By AARON GETTINGER
In the face of growing criticism, local Democratic officials are defending the process that led to the appointment of Robert Peters to fill the seat Senate seat vacated by Atty. Gen.-elect Kwame Raoul.
Jacob Kaplan, the executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, said the selection followed established state procedure, but several individuals and groups have criticized the process for a lack of transparency and citizen input.
On Sunday, Jan. 6, after a short window for applicants to email credentials to the Cook County Democratic Party and a brief public meeting during which applicants gave speeches and took questions from committeemen. The 13th District Democratic Legislative Committee then appointed Peters in a closed executive session. The process was announced to the Herald on Friday, and the deadline to apply was Saturday.
Flynn Rush, one of the unselected candidates, said, “On Sunday, I witnessed a total backroom deal.” Rush said he only learned about the process at the funeral of notable South Side political consultant Brian Sleet on Jan. 3. He said he is considering running for the senate seat in 2020.
Adrienne Irmer, another applicant, said, “It was an honor to be even considered.”
“It was a surprise to see it was open to the public,” she said, adding that it would have been “great” to have been able to take questions from the audience at the appointment committee meeting. She said she contacted the county party and received an email requesting credentials on the evening of Friday, Jan. 4.
Kaplan said the appointment was done fairly by the ward committeemen whom Democratic voters elected to represent them.
“The meeting was scheduled, there was notice given, and it was held because of the fact that the vacancy occurred,” he said. “There’s business going on in the Senate, so it’s the idea that the seat should be filled as swiftly as possible. It’s actually no different than the time table of when Sen. Raoul was appointed to the seat.
“At the end of the day, people who wanted to appear were able to appear. They presented their credentials. And as to the idea that this was rigged in some way for Sen. Peters, I just don’t see that.”
He confirmed that Peters had been invited into the committee’s executive session while the other applicants were not, but he said this was the committee’s prerogative and that they had additional questions for him.
“If they had other questions of other candidates, they would have invited them in, too,” Kaplan said, though he said he did not know the questions the committeemen asked Peters behind closed doors and would not speak to it.
“Ultimately they chose and made the decision they made,” Kaplan said. He said the appointment process for General Assembly vacancies is fairer than that of the City Council, wherein appointed aldermen do not face a special election if their abbreviated term does not exceed two years.
“At least in this case, you have a panel of committeemen and -women elected by the voters that make the decision,” Kaplan said. “It’s not just a unilateral choice.” He encouraged constituents who want to register their opinion about the 26th Illinois House District vacancy appointment to contact their ward committeeman.
Ald. Leslie Hairston, the 5th Ward committeewoman who organized the Senate appointment process, also said it was fair.
“This is not an election,” she said. “As the committeemen, we have the authority to fill vacant seats. There is no public input. The public input would be on Election Day.”
Hairston said the committee judged candidates by their political involvement, life accomplishments and demeanor. Asked whom she supported for the appointment, Hairston replied that the committee agreed on “who got the votes, who is now Sen. Peters.” Asked again, she said she went into the process with an open mind.
“I think that he is the right person for the job,” Hairston said. “I believe he stands ready to go straight forward. I think that he will represent us well. I think that he will reach out and work with people. This is a very large district, and he’s made connection with all of the committeemen in the district, that he will do his best to serve the people of the 13th legislative district.”
Asked how 5th Ward residents can give their opinions about the 26th Illinois House appointment, Hairston said to call her political office at 773-324-0005.
“There’s nothing different in this process, and I’m glad that they are getting engaged,” she said. “But this is the process.”
The Herald is awaiting comment from Cook County Board President and 4th Ward committeewoman Toni Preckwinkle. Her political office’s phone number is 773-288-0000.