It’s a well-known fact that Illinois has elected more African-Americans to statewide office than any of our 49 peers. (And if it’s not well-known, now you know it, because I just told you.) Here’s the list:
Roland Burris: Comptroller 1979-91; Attorney General 1991-95; Senator 2009-10
Carol Moseley Braun: Senator, 1993-99
Jesse White: Secretary of State 1999-present
Barack Obama: Senator, 2005-2008
Illinois has also elected more African-American congressmen than any state. Beginning with Oscar DePriest, who in 1928 became the first member of his race elected to the House in the 20th Century, Illinois has always had black representation in Congress -- the longest streak running. In total, we’ve had 14 black representatives -- more even than California, whose delegation is nearly three times as large. Chicago is the biggest city to have had two black mayors -- Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer. New York and Los Angeles have had one apiece.
African-Americans have had more political success here than in any other state. Although there are a few offices they haven’t filled. We’ve never elected a black governor, although we had one for a few hours in 1972. When Gov. Richard Ogilvie took a trip out of state, Lt. Gov. Paul Simon did the same, leaving Senate President Pro-Tempore Cecil Partee in charge. As Simon wrote in his autobiography, P.S.:
As president pro tem he [Partee] followed me in the succession line for the governorship, if anything happened to the governor and me. Because of the constitutional provisions that succession followed even for temporary vacancies, one day when I knew Governor Ogilvie would be out of the state I made it a point to go over to St. Louis so that Illinois had an African American governor for the first time, even if only for one day. And I’m pleased Cecil Partee had that honor
Partee was elected Senate President in 1975. Needless to say, he was the first African-American since Reconstruction to lead a house of a state legislature. Only in Illinois.
Next year, African-American politicians have a chance to capture two of the statewide offices they haven’t yet. State Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, is considered a leading candidate for lieutenant governor. In 2014, candidates for governor must pick a running mate during the primary, and stand as a team. The three Democratic prospects for governor -- Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley -- are white Chicagoans. So a black Downstater would be a perfect complement. If he wins, Clayborne could conceivably become the first African-American to serve as sitting governor.
On the Republican side, Michael Scott Carter is running for treasurer, an office that will be left vacant by Dan Rutherford’s run for governor. Carter, who calls himself “a proven voice for Main Street conservative values,” is Chief Economist for the Chicago Urban League’s Entrepreneurship Center. Illinois Republicans have run minority candidates before -- Steve Kim, a Korean-American, ran for attorney general in 2010. Carter could make history by becoming the first black Republican elected to statewide office in Illinois.