A candidate for the Illinois House’s 5th District seat is being accused of paying for good publicity from a now ex-editor at one of the city’s most prominent African-American newspapers – a charge both the candidate and editor deny.
Questions have been raised about the arrangement between candidate Dilara Sayeed and former Chicago Defender Managing Editor Mary Datcher, who was paid $10,000 by Sayeed’s campaign.
The payment, which was first reported by the Chicago Crusader, came in November 2017. A day later, the Defender wrote a positive article about Sayeed’s campaign.
As founder and principal of On the Street Promotions, Datcher was tapped to help the Sayeed campaign spread its platform throughout the various communities that make up the state’s 5th District.
It was her dual role that cost Datcher her job.
In a statement, the Defender said that after their own investigation they found “there was no evidence of wrong doing on behalf of The Chicago Defender, however, we determined that it was necessary to take action and terminate the employee for violation of company policy and procedures.
“The Chicago Defender is a longtime voice in this community, and it is imperative that we maintain the highest level of integrity and credibility,” the statement read in part.
Datcher said the Defender was fully aware of her marketing company and that previous management understood that keeping both roles was a factor in her taking the newspaper job. She said her marketing work allowed her to be an asset to the Defender when it came to pulling in resources and building relationships.
Datcher said there was no bias on her part with the November story about Sayeed.
“I didn’t tell [reporter Lee Edwards] how to write or what to write,” Datcher said. “He didn’t need anyone to hold his hand. All of these profiles that we did were handled with integrity.”
The Crusader’s publisher, Dorothy R. Leavell, has called for Sayeed to withdraw from the race, something Ty Cratic, a spokesman for the campaign, said she won’t do.
“It’s disappointing that the Crusader would take such a stance,” Cratic said. “They’ve decided to run with the idea that this is an ethical issue.”
Cratic said the campaign viewed On the Street and the Defender as two separate entities, and had “lengthy discussions about separations of roles” with Datcher to ensure there would be no appearance of impropriety.
Sayeed has been endorsed by both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. In light of the Crusader’s story, Sun-Times Editor-in-Chief Chris Fusco said, “based on our reading of published reports on this matter so far, we see no reason to reconsider our endorsement.
“We wish Sayeed had shown better judgment given the occupation of this particular consultant, but that’s not enough to override the positives our editorial board believes she’ll bring to the 5th District.”
Datcher said there are others within the Defender who have side jobs that may be considered conflicts of interest, and if the newspaper wants to apply this rule, it should apply it evenly.
She also said the Crusader’s story wasn’t accurately reported.
“I know that there’s always been a competition between the two black newspapers, and I became a sacrificial lamb,” Datcher said. “I don’t knock the Defender for giving me a chance, but I do knock them because this has violated my character and integrity.”