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Hillary Clinton lines up heavy hitters for Illinois delegate slate

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the crowd at the Jenkins Orphanage in North Charleston, S.C., Saturday during the Blue Jamboree event. | AP photo

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is running Illinois delegate slates packed with some of the best-connected political figures in the state the Sun-Times has learned.

Clinton, born in Chicago and raised in Park Ridge, is also sending in waves of top operatives to Illinois to build a robust campaign infrastructure in advance of the March primary and to maintain an engaged donor base.

The Illinois Clinton camp has filled the 102 slots allocated to the 18 congressional districts under Democratic National Committee and Democratic Party of Illinois formulas requiring gender equity and diversity.

The slate is balanced to reflect all races, sexual orientations, the young and people with disabilities – mandates that are not a part of the GOP delegate rules.

In Illinois, the delegate selection process was led by two diehard Clinton allies, Kevin Conlon, the president of Conlon & Dunn Public Strategies, and attorney Kevin O’Keefe.

Conlon was the Illinois 2008 Clinton presidential campaign co-chair. O’Keefe attended Maine South High School with Clinton, served in the Bill Clinton White House and is part of Clinton’s tight circle of pals from her youth she has never lost contact with.

Clinton Illinois had an unusual approach to recruiting delegates, which included an application process — and some 500 applied, Conlon said. The folks running to be pledged Clinton delegates to the DNC convention in Philadelphia next summer “will become the face of the campaign” in Illinois, Conlon said.

Clinton is also running ahead of rivals Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, and Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, when it comes to picking up the support of Illinois “superdelegates,” who are the elected and party officials – such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel – that are automatically delegates by virtue of their office. An Associated Press survey of 17 of the state’s 26 superdelegates found 13 pledged to Clinton.

Usually better known and connected people such as leaders of Democratic allied groups and operatives have the best chances of getting elected; that’s why presidential campaigns slate high-profile people to run for delegates.

Relationships matter. In the north suburban 9th congressional district, one of Clinton’s best friends, Voda “Betsy” Ebeling, of Arlington Heights, is running as a Clinton delegate.

A sampling of the Chicago-area Clinton delegate slates shows among the elected officials: Cook County Board President Toni Precwinkle, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers, state Sens. Kwame Raoul, Mattie Hunter, Jacqueline Y. Collins and Terry Link, state Reps. Sara Feigenholz; Jack Franks, Linda Chapa Lavia, Lou Lang, Mary Flowers and Barbara Flynn Currie, and from the City Council, Ald. Leslie Hairston.

Among activists and operatives are Lauren Beth Gash, Anna Valencia and Rick Garcia.

Among the wives of elected officials are Caroline Rush, the wife of Rep. Bobby Rush; Soraida Gutierrez, wife of Rep. Luis Gutierrez; Aesook Byon, the wife of Rep. Bill Foster, and Shirley Madigan, wife of Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan.

In all, Conlon said the Clinton slate includes 16 people under the age of 36, nine state senators, eight aldermen and eight state representatives.

The Clinton slate held a telephone conference call with Attorney General Lisa Madigan last Friday and Sen. Dick Durbin will be on the next one.

As for rallying the troops in Illinois, the Brooklyn-based Clinton campaign dispatched communications advisor Karen Finney to Chicago last week for rounds of meetings. On Monday, Teddy Goff, the campaign digital and technology chief, hits the city for a lunch with top donors.

Former President Bill Clinton returns to Chicago on Dec. 11 for at least two fundraisers. One is to be co-hosted by developer Elzie Higginbotton, attorney Ted Tetzlaff and real estate brokers Thad and Emily Wong. The tab starts at $1,000 per person.

Clinton had a paid Illinois finance director, Jeremy Hallahan, in place when she announced earlier this year. Clinton was in Chicago earlier this month for three fundraisers and a meeting where her campaign assembled from around the nation mothers of victims of violence for a round table on criminal justice reform.

The window is open in Illinois for Democratic and GOP presidential campaigns to circulate petitions to get their delegates on the March ballot to the 2016 national nominating conventions. The petitions must be filed by Jan. 6.