Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

From "Ghetto Life 101" to Senator? An Interview With LeAlan Jones

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    NEWSLETTERS

    LeAlan Jones has always been precocious.

    At 11,he was discussing the war in Iraq with a TV journalist, sitting on a South Side stoop and fiddling with a baseball mitt while opining, “Bush wants too much oil.”

    At 13, he made “Ghetto Life 101,” a documentary for WBEZ, following that up with a story about a five-year-old dropped from the window of a housing project. It made him the youngest journalist ever to win a Peabody Award.

    Now, at 31, Jones is the Green Party nominee for the U.S. Senate. A poll this week put him at 14 percent, which even he admits is mostly dissatisfaction with Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias.

    Jones became interested in the Green Party after seeing Carol Marin on “Chicago Tonight,” discussing how Illinois voters were weary of both Republicans and Democrats, after the twin scandals of George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Originally, he wanted to run against Rep. Bobby Rush. But party chairman Patrick Kelly told him the Greens didn’t have much penetration in the African-American community -- while seeing Jones as a way to reach those voters.

    In this week’s poll, Jones had 26 percent among African-Americans. He’d be the fourth African-American to occupy a seat that’s been held by Carol Moseley-Braun, Barack Obama and Roland Burris.

    “In terms of the progressive community, that’s something they want to see,” Jones said. “The Democratic machine in Cook County is going to have a serious issue convincing people you have to vote for Giannoulias when you have a viable third party candidate.”

    Because of the Democratic machine, “Cook County is one of the most arduous places to build a third party anywhere,” Jones says. But Jones predicts the Green Party’s emergence will be the biggest change in the local political structure since Anton Cermak pioneered the machine in the 1930s.

    Jones does differ with his party on offshore drilling, saying the U.S. has not yet achieved enough energy independence to forgo that supply. We need a domestic oil supply to maintain leverage with Middle Eastern nations, but that supply can be taxed to provide alternatives to driving, such a high-speed rail line that would connect Chicago to St. Louis and New York.

    “It’s not so much that offshore drilling is a bad thing,” he says. “It’s that you have an oil company that gave money to both sides and allowed them to skirt regulations.”

    To reprise a question Ward Room asked another Senate candidate yesterday, would Jones favor drilling for oil in Lake Michigan?

    “I wouldn’t be in favor of drilling in Lake Michigan, but I would be in favor of windmill technology there,” he says.

    If Jones wins, he’ll be the first Green elected to statewide or federal office. There is a precedent for what he’s trying to do. Carol Moseley-Braun, the state’s first black senator, won by slipping between two white candidates who eviscerated each other with negative ads.

    That’s how Jones got to 14 percent. It’s up to him to go further.