SOUTH HOLLAND | Despite spending several weeks talking up the prospective candidacy of Donne Trotter, Thornton Township Democratic Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli was unable Saturday to get Cook County Democrats to officially slate Trotter as the preferred candidate to replace Jesse Jackson Jr., in Congress.
Trotter, a state senator from Chicago’s Gresham neighborhood, was one of 16 would-be candidates who appeared before Democratic Party committeemen to plead for the party’s backing in the Feb. 26 special primary election for the Illinois Second Congressional district seat.
After spending four hours listening to appeals from candidates and nearly two more in a private room debating the candidates' merits, the committeemen voted without opposition to have an “open primary,” which means that no one gets the official party backing and party officials can support whomever they want.
Zuccarelli would not say which committeemen supported which candidates, but admitted that only five of the 16 people who appeared for the slating session held at South Suburban College received support.
He said Trotter received more support than any of the other four, but no one was able to receive enough backing to become a clear choice.
Committeeman Terry Matthews, of Bloom Township, who had previously indicated support for State Sen. Toi Hutchinson of Olympia Fields, said he thinks Trotter is too valuable to the south suburbs in his role as a leader of the Democratic caucus in the Illinois state Senate.
“I think it would make more sense to keep (Trotter) in Springfield than send him to Washington,” Matthews said. “The resources (he) could bring us are so valuable.”
Trotter recently was arrested on weapons charges related to a pistol and ammunition allegedly found in his carry-on bag while trying to board an airplane at O’Hare International Airport. But none of the committeemen questioned Trotter about that issue during the hearing.
“That’s been pretty much expedited in the media,” Zuccarelli said.
Following Saturday’s hearing, Trotter declined to answer questions about the matter, citing the advice of his attorney.
Zuccarelli said he still backs Trotter’s campaign because he thinks the legislator has gained valuable experience during his 24 years as a member of the General Assembly that makes him the most qualified.
But, Zuccarelli said, that's not a slam on the other candidates.
“We have a half-dozen respectable candidates and we would be well-represented (in Congress) by any one of them,” he said.
Zuccarelli was unable to deliver the party backing for Trotter even though his township’s high level of Democratic votes in past elections gave him more votes to cast than any other committeeman. Also, Chicago 7th Ward Committeeman Sandi Jackson did not attend the hearing, and gave her proxy to Zuccarelli to vote for her.
But many other committeemen, particularly those who represented the southern portions of the district that stretches from 53rd Street in Chicago to the Kankakee/Iroquois County border, were vocal about their preferences for other candidates.
Matthews, of Bloom Township, said he takes pride in making the appointment that originally sent Hutchinson to the state Senate and wants her to go to Washington.
“The south suburbs have been ignored for too long,” he said. “She will change that."
John Willard of Kankakee County said, “A lot of people don’t understand how Kankakee County became part of a Chicago district when it used to be part of a district that went down to McLean County” in central Illinois.
Scott Pyles, the committeeman who represented Will County interests on Saturday, even offered sympathetic questions to candidate Debbie Halvorson of Crete to allow her to tout the two-year stint she served in Congress through 2010.
That would give her seniority over all other newly-elected members of Congress, if she were to win the primary and an April 9 general election. “I would go ahead of everybody else,” she said