Jesse White endorses Anna Valencia in heated Democratic primary for Illinois secretary of state

The primary race has forced Illinois’ top Democrats to pick sides, but no other endorsement carries more weight than White’s, thanks to his sheer vote-getting prowess.

SHARE Jesse White endorses Anna Valencia in heated Democratic primary for Illinois secretary of state
City Clerk Anna Valencia, pictured at the Chicago Sun-Times office in 2019. Valencia has been endorsed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White in the Democratic primary race to replace him.

City Clerk Anna Valencia, pictured at the Chicago Sun-Times office in 2019. Valencia has been endorsed by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White in the Democratic primary race to replace him.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Retiring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White on Thursday announced his support for City Clerk Anna Valencia in the Democratic primary battle to replace him, giving her the most-coveted endorsement in a heated race against former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chicago Ald. David Moore (17th).

White — who has established himself as Illinois’ most popular statewide elected official after more than two decades in office — called all three contenders “strong candidates” but said Valencia earned his “unwavering endorsement” in the June primary to determine the party’s nominee.

“I am impressed by her energy, commitment to public service and her dedication to getting the job done,” White said in a written statement. “As Chicago city clerk, she has successfully modernized the office and made day-to-day customer service a No. 1priority. She has the ability and understanding to deliver important services to the public in a consistent, organized and effective manner.”

White noted both he and Valencia grew up in the downstate Metro East region and that, just as he was Illinois’ first Black secretary of state, she would be the first woman and first Latina to hold the post.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, pictured in 2019.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, pictured in 2019.

Sun-Times file

White called Valencia an “excellent fit” to lead the state’s driver services facilities as a “champion of road safety” and “a strong advocate for good government and enhanced customer service.”

Through her campaign, Valencia said she was “ready to carry on the torch that Secretary White is passing on to me.”

“Secretary White is admired, respected and beloved in every corner of Illinois because he consistently shows up and delivers for all communities,” Valencia said in a statement. “I am grateful that Secretary White is putting his faith in me, and I will never stop fighting for working class families, women, communities of color and immigrants who need a champion in their elected leaders.”

The primary race has forced Illinois’ top Democrats to pick sides, but no other endorsement carries more weight than White’s, thanks to his sheer vote-getting prowess. White had considered retiring before the 2018 race but ended up staying the course with another landslide victory for a sixth term that saw him net 3.1 million votes — the most ever for a statewide candidate in a midterm election.

But Giannoulias has already notched the key backing of the Cook County Democratic Party as well as the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than 2,500 workers in the secretary of state’s office.

Alexi Giannoulias, pictured in June 2021.

Alexi Giannoulias, pictured in June 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Alexi’s broad-based, grassroots organization is a clear signal that his message of modernizing the office to reduce long lines and wait times, protect voter rights and increase opportunities to register and to reimagine libraries to increase access and equity is resonating with Illinois voters,” Giannoulias campaign spokesperson Hanah Jubeh said in an email.

Moore’s campaign said it was disappointing but “not a surprise” to see White’s seal of approval go to Valencia. Moore helped pass petitions for White when the outgoing secretary launched his first campaign in 1997, according to Moore campaign spokesperson Delmarie Cobb. But White is very close to Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who has thrown his support behind Valencia along with his D.C. colleague Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

“This is not going to deter David Moore. It would’ve been a boost, but it’s not a detriment,” Cobb said, adding that Moore has the backing of 45 statewide clergies.

“Jesse White wasn’t endorsed when he first ran, so David Moore is in great standing historically,” Cobb said.

Ald. David Moore (17th) pictured in June 2021.

Ald. David Moore (17th) pictured in June 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Giannoulias’ campaign maintains a strong financial advantage in the field, though White’s endorsement could prompt more donors to open their checkbooks for Valencia.

Giannoulias started the year with more than $4 million in his campaign fund, compared to about $883,000 for Valencia and about $82,000 for Moore, according to records kept by the Illinois State Board of Elections.

In the Republican primary, Bloomington state Rep. Dan Brady is squaring up against former Central District of Illinois U.S. Attorney John Milhiser and broadcaster William J. Kelly.

Brady’s campaign started the year with about $251,000 on hand. Milhiser hasn’t reported any contributions since launching his bid in the first week of January, though that’s expected to change as he’s considered the choice of the state GOP establishment. Kelly hasn’t reported any donations, either.

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