Ten applicants for the vacant 52nd Illinois Senate District seat took turns Wednesday night extolling their virtues in the hope of being chosen to succeed the late Scott Bennett.
But it was state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, who made the strongest rhetorical bid, describing her potential selection as a “no-brainer” based on her legislative experience and record.
Each of the applicants was given five minutes to speak. Afterward, the two Democratic Party leaders who presided — Vermilion County’s Sandra Lawlyes and Champaign County’s Cari West-Henkelman — closed down the public portion of the Zoom meeting.
“We will be providing additional information at a later time,” West-Henkelman said.
West-Henkelman is vice chair of the Champaign County Democratic Party. She presided in place of Chair Mike Ingram, who said he’s recusing himself from the selection process because he’s among the applicants.
Neither party leader gave any indication of when Bennett’s successor will be named.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, part of the 16-member advisory committee appointed by Lawlyes and Ingram, said the decision will be made within the next couple days.
“I expect by Saturday,” Rietz said.
Illinois law requires the vacancy to be filled within 30 days of the vacancy. Sen. Bennett died suddenly on Dec. 9 from complications of a brain tumor, setting off both a wave of public grief over his passing and a mad scramble for his seat.
Although there wasn’t much evidence of rancor during the applicants’ presentation, it’s become a nasty, sometimes public battle among various party factions and aspirants.
Ammons is so exorcised by the possibility that she might not be chosen that she’s issued public statements saying she’s the “obvious” choice and suggesting racial discrimination is the only possible explanation for not choosing her.
If not chosen, Ammons has indicated she’ll run in 2024 against whoever is selected. On Tuesday, she fired a shot across the Democratic Party’s bow by filing campaign committee papers for a 52nd District run with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Two of the other applicants — Ingram and party secretary Matt Sullard — made references to the behind-the-scenes discord.
Sullard emphasized the importance of “togetherness” and said it was “disheartening to see some of the mud-slinging going on.”
Ingram, a member of the Champaign County Board, made references to threats to his political future.
“I’ve been told I’ll never win another election in this town,” he said in remarks that were cut off by the five-minute limitation on applicants’ statements.
As Champaign County Democratic chair, Ingram has the legal authority to name himself or anyone else to the Senate seat. That’s because the two party leaders will cast weighted votes for Sen. Bennett’s successor based on how many votes he won in the previous election, and he received far more in Champaign than in Vermilion County.
State law also requires the party leaders to solicit applicants and hold a public forum for them.
Originally, there were 11 applicants for the post. But David Palmer, who ran for the U.S. House in last year’s Democratic primary, withdrew his name.
With names for speaking order selected at random, Quarnstrom went first.
He, like the others, gave details about his background, both personal and education, and discussed his public record. As City of Champaign Township supervisor, Quarnstrom emphasized how much he has increased social-welfare spending during his tenure.
He was followed by Ingram, who made a point of saying something flattering about each of the applicants. Ingram spent so much time doing that, he ran over the five-minute limit and was unable to finish his remarks.
Savoy lawyer Christina Manuel characterized herself as a “straight shooter” who “advocates zealously” for marginalized communities.
Champaign County Board Chair Kyle Patterson said he is committed to pursuing programs that assist the poor and protecting the rights of “pregnant people.”
Although she’s lost three races in the Illinois House district that makes up half the 52nd Senate District, Cindy Cunningham said the committee should appoint someone who has a “demonstrated ability to campaign and win elections” — in other words, her.
City of Champaign Township Assessor Paul Faraci emphasized his governmental background and personal qualities that add up to what the district needs — “a consensus-building Democrat” who will “listen to everyone” and “demonstrate bipartisanship.”
Champaign school board member Gianina Baker discussed her work in the district and said she feels “ready to advocate at the state level” for issues like education and helping those in need.
Mickensy Ellis-White, the only applicant from Vermilion County, discussed her time in the military and work as a therapist. She said she will bring a “fresh perspective” to district issues and embrace “cultural humility.”
Sullard, a University of Illinois lawyer, described himself as a “career public servant,” not a “career politician.”
It’s not clear what specific role the advisory committee will play, whether it’s limited to advising or whether its consensus will carry the day.
Ultimately, the party leaders will vote, and West-Henkelman has the votes, just as former Champaign County Democratic Chair Al Klein did in 2015 when he appointed Sen. Bennett to the same seat after the previous occupant, Mike Frerichs, was elected state treasurer.
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January 5, 2023 at 07:07AM