Duels of the road? Democrats’ critical views of each other make secretary of state race seem even more crowded
The looming void left by retiring Secretary of State Jesse White has drawn an ambitious field of hopefuls — all targeting the ethical missteps or perceived failings of their rivals.
A popular former state treasurer versus a trail-blazing, rising star of the Illinois Democratic Party, as well as an esteemed South Side alderman and a south suburban non-profit director?
Or is it an inept former banker versus a City Hall insider who allegedly boosted her husband’s lobbying business, as well as a desperate politician making baseless accusations and a political puppet planted in the race to confuse voters?
It all depends on which candidate you ask in the heated four-way Democratic primary race for secretary of state, the party’s only statewide contest without an incumbent vying for the nomination — forcing Illinois’ most powerful Dems to pick sides.
The looming void left by retiring Secretary of State Jesse White — long considered Illinois’ most popular elected official after an unprecedented six terms — has drawn an ambitious field of hopefuls looking to maintain Democratic control of the state’s most public-facing office, responsible for driver services and most other record-keeping.
While former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, Ald. David Moore (17th) and Homewood resident Sidney Moore all agree that modernizing technology in the office would be their top priority, they diverge on their characterizations of one another.
Giannoulias and Valencia have emerged as the perceived frontrunners in the race, thanks to big-name party establishment endorsements and hefty campaign contributions.
Those dollars — more than $4.4 million in the bank for Giannoulias and $1.1 million for Valencia at the end of March, with hundreds of thousands more flowing in for each since then — have helped them both flood the airwaves with ads.
Giannoulias, who held the state treasurer’s office from 2007-11, has faced the same questions that dogged his losing 2010 bid for Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, all surrounding his tenure as loan officer for his family’s doomed Broadway Bank.
The institution approved loans to some with alleged links to organized crime before it went under in the middle of Giannoulias’ Senate campaign.
“No one has ever accused me of doing anything unethical or remotely untoward,” Giannoulias told the Sun-Times. “Like a lot of businesses in the Great Recession, unfortunately, my family’s office didn’t survive.”
But Valencia said Giannoulias and his family “left immigrant families hanging,” arguing that the failure “raises major red flags” about his ability to oversee one of the state’s largest offices.
Valencia, who was appointed city clerk by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2016 and won a full term in 2019, has come under fire herself for hundreds of emails sent from her city account, either to or regarding her lobbyist husband and his clients.
NBC-5 Chicago reported that Valencia failed to report her husband’s lobbying work on her city ethics disclosures — the type of economic interest statements that would fall under her purview as secretary of state. She has called it “an honest mistake.”
“I certainly am not the first woman who has had to say that my husband doesn’t speak for me,” said Valencia, who would be the first woman and the first Latinx person to serve as Illinois secretary of state.
“I wish I had been more careful with the mixing of my personal and professional emails, but the experience has made me a stronger person and a better public servant.”
Giannoulias hammered Valencia over the controversy, arguing that because the secretary of state oversees lobbyist registrations, “there can’t even be a scent of anything improper.”
Ald. David Moore, running an energetic campaign with about $100,000 on hand, has tried to capitalize on the other candidates’ mud-slinging, presenting himself as the only candidate without any ethical baggage to lug into the general election.
“Voters want someone with good character and integrity, someone who is there to serve them, who is a sound fiscal manager and who isn’t looking for a political stepping stone,” said Ald. David Moore, an accountant who has represented his South Side ward since 2015. “They don’t see that from the other candidates. They’ve got a strong public servant in me.”
Sidney Moore, meanwhile, has kept a lower campaign profile, with no donations or expenses reported to the Illinois State Board of Elections. He said he was inspired to run after his driver’s license was suspended due to a series of parking tickets.
“Jesse White allowed it to happen,” said the executive director of the non-profit Big Box Charities Inc. “The citizens of Illinois are tired of expecting different results from the same politicians. They’ll see there’s a candidate here who’s not just a politician.”
But the alderperson with the same last name has suggested political shenanigans were afoot with Sidney Moore’s entry into the race. Ald. David Moore said “someone put him in the race to cause confusion for voters,” though he acknowledged he doesn’t have evidence to back up the claim. “We all know Chicago politics,” the City Council member said.
Sidney Moore said the alderperson was “grasping at straws. We run in some of the same circles. He probably heard I was running. I think he tried to jump in ahead of me.”
Giannoulias and Valencia said they scarcely know of the Homewood candidate and had nothing to do with his political aspirations.
For his part, Sidney Moore says he’d prioritize upgrading technology in driver services facilities to improve wait times. He also said he wants to introduce self-service stations similar to kiosks that have sprung up in Michigan.
Ald. David Moore, who is backed by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and numerous Chicago clergy leaders, said he wants to expand online services to include car titling, and use libraries as satellite DMV offices. He also wants to explore digital license plates, which have been authorized in other states as a means of streamlining registrations.
Valencia — who has the coveted endorsement of Jesse White among a bevy of other elected officials including billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin — said she’d expand mobile services and flexible hours like she has in City Hall, setting up shop in park district facilities and offering services on evenings and weekends.
Giannoulias — backed by dozens of powerful labor groups as well as U.S. Reps. Jesús “Chuy” García, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Bobby Rush, Mike Quigley and more — said he wants to digitize drivers licenses and state IDs, and introduce a mobile app to help cut down on lines.
The winner of the June 28 primary will advance to the general election against the Republican nominee, either state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, or former central Illinois federal prosecutor John Milhiser.
Another Jesse White will be on the ballot in November, too — a Libertarian candidate from downstate Centralia, no relation to the retiring secretary of state.
Early voting is already underway.