By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Former State Representative Kenneth Dunkin on Monday, January 29, went off at a political forum at Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church in Bronzeville where he slammed opponent Dilara Sayeed after she suggested he find another job.
The heated exchange took center stage as Dunkin faces a tough comeback bid against candidates who portray him as a sellout in Springfield. It’s a heated race where four candidates seek to fill the 5th Illinois District seat vacated by State Rep. Juliana Stratton, who is running as lieutenant governor alongside Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay “JB” Pritzker.
With his years of experience, Dunkin believes he is the most qualified candidate, but his opponents believe Dunkin can no longer be trusted to represent the district’s constituents.
Dunkin lost to Stratton in 2016 in a high-stakes proxy war between Majority Leader Rep. Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Dunkin angered Madigan and Democrats were absent and failed to vote on a childcare assistance bill that Rauner was against. The bill failed by one vote, leaving thousands of single, low-income mothers without childcare assistance.
The move triggered a wave of anger in the Black community where Stratton ousted Dunkin in a lopsided victory, ending the veteran politician’s political career. Two years after the crushing defeat, Dunkin seeks to reclaim the job that he held for 13 years.
During the forum, Sayeed—a Muslim American and former CEO of a non-profit organization— set Dunkin off after looking at her opponent and telling him that he needs to find another job. As she stood making her speech, Dunkin remained seated while looking out into the audience instead of at Sayeed.
“Sir, you had this job and you lost the election,” Sayeed said. “And, we need you to go get another job because we need to give opportunities to fresh voices and fresh faces in Springfield; those who haven’t taken money from Rauner and those who have taken money from Madigan. What we need to do is make sure we have an opportunity in 2018 with 20 open seats at the state level; to fill those seats with people who have not been bought and are not bossed.”
It was time for the rebuttal. Dunkin sprang from his seat, looked at his opponent and gave her a tongue lashing, and at times, waved his finger as he aimed to put Sayeed in her place.
“First of all ma’am, you live on the 59th floor of a multimillion-dollar condominium. You just came from Naperville two or three years ago. What community were you active in? It wasn’t ours. Don’t come in here running games and trying to throw stones,” Dunkin said as the audience cheered. “No one knows you. You can buy whoever you need to buy, but you can’t buy the truth.”
Dunkin reaffirmed his decision to not play “plantation politics” in Springfield. His stance failed to convince Madigan and Black leaders that he was what was best for the Democratic Party.
In an unusual move, former President Barack Obama endorsed Stratton in her successful bid to oust Dunkin. It was the most expensive House race in Illinois history where Madigan backed Stratton, and the pro-Rauner group—the conservative group Illinois Opportunity Project—poured $1.3 million into Dunkin’s campaign. In the end, Stratton won 68 percent of the vote to Dunkin’s 32 percent.
Currently, Dunkin leads the political contributions race according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. With less than two months before the Democratic primary, Dunkin has raised over $172, 000 in contributions. Sayeed is second with $111,720. Among the two other candidates—Lamont Robinson is third with $62,200 and Felicia Bullock remains a distant fourth with just $1,070.
At the forum, Dunkin remained defiant to say what he did was the right thing to do.
“The reason why I was challenged and that there was so much money spent is that I came off of that plantation, and I’m going to stay off that plantation with my seniority and my knowledge of what’s going on and my love for this community,” Dunkin said.
Tensions at the forum were already simmering as candidates expressed disappointment that Stratton, a rising political newcomer, stayed in the role for less than a year before joining the Pritzker campaign.
“We need to fill those seats with public servants. As I told you, I never thought I would run for office. I’m an educator, a teacher, a public servant, a community activist. I’ve taken this role because we need to get the job done in Springfield. I will be in this role for as long as the job needs for us to get it together,” said Sayeed.
In addition to Dunkin and Sayeed, Robinson and Bullock also participated in the forum.
Robinson, a businessman, made an indirect jab at Dunkin when he said, “If you walk in Washington Park, Woodlawn and South Shore, you would know that our community is ravaged. We should be out there. I’m asking for your support to send me to Springfield. I have a check from my clients. But I’m not going to take a check from other folks that I’m going to sell out my community. It’s not going to happen.”