By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The story begins on a Fall Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field in 2017 where many political candidates seeking the Black vote scoped out the movers and shakers attending the Chicago Football Classic, an annual Black Chicago tradition. One candidate was a fresh faced political rookie seeking to sweep out corruption in Springfield. Her name is Dilara Sayeed, a college professor who stopped by the Chicago Defender suite to introduce herself as she prepared to run for a seat that made Juliana Stratton a household name before she bolted to run as lieutenant governor alongside gubernatorial candidate Jay “JB” Pritzker.
It would be the first of many interactions with the Black community for Sayeed, a professional and well-spoken candidate who has bagged major endorsements from the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times. In a predominately Black district where the Black vote is needed to win for the upcoming March 20 primary, Sayeed has attended many Black community events, seeking to boost her profile and defeat three opponents, including Ken Dunkin who held the seat for 14 years before he lost to Stratton in 2016. From community events to political events, Sayeed ran a campaign on integrity and transparency, hoping to connect to disillusioned Black voters in district 5.
TIMELINE OF DILARA SAYEED’S $10,000 PAYMENT
NOVEMBER 22, 2017
STATE CAMPAIGN RECORDS show that political candidate Dilara Sayeed paid Managing Editor Mary Datcher $10,000.
NOVEMBER 23, 2017
THE NEXT DAY, the Chicago Defender hit the stores with the story on political candidate Dilara Sayeed on page 6.
NOVEMBER 23, 2017
THE SAME DAY, the Chicago Defender hit the stores, Managing Editor Mary Datcher posted the story on political candidate Dilara Sayeed on the Chicago Defender’s website.
NOVEMBER 23, 2017
THE STORY WAS written by Freelance Reporter Lee Edwards, whom sources say knew nothing about Sayeed’s $10,000 payment to Managing Editor Mary Datcher.
NOVEMBER 24, 2017
But the Crusader has learned that Sayeed paid an editor at the Chicago Defender $10,000 one day before the iconic Black newspaper published a positive article on Sayeed that did not mention any of her Black opponents. The same story was posted on the Defender’s website.
With the Democratic Primary weeks away, the Crusader learned of the payment while researching state records for a story on campaign contributions to political candidates.
The Crusader had one brief conversation with Sayeed about the donation, but her office stopped responding to the newspaper as a Crusader reporter learned that the payment was part of a two-month contract that Defender Publisher Frances Jackson and most of the editorial staff did not know anything about until the Crusader asked them about it. With the newspaper’s reputation at stake, the Defender fired the journalist and issued a statement in this week’s print and digital editions.
“Late last week, the Chicago Defender became aware of a potential employee matter regarding our managing editor’s outside business and client relationships. After a few days of due diligence, our investigation found that there was no evidence of wrong doing on behalf of The Chicago Defender, however, we determined that it was necessary to take action and terminate the employee for violation of company policy and procedures.”
For Sayeed, the situation left an embarrassing paper trail and raised serious questions about Sayeed’s credibility as she steps up her campaign to win the Black vote. She’s now avoiding the Crusader as more questions emerge about her involvement in the Defender’s editorial practices. In light of the revelations, the Crusader publisher is calling for Sayeed to withdraw from the race, and questions remain whether the Tribune and Sun Times will withdraw their endorsements of Sayeed’s campaign.
“Sayeed needs to withdraw from the race,” said Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell, who is also chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). “This story is about a political candidate who needs to show the Black community that she truly represents integrity and transparency. She owes the Defender an apology for not fully disclosing her payment and putting this iconic publication at risk.”
Money is flowing in the race for the Illinois House District 5 seat. From the looks of it, the seat is producing another high stakes race that has drawn fat political donations from private citizens, unions and interest groups. Out of 177 House and Senate seats up for re-election this year, the race to become the next State Representative for District 5 is the fourth most expensive race in the Illinois Legislature with some $882,206.93 raised so far according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
It’s a far cry from the $5.2 million that was raised two years ago when Stratton, a political rookie, took down veteran Ken Dunkin in the most expensive race in the history of the Illinois General Assembly. Now the running mate for gubernatorial candidate Jay “JB” Pritzker, Stratton vacated the seat as a rising political star in Chicago and Springfield. Of four candidates seeking to fill her seat, three have a shot at becoming Stratton’s successor.
According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Sayeed, with $144,220, backed by affluent doctors and professionals in the northern part of the district, trails in third place. Dunkin, with $176,783.19 left over in his campaign war chest remains in second place. Another candidate, businessman Lamont Robinson is far out front with $560,133.74, which includes a $55,000 donation from Attorney Arthur Turner II and $25,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union. Felicia Bullock is fourth with $1,060.
In terms of endorsements and political momentum, Sayeed remains a top contender. In addition to endorsements from the Tribune and Sun Times, Alderman Rod Sawyer and Congressman Bobby Rush have endorsed her. On her Facebook page, there are many photos of Sayeed attending events in the Black community. There is also a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One photo includes Sayeed and the Reverend Jesse Jackson during an event at Rainbow PUSH that honored the late civil rights leader. There are also photos of Sayeed with Secretary of State Jesse White and Pastor T.L. Barrett from The Life Center C.O.G.I.C church. She posted a photo from the Defender’s annual Men of Excellence event held March 2 at the Hyatt Hotel on Wacker Drive.
Sayeed is the former CEO of the Golden Apple Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to inspire, develop and support teacher and school leader excellence in Illinois, especially in schools-of-need. A graduate of Hitch Elementary School on the north side, and a Catholic high school, Sayeed holds advanced degrees from Northwestern and Harvard universities. Sayeed’s platform is built on providing education, careers and public safety as a candidate for District 5.
