When voters in parts of the south suburbs go to the polling place March 18, they will be asked to decide whether a pair of incumbent government officials should be replaced by people whose records include felony convictions.
The incumbents who face such a challenge are state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, and Cook County Board member Stanley Moore, D-Chicago. Both men face multiple challengers in the Democratic primary, including one each with time served in prison.
Moore, who was appointed earlier this year to replace the now-incarcerated William Beavers, has three challengers, one of whom is former Chicago Streets & Sanitation Superintendent Alfred “Al” Sanchez. Jones’ two challengers include former Thornton Township High School District 205 board President Kenneth “Kenny” Williams.
Robert Storman, a spokesman for Thornton Township Democratic Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli, said he believes both challengers have significant problems that will make it difficult — although not impossible — for them to prevail on March 18.
“Some people will vote purely on their emotions, and the candidates will have to work at it if they want to get re-elected,” Storman said. “I don’t take nothing for granted, that’s something I learned from Frank.”
Sanchez served time in federal prison for his role in a sham city hiring scheme, according to The Associated Press. The East Side neighborhood resident is trying to make a political comeback to the Cook County Board after having served his 2 1/2-year prison term.
Williams served 22 months of a five-year term in prison for a conviction 28 years ago in Indiana for aiding or inducing a forgery. A Cook County judge earlier this year said a combination of the state elections code and school code made Williams ineligible to hold the School Board post to which he was elected in 2009 and 2013. While still trying to challenge that decision in court, Williams filed nominating petitions last week to run for the Illinois House seat.
Publicly, political leaders are sticking behind the incumbents. The Associated Press reported that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will back Moore’s re-election over Sanchez, while Storman said Zuccarelli supports Moore and Jones.
Williams and his wife, Toni, who is also a Thornton District 205 School Board member, have said they believe the predominantly African-American voter base of the south suburbs will not hold a prison term against him.
But Storman was skeptical, saying of black voters, “We tend to be into atonement and forgiveness for those who make mistakes in life. But there also are people who live in that school district who wanted someone with more integrity to be in charge of the School Board.
“I don’t know if they will be supportive of (Williams) for the” General Assembly post, Storman said. He added some will be suspect of the fact Williams sought a state Legislature seat in 2010 on the Green Party ticket. “Some black people view that as radical, or sort of Communist,” he said.
While as for Sanchez, Storman said his criminal conviction might just scare off enough people that he will have trouble raising the kind of money necessary to run a credible campaign for elective office.
Elections law expert Burt Odelson said Illinois law allows people with felony convictions to run for state government posts but not for municipal offices, which is how now former state Rep. Coy Pugh served in the Illinois House for 10 years until 2003 even though he had a pair of offenses for which he served just more than two years of prison time.
Felons, “cannot run for municipal offices," Odelson said. "They can run for state. I’d have to research it to see if the county board is considered municipal, or not.”
Lansing Village President Norm Abbott, whose south suburban community is represented by Moore and used to be represented in the Legislature by Jones, said he hopes both incumbents will get re-elected. He said he believes local residents will not look kindly upon the felony records of Sanchez and Williams, and particularly praised Moore — who he said has shown an interest in the suburban portion of his County Board district even though he lives in the Gresham neighborhood.
“I think most people will want to support candidates who have a clean record in life,” he said. “That’s who they’re likely to elect to do the job.”
As for Jones, Storman said Zuccarelli actually sees the third Democratic primary challenger, Rene Chandler, of Calumet City, as being more of a political threat. She is a pastor at the Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, the 20,000-member congregation in the Roseland neighborhood led by the Rev. James Meeks, a former state senator.
“If she is able to get that congregation involved in this campaign, that would be a lot of support,” Storman said. “She could win.”