Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Dems Lock Up Banjo Voting Bloc

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Sheila Simon is everything Quinn needs in a running mate. She’s a white woman. She's from downstate. And she plays the banjo. And the bassoon!

    And now Rep. Art Turner is going to play angry.

    Turner, an African-American legislator from the West Side, has a kinda-sorta good reason: he did finish second to Scott Lee Cohen in the primary. And supporters may decide to argue that he was passed over because he’s black. But if that’s so, it’s not because of prejudice -- it's because African-Americans have had unprecedented political success in Illinois.

    From Roland Burris to Carol Moseley Braun to Barack Obama, Illinois has elected more blacks to statewide office than any of our 49 rivals. Chicago-area blacks already occupy half the slots on this year’s Democratic ticket: Jesse White for secretary of state, Robin Kelly for treasurer and David Miller for comptroller.

    Meanwhile, the GOP'ers have one woman on their ticket -- Judy Baar Topinka for comptroller -- and no blacks. Evidently, Alan Keyes was unavailable this year.

    Quinn may lose some black votes by passing over Turner, but those are people who’ll just stay home in November. Downstaters who feel alienated by an all-Chicago, mostly-black Democratic ticket might vote Republican instead.

    With that calculus, Simon is the most strategic choice.

    “I think the number one thing I can add to the ticket is geography,” Simon told Ward Room earlier this month. (Ward Room was into Sheila Simon way before anyone else.) “The Republican ticket is spread far and wide across the state. This ‘Chicago versus the rest of the state’ is pitched often, and not necessarily to anyone’s advantage. To hear someone from Carbondale say, ‘Yeah, we have links to Chicago,’ that’s pretty significant.”

    Simon’s name, of course, will help among Downstate voters who associate “Chicago Democrat” with shadiness. Her father was so scrupulously honest that he listed five-dollar boxes of cookies on his disclosure form, earning him the Straight Arrow Award from Congressional staffers.

    Bonus: Simon plays banjo and bassoon in a roots/Americana/folk band named Loose Gravel, which should only reinforce the image of wholesome nerdiness that people loved about her father.

    As long as she doesn’t pluck out the theme from Deliverance -- that would be a little too Southern Illinois -- Simon will be very popular on the campaign trail.