Chicago alderman exploring race for Illinois secretary of state

If she takes the plunge, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) would join a field of candidates that includes City Clerk Anna Valencia and former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough is also considering a run.

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Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) speaks during a press conference at the Parkway Ballroom in the Bronzeville neighborhood, Thursday morning, Feb. 18, 2021, where elected officials called for the replacement of local Postal Service leadership over mail delays and other service issues.

Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) is pondering a run for Illinois secretary of state.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee said Thursday she is laying the groundwork to join the field of candidates seeking to replace retiring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

If she takes the plunge, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) would join a wide-open field of candidates that already includes City Clerk Anna Valencia and former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough is also considering a run for the patronage-rich office.

Giannoulias is a statewide vote-getter and proven fundraiser who lost the 2010 race for the U.S. Senate by fewer than 60,000 votes to Republican Mark Kirk.

He has already won the backing of two local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and reported $397,700 in campaign contributions, including donations from Cinespace president Alex Pissios and Michael Sacks, an investor in the group that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

Valencia recently showcased a return-the-favor endorsement from two-term U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill. The two have worked together to encourage more young women to seek elected office.

On Thursday, Dowell acknowledged she has work to do to catch up to the running starts of both Giannoulias and Valencia.

But having been convinced Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) has no intention of seeking to replace White, his political patron and mentor, Dowell said she believes she can emerge as a consensus candidate with powerful political allies.

“I’ve talked to Secretary White. I’ve talked to the mayor. I’ve talked to Toni Preckwinkle. I’ve talked to my [City Council] colleagues. It’s early. My expectation is that they’re not gonna endorse anyone at this time, which gives me an opportunity to put things in place to earn their endorsement,” Dowell said.

Dowell said she plans to spend the next six weeks laser-focused on fundraising.

“I have a track record of being able to fund my aldermanic races and will have to up my game in fundraising for this office and I’m prepared to do that,” she said.

Since 2007, Dowell has served as alderman of a diverse South Loop ward that includes Bronzeville and McCormick Place.

She got high praise from her City Council colleagues for patiently presiding over virtual hearings on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s $12.8 billion “pandemic” budget that dragged on for hours, often well into the night.

“This is definitely gonna be a challenge. But I am a Black woman who represents a very diverse ward. My ward is composed of African Americans, Chinese Americans, white Americans. That appeal will, hopefully, translate across the state. The state is diverse as well,” she said.

White, 86, said last year he would not seek a seventh term in 2022. But the Near North Side Democrat has reversed retirement plans before and remains one of the most popular politicians in Illinois, in part because of his gymnastics program, the Jesse White Tumblers.

Dowell said what attracted her to the secretary of state’s office is not so much the 4,000 jobs it holds, but the ability to bring technology upgrades to an office that sells driver’s licenses, license plates and business licenses, but also presides over the state’s library system and organ donor programs.

“I’m a person [who] likes different types of challenges,” she said.

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