Despite a poll released that shows U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth holds a dominating lead in the race for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp and state Sen. Napoleon Harris are doubling down outreach efforts before the March 15 primary.
The three-way race includes Duckworth, a wounded Iraq War veteran turned congresswoman who has largely supported rights for veterans and active military; Zopp, a former prosecutor with an extensive civics background; and Harris, a former NFL linebacker and local businessman turned state senator.
But Duckworth is largely focusing on only one competitor: Republican Sen. Mark Kirk.
“My record speaks for itself, and I’m proud of it,” Duckworth said. “I don’t have to defend my record. I’ve been a productive member of the House, and I have a long record of serving my state in uniform, in state government and now in federal office. I’m focused on Mark Kirk. I think that the more people who can talk about the failures of Mark Kirk as a senator, the better for the people of Illinois.
The winner in the primary will likely face Kirk, who is seeking a second term. Kirk is facing James Marter, an Oswego business, in the primary.
Duckworth’s name is known throughout the state, which is an advantage for the two-term congresswoman, who was elected to Congress in 2012 after being recruited by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin as a candidate in her unsuccessful 2006 campaign for the 6th Congressional District seat ultimately won by Republican Peter Roskam. She also served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and as an assistant federal Veterans Administration secretary.
Duckworth lost both legs when the Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was hit by a grenade in 2004.
Duckworth has largely outraised her competitors. She raised $1.6 million late last year, receiving over 20,800 individual contributions. Since she announced her campaign, she has raised more than $4.7 million, with $3.65 million on hand.
Duckworth says she plans to travel throughout the state during the remainder of the primary campaign. She has recently opened offices on the North and South sides of Chicago and in Rock Island and Springfield.
She has cited rebuilding the economy, making college accessible and affordable, and honoring veterans and active military as her three top legislative priorities.
Zopp has an extensive resume, which includes serving as the president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, top executive jobs at Sears, Sara Lee Corporation and Exelon Corporation. She also has a bit over 12 years of experience as a prosecutor as both a criminal and federal prosecutor.
At the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, Zopp led the narcotics bureau, where she helped to create a bureau to deal with non-violent cases. And as a federal prosecutor, she prosecuted drug and terrorism cases.
She came to Chicago after landing a clerkship with Judge George Leighton, whose name is now attached to the Cook County criminal courthouse at 26th and California.
“I am bringing a unique set of experience to this race, be it from criminal justice or my business background. I have a long track record of actually getting results, and I think if we know anything right now, we know that voters want elected officials that are going to get things done,” Zopp said.
Zopp says there’s an “epidemic of inaction with our governmental leaders.”
“Whether it’s Flint, Michigan, and the inability to make sure the residents have clean water, to our inability in our own state to get a state budget passed. These things harm residents on a daily basis. That’s why I’m running. Because I know I can make a difference as I already have, and it’s what I think voters want in their leaders.”
But Zopp’s years as general counsel and corporate secretary at Sears have come under fire. The two years she spent there between 2003 and 2005 marked an unruly time for the business. She was hired just as Sears and Kmart merged, which led to layoffs, and stock prices going up. That’s when Zopp cashed out on stock options.
“What I did as the general counsel was work to make sure that those individuals got the benefits that they were entitled to, got the support that they were entitled to, and that we minimized the impact of that merger,” Zopp told the Sun-Times Editorial Board.
Zopp’s campaign says 780 Sears employees were laid off due to the merger, not thousands, which had been previously reported. A form filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission confirms the 780 layoffs.
Zopp also defended her time at Sears, saying she pushed for increased opportunity and diversity while she was there.
But she’s had to repeatedly explain how she approved $23 million in no-bid contracts and voted to close 50 Chicago Public Schools while on the Chicago Board of Education. She has said on record that said she was “wrong” to trust indicted CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who came into leadership with an unbeknownst plan to defraud CPS.
Though Zopp was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the Chicago Board of Education, she was quick to criticize the city’s handling of the McDonald murder case and cited her experience as a prosecutor in handling a police-involved shooting case.
“On Nov. 30, I was one of the first leaders to call for Garry McCarthy to resign. I also called for a special prosecutor and for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting,” Zopp said. “As the only candidate in this U.S. Senate race who has actually held police accountable, this is personal to me. During my time as first assistant state’s attorney, I prosecuted a police officer, Gregory Becker, for killing an unarmed homeless man. I indicted Officer Becker in 60 days — not 13 months.”
Zopp has cited criminal justice reform, increased economic opportunity and rebuilding the middle class, and immigration reform as her top three legislative priorities if elected.
