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Ald. Pat Dowell jumps into secretary of state’s race with plans for licenses, literacy: ‘We can do more’

Dowell also listed helping small and minority-owned businesses navigate the state’s licensing requirements as a top priority.

Ald. Pat Dowell meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2019.
Ald. Pat Dowell meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2019.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) officially joined the race to succeed outgoing Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White on Wednesday, laying out her platform for an office she says she will not use as a launchpad to further her political career.

“I have dedicated my life as a public servant to helping serve the people’s interest as alderman. That has meant the constituents of my ward and the residents of the city of Chicago,” Dowell said during a virtual campaign kickoff. “As secretary of state, that will be all the people in the state of Illinois — from Cook County to Christian County.”

Dowell, who has represented the South Side’s Third Ward in the City Council since 2007, said that while White has “made vast improvements” to the office and how it functions, “we can do more.”

That includes making transactions easier and safer for customers and employees, issuing multi-year license plate stickers — which could provide upfront revenue for the state and a more convenient option for residents — improving and expanding literacy programs in rural and urban communities “so that no one in Cairo, Carbondale, Rockford, or anywhere else in Illinois, is left behind.”

Dowell also listed helping small and minority-owned businesses navigate the state’s licensing requirements as a top priority, saying she’s “witnessed firsthand many entrepreneurs that have difficulty in achieving their business objectives simply because of improper licensing.

“Let us find innovative ways at the secretary of state to assist these businesses so that they can save money and reach their full-time job as assets to their community and our state,” the alderman said.

Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough, left; Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), right.
Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough, left; Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), right.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Dowell has not yet asked White to endorse her run for the office he’s held since 1998, though she said she will seek his endorsement later. Dowell said the two spoke so she could find out more about the office and let him know she was running, something she said White did not “discourage” her from doing.

The alderman was endorsed by Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, who told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that she would not make a run for the office herself. Dowell said she’s “thankful for [Yarbrough’s] support” and hopes to roll out other endorsements soon.

State Sen. Michael Hastings in 2016.
State Sen. Michael Hastings in 2016.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Dowell joins former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, in the Democratic primary field of candidates officially vying for the office. Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia formed an exploratory committee in December for a potential bid but has not yet had an official kick -off event.

The secretary of state handles the rather mundane tasks of issuing driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. But it’s one of the most coveted elected offices in Illinois — full of easy publicity, thousands of jobs and the potential to serve as a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion or another, higher office.

City Clerk Anna Valencia, left, in 2019; Then state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, right, in 2010.
City Clerk Anna Valencia, left, in 2019; Then state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, right, in 2010.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file; Brian Kersey/Getty Images

White made it clear when he was first elected in 1998 that he had no interest in using the position to run for higher office, a significant stance since the previous two officeholders — Republicans George Ryan and Jim Edgar — both used the office as a springboard to successful campaigns for governor. Before Edgar, Democrat Alan Dixon used it to win a U.S. Senate seat.

Dowell pledged Wednesday not to seek higher office from the secretary of state position.

“I can take the pledge today that that will not be the case with a ‘Pat Dowell candidacy,’” Dowell said.