Robert Peters appointed Raoul’s successor in State Senate

Robert J Peters speaks with the media after he was sworn in as 13th District Illinois state senator. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff Writer

Robert Peters, a political consultant known for his close relationship to Cook County Democratic chair and mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle, was appointed to the Illinois State Senate on Sunday, succeeding Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul in the 13th District.

The 13th Democratic Legislative District Committee, made up of party committeemen within the district, chose Peters at a meeting held at the 4th Ward Democratic Organization office, 1516 E. 53rd St #2. He was sworn in by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Robert F. Harris immediately following the announcement.

Committee members who attended the meeting were Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Preckwinkle (4th), Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) and Kevin Bailey (20th). Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) voted by proxy; Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) and Lucy Moog (43rd) were absent. Candidates were given five minutes to address the public meeting before the committeemen held a hours-long, closed executive session to choose Raoul’s successor.

Each member received one vote for each vote Raoul received in the November 2016 general election, with the appointed senator needing 37,397 votes, or 50 percent plus one of the 78,792 votes Raoul received in his last senatorial election, to win. Peters won 56,027 votes.

In his remarks, Peters, who has never run for political office, recalled the challenges of his early life — he was born deaf with a speech impediment to a drug- and alcohol-addicted mother and adopted by a civil rights lawyer and social worker — and called himself “a proud South Sider and an even prouder Chicagoan.”

He attended but did not graduate from Kansas State University — he said he plans to go back but noted the high expenses involved — and began work as a deputy field director on Preckwinkle’s campaign for Cook County Board President in 2009.

The concurrent deaths of his parents caused him to use the welfare system and see “how that system provided very little” for him in a time of need.

“I remember not being able to pay for my medical bills due to a preexisting condition and having the insurance company reject me,” he said. “The experiences I went through are similar experiences of residents in the district. It’s knowing this that drives me in this work.”

Peters said that, as political director of the Reclaim Chicago organization, he helped raise the minimum wage in Cook County to $13 an hour and coordinated 300,000 voter contacts for Kim Foxx’s successful 2016 race for State’s Attorney of Cook County. He also pointed to his work with Preckwinkle in July 2017 that required county judges to set affordable bail amounts for defendants, which he said has caused a 30 percent reduction in the county jail population.

“As state senator, I will work with you all to bring fair and equitable investments into our wards and communities, so all our residents get to live with safety and dignity,” Peters said. He promised “to fight to bring fairness and equality to our justice system by expanding bail reform and legalizing marijuana” and “radical transparency” through ward listening sessions and an activist district office.

In response to questions regarding Peters’ residency in the 13th District — he voted last November from an address in Kenwood but did not register at an address in Hyde Park until June 2017, and the state requires a two-year residency for office — Peters pointed to receipts and parking tickets from before then that showed, he said, that he was living with his girlfriend in Hyde Park.

Fifth Ward Alderman and Democratic Party Committeeman Leslie Hairston (center) watches as Cook County Circuit Court Judge Robert F. Harris administers the oath of office to Robert Peters after his selection to replace Kwame Raoul as 13th District Illinois State Senator. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Adrienne Irmer, Flynn Rush and Kenneth Sawyer also declared candidacy for the 13th District seat; Irmer and Rush both lost last year’s Democratic primary for the 25th Illinois House seat to Rep.-elect Curtis Tarver II.

Two aldermanic candidates, Ebony Lucas in the 4th Ward and former Herald editor Gabriel Piemonte in the 5th Ward, joined with protestors on 53rd Street before the meeting to disparage the appointment reached through the District Committee’s closed executive meeting. The protest was advertised by the Indivisible Chicago – South Side progressive movement.

Piemonte said the signs had long been pointing to Raoul’s election to statewide office and that constituents did not want “a process where, in a closed room, ward committeemen made a decision about who is going to represent us.”

“We’re coming together as citizens to say we want to see business done differently — not just here, but across the city,” Piemonte said. He called for a special election to determine Raoul’s successor, a move that would require changes to state stature and the Illinois Constitution.

Hannah Hayes, a 4th Ward and 26th Illinois House District resident, noted that her alderman, Sophia King, had been appointed to City Council (she later won a 2017 special election to the seat) and that her state representative would be, too, once incumbent Christian Mitchell (D) resigns to take a position in Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s administration.

“What is happening today, I feel, means that although I voted last November, I have no say in who represents me in Springfield,” Hayes said. She noted that the Illinois General Assembly vacancy appointment process is mandated by law, “However, in a democracy we expect that those who represent us cast their votes after careful deliberation with their constituents.”

Hayes said she had tried to reach her ward committeeman, Preckwinkle, for a week to learn about the senatorial candidates and offer her opinion to no avail.

In remarks after getting sworn in, Peters thanked the other applicants, the committee and the public.

“This isn’t an appointment to become a state senator. It’s to finish out a term. I understand that I’ve got to run for election; I’ve got to earn the vote and the support of the residents of the 13th District, and I promise to do that. And I promise to work with the folks in this room … to earn that support.”

Following the selection, Hairston said there were a lot of “selling points” in choosing Peters.

“All of the candidates were really good — that’s why it took us a bit of time,” she said. Asked if Peters was her first choice, Hairston said the committee had considered each candidate and that the decision was “very difficult.” Hairston said there was no connection between Peters’ selection and his work with Preckwinkle.

In remarks after getting sworn in, Peters thanked the other applicants, the committee and the public.

“This isn’t an appointment to become a state senator. It’s to finish out a term. I understand that I’ve got to run for election; I’ve got to earn the vote and the support of the residents of the 13th District, and I promise to do that. And I promise to work with the folks in this room … to earn that support.”

“I want to make sure I’m a champion for everyone in this district, especially the working class folks. I’m Hyde Park-born and -raised. This is my home, and I want folks to know that any time they need anything, though I don’t have an office number yet, you can call. I’m hoping to have some radical transparency, and I’m hoping to do a new kind of politics,” he said.

At press time, Deputy Gov.-designate Christian Mitchell has yet to resign from the Illinois House of Representatives, and the selection process for his successor in the 26th District has yet to begin.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com