Zopp plans to travel across the state in the remaining days before the primary. This week she visited Peoria and Lincolnshire. She’ll be campaigning on the West Side of Chicago on Saturday. And also plans to travel to DuPage and DeKalb, her campaign says.
Since April 2015, Zopp has raised $1.3 million in contributions, according to the Federal Election Commission.
She’s also running a new television ad that emphasizes her expertise in the courtroom as a way to rebuild the criminal justice system.
Harris, the Thornton Township High School star athlete who went on to play seven seasons in the NFL, is also the owner of two Beggars pizzerias. He’s also a partner in the business, which has 22 locations.
Harris was elected to the Illinois Senate in 2013 when former Senator James Meeks decided not to run.
Harris is self-funding his campaign, lending himself $1.05 million. He had made no substantial fund-raising efforts, reporting just $100 in campaign contributions last year. He says he did that for a reason.
“I invest my own resources, and I have not been actively fund-raising,” Harris said. “I’ll accept contributions, but I haven’t been out there beating the pavement because I want to be beholden to the people. I want no special interests group.”
Harris says he’ll be knocking on doors and meeting with community groups in East St. Louis, Peoria, the Quad Cities, Champaign, Lake County and Will County, and Chicago in the final weeks of the campaign.
“I’m traveling as much as I can across the state, putting miles on the car and taking my team throughout the state. It’s one thing to just go and spend a bunch of money on ads, and it’s another thing to actually show up and be personable,” Harris said.
Harris has largely stayed away from criticizing his opponents during editorial board meetings and in the trio’s televised debate, saying his reputation speaks for itself.
“My record and the reason they can’t come at me is because I know my record is in tact. There’s nothing to pick from,” Harris said.
But Harris said he has one bone to pick with Zopp for characterizing herself as the only candidate to create jobs.
“I am a job creator more so than anybody on that panel,” Harris said. “The Urban League and the Chicago Area Project, those individuals come to us in Springfield for resources to get allocations for their projects. … I vote for those issues to get funded. They are a measure of the work that I’ve done. I think it’s a different type of business. I’ve created jobs, and she has been on the board to create those jobs.”
Harris says Zopp would have been better suited running for Cook County State’s Attorney, with her legal record.
“I think my body of work speaks for itself. I know I’m qualified. I’m a legislator who has voted for meaningful bills that have impacted lives. And personally, I overcame a lot of challenges due to opportunities,” Harris said.
As a state senator, Harris sponsored “Rocky’s Law,” which ensured all high school athletes have full coverage should they sustain a catastrophic injury. Harris has called the legislation one that he’s most proud of.
In 2013, Harris briefly launched a bid for Congress following the resignation of U.S Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Harris cites small business growth, approving qualified Supreme Court judges and criminal justice reform as his top legislative priorities.
VITAL STATS: Tammy Duckworth, Andrea Zopp, Napoleon Harris
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Extreme Couponing” — “Why buy one toothpaste when I could get 50 for the same price?”
Favorite hobby, outside of work: “I’ve competed in marathons, and I would love to do a triathlon some day. But my first love is flying, and if I could, I would fly every chance I got.”
Favorite musical artist: Prince – #80sgirl
Worst vacation location: “Anywhere the Army sent me. It was always hot and sandy but no beach time.”
Favorite Chicago or Chicago area restaurant: Tank Noodle at Argyle and Broadway. “Delicious!”
Guilty pleasure TV show: “How To Get Away With Murder”
Favorite hobby: Working out
Favorite musical artist: Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Michael Jackson
Worst vacation location: “When my kids were little, we rented a vacation place on the lake [in Michigan] ,and it was basically a trailer and not a very nice one. They were pretty little, so that was unpleasant.”
Favorite Chicago or Chicago-area restaurant: Franconello Italian Restaurant in Beverly, Restaurante Tenochtitlan in Blue Island and Maple Tree Inn in Blue Island.
Guilty pleasure TV show: “WWE Raw. My son and I are huge wrestling fans. Every time they come to Chicago, I go see them. We have every wresting figure, the toys. I buy them for them, but they’re really for me.”
Favorite hobby: Bowling.
Favorite musical artist: “I love neo-soul and gospel music — Jill Scott. India Arie, John Legend, Kirk Franklin, Tamela Mann.”
Worst vacation: Virgin Islands. “My wife and I lost our luggage. When we got them back, they were ransacked. We had to buy all new stuff.”
Favorite Chicago or Chicago area restaurant: “I have to say Beggars pizza, but I would also say RPM Steak in Chicago.”