HYDE PARK — As the Bears battled the Eagles late Sunday afternoon, a crowd of concerned citizens and jubilant supporters gathered at Toni Preckwinkle’s 4th Ward committee office as political neophyte Robert Peters was swiftly sworn in as the new 13th District State Senator, filling the seat left vacant by Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul.
Peters, a political consultant who worked for both Preckwinkle and fellow committee member Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), was one of four candidates who tossed their hat in the ring for the position. Other hopefuls included former Raoul aide Adrienne Irmer; Pastor Flynn Rush, son of current U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.); and investment banker Kenneth Sawyer, all of whom previously ran for local offices.
After a brief but gracious acceptance speech, the new state senator quickly left the building as several people in attendance expressed disappointment over the “clandestine” process.
“The fix was in,” Flynn Rush said as he exited the meeting with his wife. Rush told Block Club Chicago that he’d only learned of Sunday’s meeting while attending the funeral of political consultant Brian Sleet. He said he reached out to Preckwinkle several times to get his name in the mix but never received a response.
“A person from Hairston’s office gave me the information I needed to add my name to the list,” he said.
Hours earlier, a small group of 13th District residents gathered outside of Preckwinkle’s ward office as committee members filed in to protest the “backroom deal” to fill the Raoul vacancy.
“We knew Raoul would be leaving the seat, and conversations started late last winter/spring about the replacement process,” said 13th District resident and 5th Ward aldermanic candidate Gabriel Piemonte. “The residents didn’t want a secret meeting. We didn’t want this to be an appointed process, and we’re concerned that Preckwinkle’s making a decision behind closed doors with other ward committee members in classic ward boss fashion. Why schedule something this important an hour before the Bears playoffs?”
Piemonte and other residents are calling for a special election instead.
“We want to see business done differently, not just here but across the city,” he said.
Resident Hannah Hayes, previously represented by Raoul, said she attempted to reach out to Preckwinkle’s office multiple times about a more transparent replacement process but was ignored.
“I feel like my vote last November doesn’t count,” said Hayes, adding that several public servants she voted for were eventually replaced by political appointees. Upon witnessing Peters’ appointment, she said she wasn’t surprised.
“I feel very disenfranchised. I understand that this is a law, but for weeks I’d been asking who the candidates were. I went to the 4th Ward committee website looking for contact information, which led me to Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral campaign website. I even went on Twitter and directed a tweet asking how to reach ward committeemen. No response. How can you call this a democratic process?” she asked.
Jacob Kaplan, Cook County Democratic Party Executive Director, said he understands the concerns but maintains that everything was done according to law.
“It’s in the state constitution that if there is ever a vacancy in the office of state representative or senator it has to be filled by an appointment made by the elected democratic people of the district,” Kaplan said. “These are the democratic committee people that are also elected by the voters. If people believe there should be a special election, the constitution can be changed, but as of now this is how the process is.”
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