Fifth District state Sen. Annazette Collins' loss may be Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins' gain.
Residency issues plaguing Collins have caused top Democratic leaders, including Secretary of State Jesse White, to jump ship and throw their support behind Van Pelt-Watkins who's challenging Collins in the March 2012 Democratic Primary.
Collins is seeking to retain the seat she was appointed to in March 2011, replacing former state Sen. Rickey Hendon-he resigned last February after serving nearly two decades. White, the 27th Ward's Democratic committeeman, nominated Collins to replace Hendon but now regrets that decision.
Public records listed on the Cook County Assessor's website shows that for the last five years Collins has received a homeowner's exemption on a Hyde Park condo-2006 is the furthest the online records go back. The condo is located at 6127 S. Woodlawn Ave., well outside Collins' West Side district.
A homeowner's exemption is levied on a property for which individuals claim as their principal place of residence. Voting and campaign records list a Warren Boulevard address for Collins. The exemption, Collins says, was given in error.
The state senator insists she's owned several investment properties over the years, including the Woodlawn address, which is now in foreclosure. She bought the property 13 years ago before running for state rep in the 10th District in 2000.
At that time, Collins said the homeowner's exemption was given automatically for the Woodlawn address. In April 2011, Fox Chicago News reported that Collins received $2,300 in property tax breaks for living in the condo. Collins says she has since repaid the money to the Assessor's office.
But the senator's explanation is of little consolation for White, who backed Collins as Hendon's replacement, a decision he now regrets.
"I'm not happy with my current senator," White said. "It is obvious she does not live in the district."
Van Pelt-Watkins has asked Senate President John Cullerton to investigate Collins' over her residency issues. Those issues did not surface during the state senate selection process last March, but was discovered in a foreclosure proceeding by the condo association last spring. What's more, Van Pelt-Watkins also vied to replace Hendon before losing out to Collins last year.
Collins, White noted, admitted in court that she lived at the Woodlawn address. He adds that Collins took an FHA loan in 2008-in order to receive the loan, the property must be owner-occupied.
The condo went into foreclosure two years later, according public records website CheckIllinois. White added this is not the first piece of property of Collins' to go into foreclosure. A house in the 2000 block of North Honore Street is also up for foreclosure.
"I've known her for years," White said, "and if I had known then what I know now, I would not have supported her for that position."
Other missteps by Collins, however, have eroded her support. White has raised concerns about legislative scholarships to state universities and colleges that a then-state-Rep. Collins awarded to students. White contends some scholarships were given to students who live outside of the district.
White reviewed 14 scholarships Collins doled out, and found that 13 were outside of the district. The scholarships were given to students as far away as Naperville, Bolingbrook and River Grove, White said.
"Something is happening with this young lady that I'm not happy with. That's why I'm supporting Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins for those reasons and more," White said.
For Van Pelt-Watkins, a 2011 mayoral candidate, she is grateful for White's support, but not surprised by it.
"We deserve representation where people actually live in this district, not live somewhere else," she said.
Collins, meanwhile, balked at the idea that she doesn't live in the district, insisting she has lived at her West Warren Boulevard address for the last three years. Collins noted that she's faced challenges in the past over residency and has prevailed. As for the scholarships, Collins said students signed an affidavit indicating that they lived in the district.
Collins expressed disappointment that White, whom she has worked with for years, didn't come to her with his concerns. But Collins insists that White knows where she lives.
"Everything he is saying is bogus and that is very disappointing," she said.