Just days after businessman Bruce Rauner won the Illinois governorship in the Nov. 4, election, West Side activists and political leaders were calling on the governor-elect to appoint West Siders to his transition team.
The calls grew loud after Rauner’s campaign announced that his team would include South Side pastors James Meeks and Corey Brooks, both of whom backed the Republican candidate in the general election over incumbent Pat Quinn.
The 27-person team includes former Illinois governor Jim Edgar and former Obama administration chief of staff Bill Daley, brother of the former mayor.
Absent from the list is any direct representatives for and from the West Side. Calls for West Side representation has come from several circles.
Austin state Rep. LaShawn Ford released a press statement last week calling for West Siders on Rauner’s team. Following that release, Rauner’s campaign contacted the representative to talk about the issue, Ford said in an Austin Weekly News interview Friday.
Ford maintained that he’s not looking to serve on the transition team or in Rauner’s administration.
“It’s his administration; it’s not for me to say who he should appoint to his team. That’s not my role,” said Ford, whose 8th District includes Austin, the largest West Side community in the city. “It is my role to speak for the West Side and make sure it’s represented. That’s all I want to do.”
Rauner has also been criticized for not putting any African-Americans in leadership roles on the team. “How can Rauner effect change for African Americans in the State of Illinois if he continues to shut us out of leadership roles?,” asked West Side activist Valerie Leonard, in an op-ed piece last week on AustinWeeklyNews.com.
Ford stressed that this is a great opportunity for Gov.-elect Rauner to get to know the West Side in order to best serve the community.
“How can you not have representatives from the West Side, which is one of the largest communities in the city? There are teachers, advocates and business people, all capable of filling these roles and being on the transition team,” Ford said.
The state rep also thanked Gov. Quinn for his service, including overseeing the enrollment of 700,000 Illinoisans for preventive care under the Affordable Care Act. And with Republicans now controlling three of the state’s top executive offices — governor, treasurer and comptroller — Ford insists that the GOP can no longer blame all of the state’s woes on his party.
“We will now have a bi-partisan discussion about the problems in our state; everyone is responsible for how our tax dollars are spent. The Republicans can’t blame Democrats for everything that’s gone wrong; that argument is dead,” Ford said. “They’ve got skin in the game and are equally responsible in helping to solve the state’s problem. But as Democrats, we can’t harbor on the fact that [Rauner’s] a Republican. We have to work with Gov. Quinn to complete his agenda and get read to work with the executive branch in January.”
While some are critical of Rauner and the state’s GOP leadership, other West Siders are more hopeful.
“While many people are upset with the fact that the Democrats in Illinois lost the governor’s race, I see it as an opportunity,” Malcolm Crawford, executive director of Austin African American Business Networking Association, said.
Crawford’s glad to see business interests represented on the transition team, namely the inclusion of entrepreneur Willie Wilson, whose business career includes owning media, telecommunications and medical supply companies.
“While it’s important to have political leadership, this is an opportunity to have business interests heard at the table,” said Crawford, co-owner of Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center. “I’m glad to see that Rauner has included Dr. Willie Wilson, who I consider a man of integrity and, more importantly, a representative of the business community. He’s a colleague and I’m looking forward to him working on behalf of African-Americans on the West Side; he has always been a phone call away.