When State Sen. Kwame Raoul announced his intent last month to run for the Illinois Attorney General’s seat suddenly vacated by long-time occupant Lisa Madigan, few were surprised, and many were elated. Nearly every time there is a state-wide vacancy that is a step up from the state senior chamber, Mr. Raoul’s name is mentioned. Barbershop talk keeps the three-term senator’s name afloat whenever there are hunches about who will try to replace Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Until Ms. Madigan announced her pending departure, Mr. Raoul has politely demurred from such talks.
Almost as soon as Raoul announced, the GOP countered with a rarity-an African-American female candidate. Yes, a corporate lawyer, Ericka Harold, an accomplished corporate attorney is what they hope will be the equalizer to Mr. Raoul.
The flies in Ms. Harold’s ointment are a lack of political experience, especially when it comes to campaigning. The arduous schedule and statewide travel has been the undoing of more experienced candidates; additionally, she represents the GOP in a state is severely disappointed with its first Republican governor in two decades. Ms. Harold can be seen as the party’s willing sacrificial lamb. Her greatest challenge will be her lack of name recognition among Chicago area voters.
A second surprise candidate, this time a Democrat, Sharon Fairley entered the race at the beginning of October. Like Ms. Harold, Ms. Fairley’s political resume lacks any campaign or elected office experience. There should be little doubt that much of Ms. Fairley’s time on the path to winning the AG’s race will be fraught with defending her record as executive director of Chicago Civilian Office on Police Accountability (COPA).
COPA was re-imagined from the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)-neither are viewed as overwhelming successful in recommending discipline for wayward cops. The professional strength she would bring to the job is Ms. Fairley has worked as a federal prosecutor. Even though it is her initial foray into politics, her ability to raise money may surprise many. While more people might know her as the former wife of Chicago financial icon John Rogers, founder of Ariel Capital, the only African-American Democratic female in the race shouldn’t be discounted.
To date, the last Dem to enter the race is Aaron Goldstein, whom many consider a true reform candidate, as well as a giant slayer. Last March, Goldstein, who garnered notoriety as part of the defense team for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, successfully took on Dick Mell for the Democratic Committeeman’s job in the 33 Ward. Mell happens to be the former governor’s father-in-law.
More importantly, he had held that committeeman’s seat for 40 years. Coupled with his role as alderman for that ward, Mell was one of the most powerful players in Chicago politics
Mr. Goldstein’s platform then, and most likely the one he will carry into the AG’s race is about transparency and accountability. That position will play well with many who are disenchanted with the last several years of state and local politics. His defense work coupled with his Cook County public defender background ease him ahead of Ms. Fairley and Ms. Howard in terms of legal acumen and possibly experience
Campaigns generally are won not only on experience but on the tenacity and commitment of the candidate. Mr. Raoul better than his opponents has a wealth of experience at what many candidates consider the worst part of campaigning-fundraising. It is thankless, yet an essential staple of politics. While Mr. Raoul has never needed to be a prolific fundraiser, he is the only one in the field who has had to raise a million here and there to keep his job. Being undaunted by getting more nos than yeses is a challenge. This aspect of the campaign will test Mr. Raoul’s challengers more than him. In every election cycle, we see seemingly qualified candidates fall by the wayside because their fundraising efforts got no traction.
Though he represents a small segment of Chicago’s South Side, Mr. Raoul has spent much of his 13-year career interacting with downstate residents and their elected officials. He is quick to note that many of the social ills-quality of education, over-the-top substance abuse, lack of jobs is mirrored outside of Chicago in those downstate communities. That statewide name recognition is a factor his opponents lack.
Whether the Dems want the reform that Mr. Goldstein is likely to champion, or the outsider role Ms. Fairley will bring, or the experience in state government offered by Mr. Raoul, the Dems won’t have an easy choice because they also will need to select the candidate who won’t be upset by the Republican newcomer.