The stage was set. The microphone checks were completed. All that was needed at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Chatham on Saturday, April 23 were candidates running for Illinois Secretary of State and a highly coveted U.S. House seat to replace retiring Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois’ First Congressional District.
Residents began arriving before the 11 a.m. start time. Journalists from the Chicago Crusader, the Chicago Defender and the Chicago Citizen were waiting and ready with questions for the candidates.
The first group to go to the podium consisted of candidates for the hotly contested race for Illinois Secretary of State. Alderman David Moore (17th), City Clerk Ana Valencia and former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias seek to win the Democratic nomination in the June 28 Primary to replace retiring incumbent Jesse White.
As it turned out, Moore sat by himself. Valencia and Giannoulias never showed up.
But many residents did.
In what was the first of several political forums on the South Side for candidates seeking public office, about 100 people sat in the pews of St. Mark as journalists from Chicago’s Black Press grilled an overcrowded field of Democratic candidates for Congressman’s Rush seat.
Moderated by NBC5 Chicago journalist Art Norman, the forum was sponsored by the Chatham Avalon Park Community Council, Chesterfield Community Council, Park Manor Neighborhood Community Council, Reunite Chatham, West Chesterfield Community Association and Chatham Business Association.
One of the event’s organizers, Eli Washington, said Valenica and Giannoulias were both invited to participate in the forum.
“They decided not to address the Black community,” Washington told the Crusader in a text message.
Giannoulias did not respond to an email by Crusader press time for its print edition. The Crusader was unsuccessful in reaching Valencia.
The no shows gave Moore unlimited time as the audience applauded as he discussed his goals and vision for the Secretary of State position, which heads one of the largest departments in the state.
Moore said he planned to boost efficiency at all the state’s drivers license facilities. He also promised to boost the number of organ donors among Blacks. He also promised not to use the position to further his political ambitions, which has been a concern among past candidates.
“The Secretary of State’s seat must remain a servant’s seat. It cannot revert back to being a steppingstone to fulfill people’s political ambitions and resumes,” said Moore.
“I’m running for Secretary of State because it’s one of the few in state offices that touches every Illinois resident directly, regardless of political affiliation.”
In response to a question from a Crusader journalist, Moore said he plans to advocate in getting Chicago’s only four emission test sites reopened after Governor Bruce Rauner closed them in 2016 and privatized the remaining facilities in the outlying suburbs.
In recent months, Moore has crisscrossed the state securing a growing list of endorsements. Last week, the Auburn Gresham resident was endorsed by the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Political Organization (IVI-IPO). Moore has also received dozens of endorsements from Black clergy across the state.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not endorsed any candidate for Illinois Secretary of State.
There are 20 Democratic candidates running for the position, which represent a district that includes a large swath of Chicago’s Southwest side and runs through portions of Blue Island, Alsip, Tinley Park and rural parts of the state.
The predominately Black 1st Congressional district currently has the longest streak in the U.S. House of Representatives where it has been represented by a Black Congressman since Oscar De Priest was elected in 1929.
About 19 candidates participated in the forum, where residents along with Black journalists presented them with questions. Organizers said one candidate, Dr. Ameenas Matthews could not attend because she was out town at a conference that was scheduled before the forum was announced.
Because of the bloated field of candidates, organizers split the first candidates into two different time slots. The first group was the largest and most heated of the two.
Top contenders State Senator Jacqueline Collins, Jonathan Jackson, activist Jamal Cole and Jonathan Swain were in the first group and Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd) was part of the second group that included just six candidates.
Candidates spoke on issues ranging from student loans, and housing, to the U.S. Justice Department’s failure to bring charges against convicted murderer Jason Van Dyke after he fatally shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.