Finally, progress. Well, sort of.
In June, a new website voiced a frustration I share — that there are no women candidates in the Illinois gubernatorial race.
A group of Democratic women activists launched arethereanywomenrunningforilgovernor.com. “Zero women are running for governor,” the site declared.
They asked Democratic Party leaders: “What’s your plan to support women leaders in our state?”
As the fall campaign gears up, I detect no plan. Nothing has changed at the top of the ticket. It’s still raining men.
Yet, a rare and unexpected opening for another prime perch is luring impressive female aspirants. Last month, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan exploded Illinois politics when she announced she would not run for a fifth term. She remains a popular and nationally recognized consumer advocate, in spite of the fact that her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, is despised in many quarters.
Lisa Madigan is the first and only woman Illinois attorney general. Now there are at least three accomplished women aiming to replace her.
Early this month, Nancy Rotering, the Democratic mayor of Highland Park, announced a bid. She served on the City Council of the North Shore suburb, then was elected its first woman mayor in 2011. Before jumping into politics, Rotering worked for General Motors and as an attorney for McDermott Will & Emery. She is board president of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership, a nonprofit that helps push and prepare women in government.
Sharon Fairley, who recently stepped down as chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, has announced she’s in. Fairley has won accolades for reforming Chicago’s police watchdog in the wake of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
She previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, as well as first deputy and general counsel to Chicago’s inspector general.
Other announced candidates in the 2018 Democratic primary are State Sen. Kwame Raoul from Chicago’s South Side and State Rep. Scott Drury, who represents Highwood on Chicago’s North Shore.
Erika Harold, the likely GOP nominee, is an attorney with a Champaign law firm. She was named Miss America in 2003 and used her cash prize to finance her education at Harvard University Law School.
Harold and Fairley would be the first African-American women to serve as Illinois attorney general.
Statewide leadership for women is more urgent than ever. Ironically, the seat is open because Madigan decided to retire from political life — at least for now.
Just months ago, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was arguably among the most respected elected officials in Illinois. Her failed crusade for the county soda tax has tarnished her glow.
Nationwide, only two women Democrats serve as governors and five as state attorneys general.
Last month the Democratic Attorneys General Association kicked off its 1881 initiative, “named for the first year that a woman sought, unsuccessfully, the office of state attorney general,” the New York Times reported.
The project will address “an acute problem for a party that counts women as a pillar of its base and trumpets the value of diverse representation,” according to the Times.
Democrats want to ensure that in five years, at least half of their party’s attorneys general will be women.
First, they must hold on to the seat right here in “blue” Illinois.
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