AFL-CIO stays neutral in Illinois secretary of state’s race, months after affiliated workers backed Giannoulias

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SPRINGFIELD — The umbrella organization of organized labor in Illinois has decided to not make an endorsement for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, despite more than half of its nearly 900,000 workers who’ve already pledged their support for Alexi Giannoulias.

The lack of an endorsement by the Illinois AFL-CIO signals good news for Giannoulias’ two major opponents in the Democratic primary on June 28, especially his main rival, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, who has faced questions about whether her husband’s lobbying activities have interfered with her role in public office.

Giannoulias is one of four Democrats vying for the nomination to replace Jesse White, who has been secretary of state since 1999. With more than $4.4 million in his campaign through March, Giannoulias has maintained a huge campaign cash advantage over Valencia and his other major Democratic opponent, Chicago Ald. David Moore, 17th. Sidney Moore of Homewood is also on the ballot.

Tim Drea, the president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said Thursday that “the candidates had support from affiliates on both sides,” but none could get the two-thirds support necessary for an endorsement from the umbrella organization.

Drea said the organization also made no endorsement in three hotly contested Congressional races: The 3rd District, a newly drawn Latino-leaning district that covers the city’s Northwest Side and western suburbs and features Democrats Delia Ramirez, a state representative from Chicago, and Chicago Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th; the 6th District in the western suburbs where two-term U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, a Democrat from Downers Grove, is facing off against first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Marie Newman of LaGrange; and a crowded race in the 1st District to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is recognized Feb. 23, 2022, during a Chicago City Council meeting. Four Democrats are vying for the nomination to replace White, who has been secretary of state since 1999. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

By the end of last year, Giannoulias had already secured an array of key union endorsements, including several labor groups affiliated with the Illinois AFL-CIO that amass more than half a million of the organization’s nearly 900,000 workers. But an endorsement from the umbrella organization itself could go a long way for any of the candidates going into the November general election because labor unions generally favor Democrats.

In a statement, the Giannoulias campaign said it was still optimistic about the race despite not receiving the support from the organization.

“Alexi is leading the race when it comes to endorsements from organized labor with announced support from a broad-based coalition of unions that represent more than 600,000 Illinoisans statewide,” a campaign spokesperson said in the statement Thursday. “Alexi has proven himself as tireless fighter who has a record of protecting and supporting working families.”

Moore, the Chicago alderman, said in a statement that he appreciated the AFL-CIO “rejecting the rush to anoint anyone in this race as the front runner.”

“The Illinois Secretary of State’s race is still very competitive and while money and endorsements are important, voters will have the final say,” Moore said.

Valencia, whose campaign declined to comment on AFL-CIO decision, has secured endorsements from many major state Democrats, including White himself, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin. Valencia ran Durbin’s 2014 reelection campaign. She’s also secured some union support, including from the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois and the Illinois Nurses Association, among others.

But Valencia also has become marred in controversy lately over questions about whether her husband, Reyahd Kazmi, has used his lobbying practice to profit off connections to Valencia’s role as city clerk.

Various news reports have documented several instances over the last four years that suggest Kazmi may have benefited financially from that connection, including when Valencia promoted two companies for a city-sponsored event in 2018 that were also clients of Kazmi. While Valencia entered into a nonpaid “partnership” with these clients for a healthy-food program for Chicago’s youth, the news reports said the companies have paid Kazmi $52,000 for lobbying work.

In another instance, Kazmi’s business partner sought Valencia’s help to expand his business into New Orleans before she set up meetings with city officials there, according to the news reports. Kazmi’s partner won a contract with that city and competitors then accused New Orleans officials of contract rigging, the news reports say.

Meanwhile, the Valencia campaign has gone after Giannoulias for failing to disclose names of his clients from an investment firm where he served as its wealth director after he served as state treasurer from 2007 to 2011, even as he stresses transparency in government in his bid for secretary of state.

On the Republican side of the race, state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington is seeking the GOP nomination for secretary of state. His campaign has announced endorsements from several Republican state legislators, as well as from three GOP congressmen, U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis of Taylorville, Darin LaHood of Peoria and Mike Bost of Murphysboro.

Brady’s challenger is John Milhiser, a former U.S. Attorney in the Central District of Illinois, who is running for secretary of state as part of a slate of candidates promoted by billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

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April 22, 2022 at 10:45AM

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