Tom Kacich: 103rd endorsement may widen Dem rift
It's anyone's guess how influential last week's endorsement of Sam Rosenberg by state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing will be in Rosenberg's Democratic primary race with Urbana City Council member Carol Ammons.
It won't hurt.
There's no question Jakobsson has been well-liked in the Democratic district that includes almost all of Champaign-Urbana. She has piled up big numbers in each of her races for state representative: 69.2 percent in 2012, 62.6 percent in 2010, 71.7 percent in 2008, 59 percent in a three-way race in 2006, 61.7 percent in another three-way race in 2004 and 53 percent in 2002, when she unseated incumbent Republican Tom Berns of Urbana.
Prussing has done almost as well in her last two mayoral races in Urbana, getting 62.5 percent last year and 53.4 percent in a four-way race in 2009.
Prussing and Jakobsson said they believe their endorsement of Rosenberg will be helpful among Democrats voting in the March 18 primary.
"I think we both have experience in Springfield and working with different personalities and how you find common ground," said Prussing, who was a state representative for one term.
Added Jakobsson, "Now that I have publicly said that I'm endorsing Sam, I'm not going to be afraid to tell other Democrats where I stand and why, and why I think he should gain their support."
Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz, who hired Rosenberg as an assistant state's attorney out of law school and has endorsed him, said the support of Prussing and Jakobsson is valuable "because he had to earn it from them. They wanted to watch him work. They wanted to get to know him. I had the ability to do that years ago but they didn't really know him when he announced. He earned this from them and that ought to be very significant to the voters in the 103rd."
Rosenberg said he thought it would help "tremendously, because I think it shows that individuals who have experienced the atmosphere in Springfield are trusting me to carry their banner for many years ahead, hopefully."
Esther Patt, an Ammons supporter and a longtime Democratic strategist (including for Jakobsson and Prussing) reluctantly admitted their support would carry weight, but she also was angry about the contentious tone the race has taken on.
"It will be helpful to Rosenberg among some voters and it won't matter to some," she said. "Some people will be influenced by it, there's no question. But some people will be turned off by it because Naomi Jakobsson was really out of line to make an accusation about ethics."
During her endorsement announcement Jakobsson made an oblique reference to a state legislator who was convicted of not living at the residence she had claimed. Ammons had faced similar circumstances running for the Urbana school board, eventually deciding not to take the seat she had been elected to. Jakobsson never connected the convicted legislator and Ammons, but the reference — made while she was endorsing Rosenberg for his ethics — was clear.
"If that's the way her supporters want to receive that, that's fine," Jakobsson said later.
Patt was livid about Jakobsson's remarks.
"Naomi Jakobsson was out of line and implied something so untrue that I'm really embarrassed for her. Shame on Naomi Jakobsson," she said.
There is no way to understate the significance of these longtime political allies being on opposite sides in a race that has badly split a local Democratic Party that also is divided over county board primary contests and a three-way congressional race.
"My takeaway from this," Patt said, "was that the state representative and the two mayors (including Champaign Mayor Don Gerard) have a press conference and don't even give us a reason to vote for Sam Rosenberg. I think a lot of people will see that. They're just mudslinging. What you get when you sling mud is dirty hands.
"It's remarkable that these political heavyweights got together to endorse Sam Rosenberg but said nothing good about him. The only thing we know about Sam Rosenberg is that he's not Carol Ammons."
Ammons was less animated about the comments by Prussing and Jakobsson but added, "I can't say that I expected this level of nastiness.
"I expected some but I've worked on lots of campaigns, including some of those people that are endorsing my opponent, and I have just never witnessed anything to this degree. I can't say that this hasn't made me ride a rollercoaster every now and again because I'm human. I've just tried to maintain focus. I have good people on my side who call me and give me encouragement."
She said she isn't bothered by the Jakobsson and Prussing endorsement.
"Endorsements don't guarantee anything in particular. That's why we all work hard to get to the voters," said Ammons.
One thing that brought Ammons and Rosenberg together is last week's announcement from Equality Illinois, the political action committee that last year pushed through Illinois' same-sex marriage bill, that it was endorsing both in the 103rd District race.
"These endorsements are part of the EQILPAC campaign to preserve and strengthen the marriage equality majority in the General Assembly in the 2014 election cycle, as well as elect statewide officials who support issues important to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Illinoisans," said Jeremy Gottschalk, president of the Equality Illinois PAC board.
Lincoln Day dinner
Ford County Republicans have their annual Lincoln Day dinner at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Kruse Center in Gibson City. Keynote speaker will be Tom Cross, a former Republican leader in the Illinois House and now a GOP candidate for state treasurer. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk also is scheduled to attend. Tickets are $35 and are available by calling Gwen Ennen at 751-2050, Tim Nuss at 379-7555 or Tom Bennett at 784-8540.
The CU-Immigration Forum will host a community meeting and candidate forum about immigration reform from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Champaign Public Library, 200 W. Green St., Champaign.
Among the candidates expected to attend are Democratic congressional hopefuls George Gollin and David Green, both of Champaign, Republican congressional candidate Michael Firsching of Moro and Democratic state House candidate Carol Ammons of Urbana. Two other contenders, GOP congressional candidate Erika Harold of Urbana and Democratic House candidate Sam Rosenberg of Champaign, may attend, organizers said.
"Now is the opportunity for us to talk to our representatives about immigration," says Ben Mueller, community member and member of the CU Immigration Forum.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.