“The reality is, I couldn’t have projected this. I had never run a campaign this large. But I did know that my inner circle was a group of really experienced, connected, wise individuals who had run many campaigns before. And they did have an idea. They knew what it was going to take."
In what will be perceived statewide as an upset and a stunning defeat for House Speaker Michael Madigan, Urbana City Council member Carol Ammons soundly defeated Champaign attorney Sam Rosenberg, 57 percent to 43 percent, in the Illinois House district that includes most of Champaign-Urbana.
In raw numbers, Tuesday’s unofficial total was 3,298 for Ammons to 2,497 for Rosenberg.
Ammons, 41, will face Republican Kristin Williamson of Urbana in the November general election.
Williamson was unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary in the 103rd House District.
Ammons’ win — the first by a black candidate in the House district that includes Champaign-Urbana — also apparently means that a woman will continue to represent the district.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, who is retiring, has held the seat since January 2003.
Rosenberg, 29, was backed by Madigan’s campaign operation. He had endorsements from Jakobsson, plus the Democratic mayors of Champaign and Urbana and the Democratic state’s attorney of Champaign County. He had received more than $185,000 in itemized campaign contributions compared to only about $16,000 for Ammons.
But Ammons said Tuesday that her campaign had raised close to $60,000, most of it small donations from within Champaign-Urbana.
“Almost all of my donations were under $200, or $25, $50. Some people put me in their budget and gave me $40 every month from October. These are just working people, some retired, who said: This campaign is important and I want to put something into it,” she said.
Ammons credited her volunteer corps with organizing the upset win, including former Urbana City Council members Danielle Chynoweth and Esther Patt, and Michelle Jett and Maryam Ar-Raheem.
“The reality is, I couldn’t have projected this. I had never run a campaign this large. But I did know that my inner circle was a group of really experienced, connected, wise individuals who had run many campaigns before. And they did have an idea. They knew what it was going to take. But the pieces coming together, that was the surprise,” Ammons said.
“We knew the pieces we needed. We just had to get the right people together, and some people came forward that I didn’t know,” Ammons said. “We had a retired physician who came forward to do data entry. She’s been working like a full-time job for no pay for this campaign. Who knew? I didn’t see that on October 5th (the day she announced her candidacy). But as we kept building the campaign, people kept coming forward.”
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Ammons hit Rosenberg for his connections to the longtime Speaker of the House. Rosenberg had received $48,672 in in-kind contributions from Madigan’s Democratic Majority political action committee — plus another $11,750 in in-kind aid from the Friends of Michael Madigan committee. Further, several Madigan lieutenants in the House — including Reps. John Bradley of Marion, Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Frank Mautino of Spring Valley — donated to Rosenberg’s campaign.
Ammons’ biggest contributions were $5,000 — from both the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union.
“We’re dealing with a campaign of the people,” Ammons insisted. “I’m just a regular person of this community and have served here for a number of years. And I don’t have the backing of the machine. That’s the truth.
“And here you have (Rosenberg), who doesn’t have that experience behind him, hasn’t done that service, and that person is backed by the machine. I think people are sending a clear message that they do want something different. They just want a regular person.
“That was a very clear message from the beginning. Our campaign has been run by volunteers, over 250 to this point today. You have people who are willing to stand on the street corners all day to hold a sign that says, ‘Vote for Carol Ammons.’ What else can you say about a campaign like that?”
Rosenberg said he planned to remain in Champaign-Urbana, and he endorsed Ammons in the general election.
“I want to congratulate Mrs. Ammons on her victory,” he said. “Now we need to focus on bringing the party together so that we can make sure that this seat remains in Democratic hands.
“And I want to thank all of my supporters and everyone who came together to help on my campaign, and especially for the service and help of retiring Rep. Naomi Jakobsson.”
Ammons’ candidacy produced big Democratic turnouts in the two predominantly African-American precincts in Champaign-Urbana. In Cunningham 1 in Urbana, Democratic voters outpolled Republicans, 210-14. That was a greater disparity than in the 2012 presidential primary, when Democrats outnumbered Republicans, 136-15.
Ammons beat Rosenberg in the precinct, 193-13.
In City of Champaign 1, Democrats outnumbered Republicans, 216 to 12, and Ammons beat Rosenberg, 204-11.
In Ammons’ home precinct — Cunningham 6 — she defeated Rosenberg by a 86-19 margin.