103rd District race may spark civil war among local Democrats
Take a look at the way Champaign-Urbana Democrats are split in the Carol Ammons/Sam Rosenberg race for the 103rd House District seat. The contest to be the Democratic nominee to succeed retiring Rep. Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana has the potential to become a civil war.
In Ammons' corner are such Democratic stalwarts as former county board chairwoman Patricia Avery, congressional candidate George Gollin, former Urbana City Council member Esther Patt, Champaign school board chairwoman Laurie Bonnett, county board members Astrid Berkson, Lloyd Carter, Pattsi Petrie and Rachel Schwartz and former County Auditor Tony Fabri.
Backing Rosenberg are State's Attorney Julie Rietz, Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, former Champaign Mayor Dan McCollum, former Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite, former county board members Matt Gladney, Brendan McGinty, Susan McGrath, Tom Betz and Steve Beckett, and current board members Josh Hartke and James Quisenberry.
A few top Democrats so far have managed to stay out of the race, including Jakobsson (although her husband, Eric, is backing Rosenberg), Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and state Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign ("I'm 100 percent focused on the treasurer's race," said Frerichs, who is running for state treasurer).
The Democrats have been through this before, Patt recalled, with state representative races in 1992 (David Thies vs. Prussing) and 2002 (Jakobsson vs. Prussing). The party survived, and for the most part, people buried hatchets and grudges.
But Patt sounds a little less certain that will occur this year.
"Here's the difference. In 2002, neither of the candidates nor their core supporters were nasty toward the other candidate, like the Rosenberg camp is being nasty about Ammons. That's what's different this year," Patt said. "As far as how deep is the split, you always have splits in a primary. That's what happens in primaries."
But Patt contends Rosenberg supporters have taken the race to an extreme this year, citing Eric Jakobsson's criticism of Ammons' college degree from a "diploma mill" and the resurrection of the story of Ammons' (then known as Carol George) ill-fated attempt to get on the Urbana school board even though she hadn't met the residency rules of the district she was running in.
"I don't know how Eric Jakobsson and Carol Ammons sit next to each other at city council meetings," Patt said. "That nasty level of Eric's attack was really unusual for what we see in primaries around here. I think a lot of people were put off by it because it was so over the top. I think that Eric and the Rosenberg supporters who are following in that vein are maybe causing some harm that will not heal after the election."
It got worse Friday when someone tipped Capitol Fax publisher Rich Miller to an interview that Ammons gave to the online magazine Smile Politely last October. In it she said, among other things, that when her family travels to the South "we often see the Confederate flag alongside the U.S. flag. And when it comes to African-American culture and history, neither flag has been very good for African-American people. For me, in my 40s, I don't think the Confederate flag conjures as much negative feeling as it conjured for me in my 20s. It doesn't give me as much angst as seeing the U.S. flag flying coupled with lies and assaults against other nations."
At another point she said that "Angela Davis is an all-time hero to me."
Those views may be acceptable in a Democratic primary but will be a tougher sell in the general election, even in moderate to liberal Champaign-Urbana.
Patt offers a passionate argument for Ammons, but it may not be enough.
"Carol Ammons knows about people who can't afford to go to school. Carol Ammons knows about the challenges to finding housing for people with disabilities. Carol Ammons knows that minimum wage workers are not just kids who want money for video games, that they are people who have children themselves."
Patt said the party's "opinion leaders want to go with a 28-year-old man (Rosenberg) who has no experience, just based on the fact that he has a law degree from the U of I because that's what they think a state representative should be."
Meanwhile, Prussing, who for the most part has been aligned with Patt over the years (although not in the 2002 race), said she thinks the party will come out of the Rosenberg/Ammons race OK.
"I think that if the candidates act reasonably to each other that there will not be hard feelings," Prussing said. "I don't think the supporters have hard feelings. I think the supporters have preferences but they don't have hard feelings."
Twelve years after their showdown, Prussing said she and Naomi Jakobsson are friends and "are on excellent terms."
"Some people like to think that caused a split but that's not what happened," Prussing said. "I appointed Eric to the city council. I've gone to her birthday parties; I've gone to their family events."
In fact, said Prussing, "people mix us up all the time. People talk to her and they call her Laurel. They call me Naomi. I guess we're sort of the same vintage. We don't think we look like each other, but we were both county officials and both state representatives.
"The last straw was when some guy ran after my husband who was leaving a store and he said, 'Mister Jakobsson, Mister Jakobsson.' Now they're mixing up our husbands."
The American Chemistry Council is on central Illinois television stations with an ad praising U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, for his support of "small business, Illinois agriculture and domestic energy production."
Davis is opposed in the 13th Congressional District Republican primary by Erika Harold of Urbana and Michael Firsching of Moro.
The 30-second spot is light on details — never citing any votes by Davis or any Davis-sponsored legislation — and it doesn't mention that Davis is running in a primary election next month.
"Because ACC represents one of the nation's largest manufacturing sectors, we want to acknowledge Congressman Davis' support of policies that encourage domestic energy production and grow small businesses — policies that will foster innovation, stimulate our economy and put people in Illinois' 13th district and across the country in good-paying jobs," said American Chemistry Council CEO Cal Dooley.
The ads will run for 10 days in the Champaign and Springfield area, according to the ACC, which wouldn't say how much the ad buy was worth. They are similar to ads the group is running for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska and U.S. Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, who like Davis faces a Republican challenger.
Meanwhile, Democrat Ann Callis, who won't oppose Davis — if she ever does — until the November general election, is using the chemistry council ads to boost her fundraising.
"A massive outside group just dumped almost $250,000 on TV right here in central Illinois to try and boost the profile of beleaguered GOP Congressman Rodney Davis," said an email from the Callis campaign on Thursday. "We can't take this news lightly. With Ann's primary election only 40 days away, there's no telling what other groups could go on the air. We have to be ready to fight back and get out the facts to Illinois voters. If we don't, Ann could fall seriously behind. We're trying to reach $10,000 for our Central Illinois Rapid Response Fund before midnight tomorrow."
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.