The Black vote is critical in this election year, but it’s especially important in the 5th district. One of the most racially and economically diverse districts in Illinois, nearly 59 percent of 107,000 residents in District 5 are Black according to the Illinois Statistical Atlas. About 31 percent of residents are white, nearly 8 percent are Asian and more than 4 percent Hispanic.
The 5th district runs as far south as South Shore, and as far north as the Gold Coast, where many residents earn six figure incomes. In addition to South Shore and the Gold Coast, District 5 includes Woodlawn, Englewood, Greater Grand Crossing, Park Manor, Washington Park, Bronze- ville, the South Loop, the Loop and River North. For the past several months, Sayeed has campaigned heavily in the predominately Black neighborhoods. At a forum in Bronzeville in February, Sayeed told Dunkin to get another job and that Springfield needed fresh leadership that cannot be bossed or bought. Now, Sayeed is under the microscope and the Defender is scrambling to find a managing editor.
According to Illinois Sunshine, which provides information from the Illinois State Board of Elections, on November 22, 2017, Sayeed made a $10,0000 payment to Mary L. Datcher, then senior writer and arts and entertainment editor for the Defender. The amount was the second highest expenditure from Sayeed’s campaign, state records show. The day after giving Datcher $10,000, the Defender published at the top of page 6 a story written by Lee Edwards, a freelance journalist with the Defender. Titled “Is Illinois’ 5th District Ready for Dilara Sayeed,” the article mentioned how a dinner with former President Barack Obama ignited Sayeed’s “fire for politics.” The article did not mention any of the other candidates and at the end of the story, directed readers to Sayeed’s website. On November 23, Datcher posted the story on the Defender’s website with a document confirming the post with Datcher’s headshot and the story’s headline.
The day after the story was posted, on November 24, Sayeed tweeted “Chicago Defender – a key newspaper in Chicago – article on our campaign…” Sayeed also posted the story on her Facebook page and website, which also included several newspaper articles about her, including one from the Crusader.
In a brief conversation with the Crusader, Sayeed denied paying $10,000 to Datcher to print a positive story about her.
“It was not for any news story,” Sayeed said. “Mary Datcher has a visibility organization. We worked with her visibility organization for my campaign. Integrity is part of who I am.”
Sayeed said the money was part of a two-month agreement she struck with Datcher’s visibility organization. Sayeed said that organization included a team of members who Sayeed said passed out flyers about her campaign. When asked if she disclosed the $10,000 payment and agreement to the Defender publisher, Sayeed said, “I don’t think I know why I had to. I hope you get the right facts.”
Sayeed said the two-month contract ran from December 2017 to January 2018. She said she spoke to Jackson at the Chicago Football Classic last September, where the Defender had a large corporate suite filled with prominent officials and visitors. Sayeed told the Crusader that she told Jackson she was running for the 5th district and welcomed any press coverage on her campaign.
The Crusader had more questions for Sayeed and tried to obtain a copy of the two-month contract, but Sayeed never responded to many emails requesting this document.
The Crusader confirmed that Datcher was fired on Tuesday, March 6. In this week’s print edition of the Defender, Datcher’s name was no longer included in the newspaper’s staff box on page 2. Ironically, Datcher’s story on Sayeed’s opponent, Lamont Robinson, ran on the bottom of page 5.
Datcher released the following statement to the Crusader.
“The Dilara Sayeed campaign retained my services outside and separate from my duties as managing editor at the Chicago Defender to provide field marketing work for two months. Since 1992, my company has worked with various clients from the entertainment, non-profit and political community. I stand firmly on my reputation and creditability [sic] in this business for nearly 30 years. Three years ago when I joined the newspaper it was discussed and understood by then senior management I would continue my marketing company as I performed to the highest standard of integrity, maintaining quality for the publication – creating valuable and meaningful content.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that began as the senior staff writer and eventually performing the duties of managing editor but I am also proud of the work I’ve done which has served many people and organizations in our community.”
And while Sayeed said that Edwards initiated the interview for the story, the Crusader confirmed that Edwards received a forwarded email from Datcher that initially came from Bryce Colquitt, a communications consultant with the Paladin Communications Group in Chicago. State elections records show that Sayeed paid $4,500 to Colquitt on October 3, 2017 for “media consulting.” The Crusader spoke to Colquitt who confirmed that he worked with Sayeed, and said he no longer works for her. He declined to verify whether he sent the email to Datcher requesting a story be written on Sayeed, his client.
Hours before the Crusader went to press, Ty Cratic, whose political fundraising and campaign-consulting firm Cratic & Shaffer, is working with Sayeed, said his client did nothing wrong and “anything to suggest that is inappropriate.”
When the Crusader requested a copy of the two month-contract, Cratic declined. As far as the Tribune and Sun Times endorsements, Cratic said, “I believe that’s a question for the Tribune and Sun Times. They endorsed Dilara based on her knowledge of the issues in the campaign.”
(Full disclosure: this reporter worked for the Chicago Defender as a freelance journalist for three months in 2016. During that time this journalist signed a contract that outlined the company’s policies on disclosing outside business interests that involved subjects in news stories. The Crusader was unable to reach the Defender’s previous publisher, Cheryl Mainor, who hired Datcher three years ago, to establish that Datcher was advised of the company’s policy.)
In addition to Sayeed, state records also show that Datcher took a total of $4,013 from Attorney William H. Laws in two payments. Laws is seeking election to the bench this year. In this week’s print edition of the Defender, a story about Laws is at the top of page two in the newspaper special pullout on judicial candidates.