African American officials back out of Duckworth ‘unity’ event

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Rep. Tammy Duckworth. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
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A group of African American aldermen and state lawmakers plan to boycott a “unity” event on Monday on behalf of U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth -- a U.S. Senate hopeful -- to protest a perceived disconnect between Duckworth and African American community, the head of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus told POLITICO Illinois Wednesday.

Duckworth, who is attempting to unseat Sen. Mark Kirk in November, emerged fairly unscathed from a Democratic primary battle against Chicago attorney Andrea Zopp last week. Zopp had attracted the support of at least some of the black caucus members who are now flagging issues with Duckworth.

Other African American elected officials have confirmed their attendance, including Secretary of State Jesse White, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, and U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Bobby Rush and Robin Kelly, according to a Duckworth senior campaign official. The official noted that Duckworth won or finished strong in 48 out of 50 wards in the city, meaning she topped Zopp in African American wards. Duckworth also met with Zopp on Monday to discuss moving beyond the primary, the official said.

Still, Alderman Roderick Sawyer said Duckworth scheduled the unity event before many members of the City Council and Legislative Black Caucuses were invited.

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“I think that’s evidence of how there is a disconnect between the Duckworth campaign and communities of color. I think that’s incorrect and disrespectful,” Sawyer told POLITICO Illinois. “My understanding is that we had agreed that we were not going to attend the event. We were going to try to find (another) time, if she’s willing, to give her the opportunity to talk about what her plans are and to ask for our endorsement.” 

The Chicago Sun-Times first reported news of a boycott.

Sawyer complained that Duckworth spent too little time campaigning in Chicago and the metropolitan area during the primary at a time when the city’s black population is battling Mayor Rahm Emanuel over policing issues. The city’s black leaders may also be treading more carefully after strongly supporting Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral contest only to have it backfire on them, with issues of race and social injustice dominating the city since his re-election.

“Often times in elections like this, our vote makes a difference. I think that it should not be taken for granted,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said he wants to talk to Duckworth about federal funding for crime prevention, infrastructure improvements and education.

On the day that Gov. Bruce Rauner gave his State of the State address in Springfield, Duckworth did hold an event at Chicago State University, a mostly black college that has undergone a funding crisis. Rauner, a Republican, is locked in a battle with statehouse Democrats, and Duckworth’s team intends on Monday to address how her candidacy might help down ballot candidates, including in statehouse races. Rauner, a multi-millionaire, has funded numerous candidates who are pitted against Democrats in the November election.

The Duckworth campaign says it plans to meet with the membership of the Legislative and City Council Black Caucuses at their earliest mutual convenience.

The unity event is set for 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Pearl’s Place, 3901 S. Michigan Avenue.