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U.S. Senate candidate Zopp: Criminal justice reform 'is personal to me'

U.S. Senate candidate Andrea Zopp chats with attendees before speaking to the City Club of Chicago on Wednesday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In a speech before the City Club of Chicago on Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Andrea Zopp promoted her strengths on issues currently front and center for the black community in setting herself apart from her opponents.

Running against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and State Sen. Napoleon Harris for the seat of incumbent Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Zopp candidly shared a black woman’s perspective on racial disparities.

“At the Urban League, I wrote and spoke a number of times on the growing gulf between law enforcement and communities of color driven by an increasing number of questionable deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement . . . and the seeming lack of accountability of the police for these deaths,” Zopp said.

“As I reviewed my earlier commentaries, I was struck by the repetition: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, Cedrick Chatman, Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones,” she said.

“The issue is personal for me. I know personally how hard the job of our law enforcement officers is. But I am also a mother,” said Zopp, whose daughter is on track to become a Chicago police officer.

“When Trayvon Martin was killed, our son Will came to us confused and angry,” Zopp said. “Bill and I had to talk to our son … We had to tell him that, simply because of his race, he could be viewed as a threat, and that the rules for he and his black friends are not always the same as those for his white friends.”

The Senate hopeful spoke before an audience of about 100 that included supporter William Daley, former White House chief of staff; and Kim Foxx, another black female candidate, running for Cook County state’s attorney against incumbent Anita Alvarez.

Zopp, 58, has served on the Chicago Board of Education; held top corporate jobs at Sara Lee, Sears and Exelon before running the Chicago Urban League; and was a former prosecutor for both the U.S. Attorney and state’s attorney’s offices. Her platform focuses on criminal justice reform and economic development.

She called out Gov. Bruce Rauner — giving his state of the state address Wednesday — for a budget crisis that dismantled vast social services and higher education funding, with Chicago State University on brink of closing to its predominantly minority student population.

“I want to talk about … the devastating impact of the lack of leadership on the part of elected and government officials in our country, state and city. Like the people of Flint, Michigan, sickened with lead poisoning,” Zopp said.

“Like so many in our own state who have lost access to after-school programs, day care, job training, disability services, addiction and mental health treatment and very soon students, mostly black and brown, who will lose their access to public colleges and the educations they have fought so hard for, because our governor has chosen ideological warfare over governing,” she continued.

“Like Laquan McDonald, denied justice for an incomprehensible thirteen months,” she added. “When our leaders do not come from the communities impacted … When they have not worked and fought for change, it is too easy for them to forget about those who are feeling the pain,” she asserted. “It is time for leadership that understands, hears and represents those voices.”

Black leaders supporting Zopp acknowledge she will need strong African-American voter support to succeed in the primary. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and others hope to energize the black vote for Zopp and Foxx.

Zopp continued her call for more debates with Duckworth, who has agreed to only one; stressing no other candidate brings her community and law enforcement experience needed on such issues now at the forefront.

Duckworth, on the same day, visited Chicago State in an apparent courting of the African-American vote.