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Alexi Giannoulias backed by retiring U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush and supporters of Ald. Pat Dowell in bid for secretary of state

SPRINGFIELD — Days after announcing he will step down from his congressional seat, veteran U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush announced Friday he will endorse Alexi Giannoulias for the Democratic nomination for Illinois secretary of state.

Giannoulias also picked up backing from many big-name supporters of Ald. Pat Dowell, a former opponent who dropped out of the secretary of state’s race to run for Rush’s congressional seat.

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Dowell, however, has not said who she will endorse.

Secretary of state candidate Alexi Giannoulias speaks during the Cook County Democratic Committee slating meeting on Dec. 14, 2021, at IBEW Local 134.
Secretary of state candidate Alexi Giannoulias speaks during the Cook County Democratic Committee slating meeting on Dec. 14, 2021, at IBEW Local 134. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Support from Rush and the Black politicos who had been with Dowell comes as some Democratic Party officials have made clear they want a person of color to replace longtime Secretary of State Jesse White, who is Black.

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Giannoulias is white and his main rival for the nomination, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, is Latino. The other Democrat vying for the party’s nomination is South Side Ald. David Moore, who is Black and whose 17th Ward includes Chicago’s Auburn Gresham community.

In a 1 1/2 -minute video released Friday by Giannoulias’ campaign, Rush praised the former state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate as the right person to lead the secretary of state’s office during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He’s always been there for our community. He knows our community. He understands our community. He knows what we need,” said Rush, a Chicago Democrat whose 1st Congressional District runs from the South Side into the south and southwest suburbs to nearly Kankakee. “He will be with us and for us. I know that.”

The support for Giannoulias from backers of Dowell’s secretary of state bid comes despite the stinging rhetoric she directed toward him at the Cook County Democratic Party’s slating session just last month.

Dowell and Valencia have questioned Giannoulias’ loyalty to the Democratic Party, criticizing him for his support of former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross in his 2014 bid for state treasurer against Democrat Michael Frerichs, who won and is now seeking his third term.

Dowell, whose 3rd aldermanic ward covers Chicago’s South Loop and Bronzeville neighborhoods, urged the party at the Dec. 14 slating session to support someone “loyal to the organization” who is “a dedicated public servant” rather than “an opportunist looking to further their stalled political career.”

“To succeed we must have a Democrat, a nominee, who appeals to the people who vote Democratic — mainly women, and precisely, African Americans,” Dowell said. “Let’s be practical. The path to victory is not paved with gold. Money can buy endorsements and influence, but it cannot buy votes.”

Giannoulias narrowly cleared the bar to win county slating over a vote of no endorsement.

Despite that close vote, he’s vastly outpacing his opponents, and one former opponent, in fundraising By the end of 2021, his campaign had over $4 million in cash on hand, more than Dowell, Valencia and Moore combined.

On Friday, several Black politicians who previously backed Dowell’s secretary of state bid said they were now with Giannoulias.

“Alexi is committed to protecting voter rights, enhancing the public library system, increasing diversity within the office, and helping minority-owned businesses get started and hiring. We trust Alexi, and we need his leadership in Springfield,” Democratic state Sen. Mattie Hunter of Chicago said in a statement shared by the Giannoulias campaign.

Other endorsements came from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Chicago Alds. Howard Brookins and Christopher Taliaferro, Kimberly Neely Du Buclet, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner, and former state Senate President Emil Jones Jr.

An alderman since 2007, Dowell has name recognition in the city’s portion of Rush’s newly redrawn congressional district, something she lacked in a statewide race.

But the field of candidates for Rush’s seat is expected to grow with South Side and south suburban elected officials and activists considering the rare opportunity to run for an open congressional seat in a Democratic stronghold that virtually ensures reelection for many terms.

“I’ve done a lot of work in my ward related to small business development, education, health care and I thought that the congressional seat offers me an opportunity to best serve my community,” Dowell said in an interview.

“I decided that I would seek the seat because it’s in my wheelhouse of concerns that I care about. In some ways, it’s a better fit” than secretary of state, she also said.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

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