corporate executive before venturing into politics. She says that her experience as brand management business executive with Helene Curtis/Unilever; assistant brand manager for Orange Crush for Procter & Gamble; and administrator of consulting, staff recruiting and training for McKinsey & Company Inc. has helped her apply business efficiency principles to her role as comptroller. In her office alone, she has cut her budget by 10 percent, amounting to a $1 million savings.
Munger’s platform is built on “putting taxpayers first and ensuring that Illinois keeps its promises” and is focused on reducing what she sees as reckless spending and prioritizing payments for nonprofits and social services.
She has come under harsh backlash from Gov. Rauner’s standoff with House Dems, as human service agencies and other organizations aren’t getting check payments.
The North Shore resident has had the hard task of going through the $8.5 billion-dollar pile of bills owed by the state— built from decades of bureaucratic mishandling. With the assistance of her staff, she rolled up her sleeves and traveled throughout the state and the communities most affected by services being cut to begin the dialogue.
“That makes the job of the comptroller important. I have to try to have some power to decide who gets paid. I really tried very hard to be very transparent on how we make the payments. We pay bills, on a first in, first out basis because people who’ve been waiting a long time deserve to be paid,” she said. “We pay interest on bills that are in the state for more than 90 days. It’s better for taxpayers that we pay them promptly. However, we also have a lot of organizations that we owe money to that can’t wait for their place in line to come up.”
In April, she announced that pay to Illinois elected officials would be delayed and that lawmakers would have to “wait in line” for their checks just as organizations and small businesses throughout the state have to do the same.
Munger took this action a step further when she proposed a “No Budget, No Pay” legislation in August to further encourage Illinois lawmakers to pass an annual budget. The bill would require lawmakers to pass a balanced budget before the state pays their salary, affecting both the state’s constitutional officers and members of the General Assembly.
Her stance has been straightforward on outlining the numbers on where money has been spent and the cause of why areas of needs such as education, human service and health care are suffering in Illinois.
“Pensions ought to cost our state about $2 billion annually for contributions from the state into the pension funds. This year, they’re going to cost $8.5 billion, next year, $10 billion. We bring in $32 billion of revenue into the state. Currently over a quarter of our state’s budget is going into the pension funds,” Munger explain.  “Next year, it’ll be close to a third. If you’re spending that much in that area, it’s hard to have money to pay for education, public safety, human services — all the other things you want the state to fund. That has been going on for years for promising benefits that were never paid for — 3 percent of compounded costs in allowances.”
Susana Mendoza, D-Challenger
Susana Mendoza is the Democratic nominee for Illinois state comptroller, running against governor appointee and former advertising executive Leslie Munger. Mendoza was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 2001 to 2011, and was elected as Chicago city clerk in 2011 — becoming the first woman to hold that office.
“It was never my thought when I was in those lines to run for city clerk. It has been a better way to do this? When I had the opportunity to run for the position, it was a first time that it would be determined by the voters. Many prior decades the last two clerks had been appointed by the mayor. Two out of the last three had gone to jail. It has been in lock step with the mayor. It was a ‘do what I need you to do position.’”
Mendoza’s platform for comptroller is to become an “independent, truth-telling fiscal watchdog” for the state, create a transparent office, and use technology to have the most up-to-date practices and processes.
Her staunchest critics have concerns that Mendoza’s dual collection of taxpaying pensions for both the state and the city is raising eyebrows during one of the most financially challenging times — state, county and city wide.
Mendoza implemented the new technology as city clerk to improve the office’s efficiency. She overhauled the city’s vehicle sticker sales program by implementing a year-round system modeled after the Illinois secretary of state’s license plate renewal program. The streamlined process generated over $50 million in new revenue.
Although it has brought in some of the highest revenue streams for the city, the collaboration with the Illinois secretary of state has put more pressure on Chicago residents to come up with money to pay on red light and parking tickets, threatening driver’s license privileges.
She said the move was about compliance of the law. “I had to make my case with the city council to invest in the technology that moves us from that seasonal June sales period to a year-round system, partnering with the secretary of state’s office to learn what they did to get around. To get data collection from them on where all of the vehicles were so that we can go after people that weren’t compliant with the law.”
As a legislator, Mendoza served a total of six terms and was appointed chairman of the Illinois International Trade and Commerce Committee. She supported bills such as the Illinois School Breakfast Program to provide free breakfast to schools, and she also supported more controversial legislation.
She co-sponsored a bill that doubles the number of charter schools allowed and permits for-profit or not-for-profit organizations to run schools as well as a bill that provides vouchers from students at low-performing public schools to attend nonpublic schools.
Mendoza is considered a Madigan ally and one who is rarely seen in the African American community — until now. But she believes she has every group’s welfare in mind and will not be a puppet on either side of the aisle.
“I don’t believe our comptroller today is an independent, fiscal watchdog. It’s more like Comptroller Rauner, not Comptroller Munger. I don’t believe that she’s prioritizing people like I would prioritize them. When she had to wait to be threatened with contempt of court before releasing payments to the most vulnerable like disabled seniors and children. That, I found, is one of the motivating reasons why I wanted to run against her.”

