URBANA — A divided local Democratic Party became even more split Wednesday when retiring state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, endorsed Champaign attorney Sam Rosenberg to be her successor but Jakobsson's past campaign manager said he is backing Urbana City Council member Carol Ammons.
Jakobsson, along with Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing and Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, announced Wednesday morning they were supporting the 29-year-old Rosenberg.
But the Ammons campaign countered that endorsement with one from county board member Michael Richards of Champaign, who was Jakobsson's last campaign manager and who at one time appeared to be the favorite to succeed Jakobsson. She had endorsed Richards to succeed her until he announced he wouldn't be able to run for office and continue to serve at his state job in Springfield.
Richards, in making his endorsement, stressed Ammons' record as a member of the county board and Urbana City Council.
"Every one of these elected officials and activists who are working to improve the community every day knows that Alderwoman Ammons is the only candidate who has taken a vote, created new programs and responded to constituent concerns. Carol has been active in the community long before this state representative seat came open," said Richards, who is leader of the 12-member Democratic caucus on the county board.
Richards also hit Rosenberg for "divisive tactics" in his campaign, although none of the political attacks on Ammons in recent weeks could be traced to Rosenberg.
"Sam's campaign's attack on Carol for attending a correspondence school as a young mother working her way out of poverty makes me wonder if he has the maturity to represent those in the district with different life experiences than him," Richards said.
But the revelation about Ammons' degree from Walsingham University in London had come from Eric Jakobsson, the husband of Naomi Jakobsson and a colleague of Ammons' on the Urbana City Council.
Meanwhile, Naomi Jakobsson, who after saying in October that it was "quite likely that I'll stay out of" the 103rd District race, said she was backing Rosenberg because "I just watched both candidates and I really felt that Sam is the one for me. I think he's the one who can work with everybody in Springfield, represent the people here in this district, work with all of the people in this district and get the job done."
Asked if that meant she believed Ammons could not do so, she responded tersely, "I'm talking about Sam. We're here this morning to talk about endorsing Sam Rosenberg for state representative for the 103rd District."
Like Jakobsson in the past, Rosenberg said he would take campaign support from powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago.
"I don't think standing up to a man who has been Speaker of the House of Representatives longer than I've been alive benefits this district," he said. "I will be happy to stand by my values and support those values, including not supporting Senate Bill 1 (the Madigan-backed pension reform plan approved by the Legislature in December). I'm against pension reform as it currently stands.
"I'm against many of the policies that Speaker Madigan advocated for. That said, if I stand up here today and say that I'm going to go to Springfield and fight Speaker Madigan, that not only hurts me, it hurts the 103rd District tremendously."
Jakobsson, meanwhile, said Rosenberg brings "a good firm background" in ethics.
Without mentioning Ammons' past problems as an Urbana school board candidate where it later was discovered she had briefly lived in Rantoul during the time before the election, Jakobsson referenced ethical problems in Springfield.
"When I first went into the Legislature one of the first things we had were ethics bills, and I thought to myself, why do we legislate ethics?" Jakobsson said. "But as we looked around we saw some examples in our state leaders of people who didn't have a strong plant in their ethical practices.
"One of my former colleagues was arrested and convicted for fraudulent campaign practices. It wasn't the campaign. It was the papers she filled out when she ran for that office. She was arrested because she did not live at the location that she said she lived when she was filling out all the papers."
Asked later if she was referring to Ammons, Jakobsson said, "If that's the way her supporters want to receive that, that's fine. But I'm talking about Sam's strong ethical behavior."
Jakobsson said she had "a very brief" conversation with Ammons when she told her that she would be backing Rosenberg.
"She started to tell me that she would be the first African-American woman from this district," Jakobsson said. "I don't think that by itself is a qualification."
Prussing added, "I think Martin Luther King Jr. said that he wanted his children to be judged by the character and not by the color of their skin. This is not a racial thing. I think it's a real mistake to say that what we should be doing is affirmative action. It's open for anybody to run and they're in a competition."
Regarding the potentially influential endorsements from Prussing and Jakobsson, Ammons issued a statement saying that "Representative Jakobsson and Mayor Prussing have the right to endorse the candidate of their choosing. I appreciate their service as elected officials."
Republican John Bambenek, who attended the Rosenberg endorsement announcement at the Urbana Free Library, later charged that use of the library for a political event was an ethics violation.
"It is a long-standing policy of the city of Urbana that city property cannot be misappropriated by Urbana employees or elected officials (of which Mayor Prussing is one) and used to attempt to gain votes for political candidates," Bambenek said. "As mayor, not only is it likely Mayor Prussing herself voted for this ordinance, she likely was responsible for its authorship. I'm personally offended that she would apparently violate an ordinance she herself probably wrote and the pattern of treating city property as an arm and instrumentality of the Democratic Party."