It came down to former mayoral hopeful Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and West Side state Rep. Annazette Collins to fill the 5th Legislative District seat left vacant by former state senator Rickey Hendon who abruptly quit last month.
But in the end, Collins’s elect-ability and political experience swayed the district’s Democratic committee on Monday who gave her the nod. Meeting at a West Loop restaurant to decide Hendon’s replacement, Collins received a unanimous vote from 12 of the 13 committeemen gathered at Moretti’s Ristorante, 1645 W. Jackson. Eleventh Ward committeeman John P. Daley voted by proxy while 25th Ward committeeman, Ald. Danny Solis, was absent from the three-and-half hour meeting.
Collins was elated at her selection, but she said her jump from the Illinois House to the Senate was a strategic one. Chicago lost more than 200,000 residents, according to the 2010 Census. The city could likely lose a legislative district. As a state senator, Collins said she would fight to ensure that district would not be the 5th. She was sworn in Wednesday in Springfield.
“If we lose the 5th, we lose the 9th [Representative] and the 10th [Representative] as well,” Collins said.
While acknowledging that both houses draw the district maps, Collins said the final say lies with the Senate. She contends that her previous experience in the last redistricting gives her an edge to ensure that the 5th District remains. But with her move to the Senate, Collins loses her seniority in the House, but insisted that was an even tradeoff.
“If I move over to the Senate I lose all of that, but what I gain is the possibility of us keeping the senatorial district,” she said.
Collins was among 12 contenders, which included a former Chicago police officer, as well as a corporate executive. Even former independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen sought another chance at public office. Only eight people, however, were nominated. Cohen was not among them.
Though Collins’s appointment was unanimous, the closed-session debate to arrive at that decision was occasionally tense, according to Secretary of State Jesse White, who chaired the proceedings. The meeting was open to the public before entering into executive session for the final vote.
“We had a heated discussion upstairs to arrive at who this person would be to succeed Senator Hendon so the fix was not in,” said White-a 27th Ward committeeman-while responding to a reporter’s question about whether Collins’s appointment was already a done deal prior to deliberations.
Committeeman Ed Smith, the former 28th Ward alderman who nominated Collins, agreed. He explained that each committeeman advocated for their nominee, but in the end, Collins’ knowledge of the district and her work in Springfield won out.
All eight nominees had support, White said, but he noted that Van Pelt Watkins had “a lot of support.” The final round came down to Watkins and Collins. The committeemen went through eight rounds of voting before the nominees were narrowed down to those two Watkins and Collins. White acknowledged that Collins was not his pick.
The committeemen will repeat this process in the coming weeks to select Collins’ replacement. White said he was impressed with Watkins and believes she would be a viable candidate. Attempts to reach Watkins for comment were unsuccessful.
Collins was bombarded by reporters’ questions after the vote about whether she would recommend her daughter, Angelique, to replace her. Collins said her daughter is qualified, but maintained that decision was up to the committeemen.