State Representative

Juliana Stratton, D-5TH District (Unopposed)
As we move into the general election, one state district had tails wagging throughout the primaries — the Illinois State Representative seat in the 5th District. A race that became one of the most expensive campaigns with each candidate garnishing support from various unions and political super PACs.
The victor—attorney and Bronzeville resident Juliana Stratton.
Stratton is the Democratic running unopposed in the Illinois House of Representatives District 5 general election, after defeating incumbent Ken Dunkin in the Democratic primary.
Stratton is a proponent of equal opportunity, access to justice, and improved community resources, bringing over 20 years of experience in dispute resolution and systems reform to her prospective role. Currently working as director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Stratton works to introduce both sworn and civilian law enforcement supervisors to the philosophy of procedural justice.
Previously, she served as administrative law judge at City of Chicago Office of Administrative Hearings, deputy hearing commissioner at the City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection, executive director at the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, and executive director at the Cook County Justice for Children.
“I think it’s important that I’ve always been committed to public service. This wasn’t a lightbulb moment. I saw this an extension to what I’ve already done.”
She is also president of JDS Mediation Services Inc.,  a consulting group that provides mediation, training on constructive conflict, and consulting on collaboration and strategic partnerships. Currently Stratton serves as the director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice.
“I had the support of Democrats around the city and state. President Preckwinkle, I was grateful to have her support, Secretary of State Jesse White was a huge supporter, Sen. Dick Durbin was one of the ones that stepped up very early. I had the support of aldermen in the district. It was broad based and I was grateful of their support.”
President Barack Obama endorsed Stratton, saying that she “will bring a new voice to Springfield as state representative.”
“What I tell them, my job as a state representative is focus on the representative part of that title, and that is to represent what their best interests are. I’m not naive to the fact that is room for negotiation, there always is if we’re going to solve problems, there’s room for compromise if we’re going to solve problems. As a legislator, I think the role is to work with people on both sides of the aisle to figure what’s best for the people that I’m elected to represent.”

Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County

Dorothy Brown-D — Defender Endorsed
This election cycle has been a whirlwind of speculations, allegations and unprecedented moves made by the Democratic Party, which pulled its support of one of its strongest officials. Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown is celebrating her fourth primary election win this year as she moves toward Nov. 8 –- hoping to move toward another four years of serving Cook County residents.
She faces off with Republican candidate Diane Shapiro, who ran unopposed in the primaries.
The pressure of a federal investigation, lack of party support and a proposal presented by some Cook County Board of Commissioners to eliminate the elected role of the Circuit Court clerk to consolidate into an appointed position have drawn additional tension and raised questions of hidden agendas.
Brown has experience and an impressive resume as an attorney, and is a certified public accountant. She holds a master’s degree in business administration. She served as the general auditor for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for nine years. Soon after, in 2000 she was elected to the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court office, where Brown oversees a workforce of 2,100 county employees.
Under her administration, some her highlights have included upgrading the filing system to include E-filing, introduced credit card payment system for bail bonds, raised awareness of $16 million in unclaimed mortgage foreclosure surplus funds for homeowners and implemented an online ‘Protection of Order’ E-form for victims of domestic violence.
One of her most recognizable achievements is her annual Second Chance Adult & Juvenile Expungement Summit and Ex-Offender Job Information Seminar, which have grown to attract thousands of attendees, assisting second-chance adults and young individuals with adequate legal resources on-site to begin the process of clearing their criminal records over time.
The Louisiana native’s relentless work ethic and discipline have earned her the respect of many constituents with and without the visible support of the Democratic Party. Her campaign theme wraps it — “Unbought and Unbossed.”


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