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Laura Washington: With insider resume, Zopp touts outsider status in Senate race

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She may be a political novice, but Andrea Zopp has already learned that campaigns can be, in her word, a “grind.”

In August, Zopp stepped down from the helm of the Chicago Urban League to run against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth in the March 2016 Democratic primary.

Zopp boasts a blue-chip resume chock full of high-level corporate and legal positions, but the toughest part of her first run for office is selling herself.

“In politics you’re trying to sell yourself, you are communicating yourself self to the electorate,” she told me last week over coffee at a Loop diner. “You have to pump yourself up with the whole focus on yourself. That’s hard for me.”


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Still, it’s going well, she says. She has already raised more than $1 million, and lured some prominent endorsements.
Duckworth is a disabled Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, and the darling of many heavyweights, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Zopp wants to deploy her political inexperience and that endorsement to her advantage, criticizing the committee for not even interviewing her before it announced the Duckworth nod.

Zopp wants to be known as a political outsider. “I’ve been a change agent my whole career,” she says. “I have places where I have been the first to bring, drive the professional perspective,” she said. “I’m not a politician … and I think absolutely I’m bringing that perspective of the issues how they come out in the community for real people.”

Outsider status is in vogue. Just ask Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, marquee disrupters in the GOP presidential primary slugfest. The New York Times recently mentioned Zopp in an article about the rise of “anti-establishment” Democratic candidates.

However, Zopp’s resume includes a decidedly establishment stint as a member of the Chicago Board of Education.
In October 2012, she and the rest of the board voted unanimously to approve Barbara Byrd-Bennett as chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools. In June 2013, Zopp voted to approve a $20.5 million contract with SUPES Academy, to train the district’s principals and administrators.

On Thursday, Byrd-Bennett was named in a 23-count indictment, charged with helping SUPES get CPS contracts in exchange for kickbacks. Byrd-Bennett had previously worked for SUPES.

Now Zopp must defend her support of what appears to be a felonious and costly deal at a time when CPS was in financial crisis. Today, the schools may be on the verge of bankruptcy.

Her campaign issued a statement saying she is “extremely disappointed” with Byrd-Bennett.

“As a former board member, this is shocking to me on a personal and professional level because I believed that we shared the same agenda — creating a school system that provided every child with the education needed to succeed,” Zopp said.

In August, Zopp told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board that at the time of her votes, the board viewed Byrd-Bennett as “a very experienced, talented educator — that we respected.” She has also said that the no-bid contracts were vetted by CPS staff.

Zopp was handpicked for the board by Chicago’s powerful mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Zopp approved Byrd-Bennett as Emanuel’s handpicked schools CEO. Zopp signed off on contracts handpicked by Byrd-Bennett, allegedly, for her former boss. Apparently, with not enough oversight.

For some, that may make Zopp an insider’s insider.
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials

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