Powerful Democrats support challenger to Rep. Ken Dunkin

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Juliana Stratton (at the podium) at a news conference announcing officials endorsing her Democratic primary candidacy for state representative. Supporters include (Ieft to right) Mike Newman of the Local Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Secretary of State Jesse White, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Father Michael Pfleger, Greg Kelly of Service Employees International Union Healthcare and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). Sun-Times Photo by Tina Sfondeles.

Democrat Juliana Stratton called a news conference Thursday to show off the powerful allies backing her primary bid to unseat state Rep. Ken Dunkin — but the event wound up being a mix of praise for her, attacks on Dunkin and shouting matches outside.

Some of Stratton’s supporters questioned whether Dunkin — who has aligned himself with Gov. Bruce Rauner and taken contributions from GOP-linked groups — can even call himself a Democrat.

“Ken Dunkin took a half million dollar thank you gift for voting against our families,” Stratton told reporters. “That is not putting people over politics.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Dunkin and Rauner share very similar donor bases, which she said is cause for concern.

“They are people who are not interested in Chicago Public Schools. Rauner doesn’t want to take over the Chicago Public Schools. He wants to shatter Chicago Public Schools. Let’s be clear about that,” Lewis said.

Dunkin supporters shouted outside the Brite New Mind Daycare Center, where Stratton held the event.

When Lewis and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White left the news conference, they were met outside by a woman holding a Dunkin campaign sign that read “Pass a budget, Springfield.”

For a brief moment, Stratton and Dunkin supporters got into an argument outside the South Side daycare center, until police intervened to move Dunkin protesters across the street.

When asked if they were paid to protest the event, one Dunkin supporter screamed “No one is paying us. We’re here because we believe in him.”

Some even shouted “No more plantation politics,” a line Dunkin used during a news conference in Springfield last week to criticize the tactics of House Speaker Mike Madigan. Some of Thursday’s protesters carried signs that read “Fire Mike Madigan.”

Protesters holding signs supporting state Rep. Ken Dunkin demonstrate outside the South Side daycare center where primary challenger Juliana Stratton held her news conference on Thursday. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Stratton is the former executive director for Cook County Justice for Children, and is currently the director for the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Public Safety and Justice. She was recruited as a challenger to Dunkin after Dunkin broke ranks with the Democratic super-majority on two key votes in Springfield.

“In the past few weeks, I have talked to thousands of residents while walking door to door,” Stratton said. “Right now the people of this district do not have a voice in the statehouse and they’re suffering as a result of the Rauner-Dunkin agenda.”

Dunkin on Monday raked in what may be the largest single Illinois legislative primary donation on record — a $500,000 windfallfrom a Republican-tied group. The contribution came from the Illinois Opportunity Project, cofounded by former GOP gubernatorial candidate and conservative radio host Dan Proft.

In announcing his support for Stratton, White said Dunkin has failed to represent his district by opting not to vote for a bill to restore funding for childcare for low-income families.

Dunkin also skipped a session in September —leaving the Democrats one vote short on an override of the governor’s veto of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ no-strike bill.

“I always say when you take on a job, you take on the responsibility for everybody,” White said. “In the case of Ken Dunkin, he has been a big disappointment to me and to his constituents, to the people of the state of Illinois and to the people of the 5th District. The message is they can no longer afford Ken Dunkin.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called Stratton someone who is committed to pursuing justice for all.

“When Juliana saw Rep. Ken Dunkin continuously side with Republican Bruce Rauner, she knew she had to stand up to speak for all of us,” Preckwinkle said.

Others questioned whether Dunkin is still a Democrat: “We did not elect Ken to go and represent the Republicans,” said Ald. Michelle Harris, the 8th Ward alderman who is running for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk. “Now if he wants to wear the shirt, I think he needs to change his seat.”

Others at the event to endorse Stratton included Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), the Rev. Father Pfleger and representatives from AFSCME Local Council 31 and SEIU Healthcare.

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