The weekend shocker in the race for the JJJ 2nd District seat was Sunday’s withdrawal of Toi Hutchinson. As the February 26 primary approaches, the race had seemed to be moving to a drag-down fight between Toi Hutchinson and Robin Kelly. Someone apparently put a strong arm on Hutchinson, who had earlier won the key endorsement of Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle—who, on Sunday, promptly threw her support to Kelly. (The strong arm may have been Preckwinkle’s and/or New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s, whose Independence USA PAC will be spending close to $2 million to help Robin Kelly win.)
The Hutchinson withdrawal seemed to further the goal of preventing Debbie Halvorson, the only white candidate in the now-15-person race, from winning by exploiting the splintered field of African-Americans. (A plurality, not a majority, is needed to win.)
Ninth Ward alderman Anthony Beale, 45, a 14-year veteran of the City Council, has been portrayed, for the most part, as an also-ran—not to be completely counted out but, as the Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet wrote, a “longer shot.”
In a telephone interview from his campaign headquarters Sunday afternoon, Beale told me that he had been asked to drop out but would “absolutely” not do so. Hutchinson’s withdrawal, he seemed to calculate, could backfire. “My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he told me, “with Hutchinson supporters who have switched to Beale.”
Here’s a edited and condensed transcript of our conversation:
CF: You said publicly today that someone called you and tried to push you to drop out. Who called?
AB: I’m not at liberty to tell you.
CF: Could you be persuaded under any circumstances to drop out?
AB: Absolutely not.
CF: What about the argument that if you stay in, Halvorson wins and you’ll have to contend with being portrayed as the villain, the spoiler.
AB: Why would I be the villain and not the rest of them?
CF: New York mayor Bloomberg seems to have a single motivation—gun control. Both Halvorson and Hutchinson were supported in past races by the NRA. Bloomberg and Rahm Emanuel are friends and mutual admirers. Would Bloomberg have launched this huge advertising buy without Rahm’s approval and encouragement?
AB: We should not allow someone from outside, millionaires and billionaires, decide who our representative should be.
CF: Congressmen Davis, Rush, and Schakowsky have endorsed Kelly. No Congressmen in your corner?
AB: Former U.S. Senator Roland Burris has endorsed me and so has Sheriff Tom Dart. And the majority of aldermen whose wards fall in the 2nd district have endorsed me. [Beale has the support of 20 aldermen: Burke, Mell, Austin, Zelewski, Moore, Mitts, Thomas, Brookins, Reboyras, Harris, Cardenas, Lane, Thompson, Maldonado, Moreno, Sawyer, Ervin, Cullerton, Pawar, and Banks.]
CF: Have you asked Mayor Emanuel for his endorsement?
AB: Yep. He told me he wasn’t getting involved at this particular time.
CF: What about Rich Daley? Did you ask him?
AB: I asked him a couple of weeks ago. I had a good relationship with Mayor Daley. He was someone who was trying to help me turn the ward around. He said he would look at the race, wasn’t in position to make a commitment at that time.
CF: Have you asked Gov. Quinn for an endorsement?
AB: I’ll be with the governor tomorrow. I’ll ask him.
CF: Why leave the City Council to go to a house of representatives that has approval ratings in the low teens, is in the hands of the Republicans, and seems totally dysfunctional? What of importance can you accomplish in Washington that you can’t accomplish closer to home?
AB: My entire career in the City Council I’ve been able to deliver goods and services…. Going to Congress will allow me to do it on a larger level…. The House is not going divided forever. It’s going to turn. The balance of power will turn, and I’ll be there at the start of the turn.
CF: This has turned into a single-issue race on gun control.
AB: Only one candidate has made it into a one-issue race, Robin Kelly. My platform is jobs and jobs and more jobs…. Put people to work and when there are jobs people put down their guns, foreclosures are relieved, the education system improves. [Beale, a former chairman of the Council’s Police and Fire Committee, presents himself as the candidate who “shepard[ed] Chicago’s 2010 Gun Ordinance through the City Council.”]
CF: Is this a race about race? A black woman (Kelly) running against a white woman (Halvorson) in a majority African American district?
AB: I see this race splitting the vote between the two women and Anthony Beale coming up the middle. Hutchinson’s exit has been good for me. My phone has been ringing off the hook…. People telling me, “We’re with you.”
CF: Can you give me some names of these people?
AB: No, I don’t want to put their names out there, but there will be more endorsements coming.
CF: The 2nd District extends to Kankakee. I know you recently opened a campaign office in Kankakee. How much time do you spend campaigning there?
AB: I’ve been to Kankakee five times in the last two weeks.
CF: You and your wife have three children. Do they go to public school?
AB: My son goes to Gwendolyn Brooks High School; my other son, now in college, also went there. My daughter, who teaches 2nd grade in Oklahoma as part of Teach for America, went to Whitney Young.
CF: And you?
AB: I went to Corliss High School on 103rd off of Cottage Grove. I grew up in the Roseland community. My family lives in the same house I was raised in. I bought it from my mother.
CF: Did you go to college?
AB: I attended Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois. I didn’t graduate, I left and started to work as an IT for Allstate.
CF: What is your most proud achievement as alderman?
AB: The one most passionate to my heart is the Roseland Little League program. We built four baseball fields for kids. Coached my own kids, and still full-time volunteer in program. Help cut the grass on weekends on a John Deere tractor. Yes, I’m a fanatic baseball fan and my team is the White Sox.
CF: You’re on record as advocating that the Obama presidential library and museum be built in Pullman?
AB: I have the perfect location, at the Pullman Clock Tower at 111th St. and Cottage Grove. I’ll be pushing for that when I get to Congress. That will give me a bigger voice. One of the criteria for a presidential library is the economic impact on the community. It’ll have a huge economic impact there. If it goes to the University of Chicago it’ll be added to an already thriving university. Wouldn’t benefit them, just to say they have it. We’re in the process of getting a committee together in order to do a full court press; we’ll have planners and architects to make a presentation…. The president can say “I want to go there. This is the community where I got my start as a community organizer.”
CF: You were close to Jesse Jr. What do you have to say about the incredible revelations of the last few days?
AB: I want to continue to pray for the family.
CF: As alderman, do you have a second job?
AB: No, I’m a full-time alderman. The fact that I don’t is why I’m so effective.
(A laundry list of the issues Beale promises to push should he make it to Washington is here: http://bealeforcongress.com/issues/.)