By Joel Jacobs
With the March 17 primary fast approaching, six candidates are vying to fill the 12th District House seat held by former State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the Chicago Democrat recently appointed to fill former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s seat.
The district consists of parts of Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Near North and Uptown and includes Boystown, Chicago’s main LGBTQ neighborhood. The district is heavily Democratic, so the winner of the Democratic primary will almost certainly become the next representative.
Meanwhile, the 12th District Democratic Committee has accepted applications to appoint a temporary legislator to the seat, which has been vacant since Jan. 21, when Feigenholtz officially stepped down and replaced Cullerton. The appointee will be selected by the committee after an open forum on Sunday at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N Halsted St.
Several primary candidates have applied to be considered for the appointment, adding another dynamic to an already unique race triggered by Cullerton’s surprise retirement announcement on Nov. 14 of last year.
“There has been a very late scramble by the candidates to get into the race, assemble a team, hire staff and raise money to support those efforts,” said Scott Kennedy, an expert on Illinois elections who runs the site Illinois Election Data.
Feigenholtz represented the 12th District for the last 25 years. Almost immediately after Cullerton’s resignation, reports that she was the favorite to replace him opened the floodgates to a wave of candidates for her seat.
“President Cullerton’s announced resignation caught everyone off guard,” said Jonathan “Yoni” Pizer, who jumped into the race soon after the announcement. Pizer is a real estate agent who formerly served as community liaison for Congressman Mike Quigley (D-5th), who represents the area.
Margaret Croke also acted quickly. The day after Cullerton’s resignation, she called her local Democratic committeeperson to discuss running for the seat. Despite being eight months pregnant at the time, she decided to throw her hat in the ring.
“I’m not going to wait another 25 years for this kind of opportunity,” said Croke, the current deputy chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and formerly served as statewide women’s outreach director for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign.
Croke and Pizer both spoke positively about Feigenholtz’s tenure as State Representative.
Kimberly Walz also jumped into the race a few days after Cullertron’s announcement. She was chief of staff for Quigley when he was Cook County commissioner, and also served in his congressional staff.
Not all the candidates joined the race after the announcement. “I’ve been running since last May,” said Ryan Podges, a labor and employment attorney. “That’s why I really feel like I’m running an issue-driven campaign here. I’m not running because a seat opened up.”
Marty Malone, former director of community affairs for Cook County, was also in the race before the announcement.
Along with the condensed timeline of the race, the candidates have to contend with the large number of high-rises in the area, which are difficult to access when canvassing. To reach potential voters, candidates work with residents of the buildings to host meet-and-greet events.
The upcoming appointment to fill Feigenholtz’s seat could provide valuable media coverage and attention. But it could also be a “double-edged sword” for a candidate, according to Kennedy, since the commitment would mean devoting some time in Springfield instead of campaigning in the district.
There is disagreement over whether the 12th District Committee, which consists of Democratic committeemen representing wards within the district, should select one of the candidates versus a placeholder who is outside of the race.
Walz did not apply for the appointment. “Since we are so close to the primary election, the voters should have the choice in filling the vacancy,” she said. Jimmy Garfield, an attorney who is also in the race, released a statement calling for candidates to decline the appointment.
Pizer applied for the appointment and said a placeholder would put the district at a disadvantage in Springfield. “There are important debates and discussions and bills being written right now. I want the 12th District to be well represented in that process.”
Podges also applied, both to get in front of voters at the forum and the “opportunity to get a head start on the job and working on the issues” should he be appointed. But he acknowledged that a placeholder would be the “most fair and appropriate way to go.”
The district includes five wards, and the five members of the 12th District Committee have votes that are weighted based on the number of 12th District voters in their wards. Committee chair Ald. Tom Tunney (D-44th) holds 45% of the committee votes and has endorsed Pizer in the race.
According to a recent Politico report, a source familiar with the appointment process said Tunney and 2nd Ward Democratic Committeeman Tim Egan will support Pizer for the temporary seat, giving him a majority of weighted votes.
“There are so few opportunities to get your message across in this race, and I think that this whole Sunday appointment process is a chance for me to talk about the issues,” said Croke, who applied as well.
However, she felt that the appointment should ultimately go to Sean Tenner, the 46th Ward Democratic Committeeman, who is not in the race and has promised to donate his salary and step down after the election is certified. The committee would then appoint the winner of the primary to fill the set.
Tenner, who holds a 29% of the votes in the committee, has not endorsed any of the candidates, and described them as “all good people — all dedicated to the community.”
“I think whatever happens, Democrats and community members will unite,” said Tenner.
The public forum for the appointment will take place on Sunday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m. at the Center on Halsted (3656 N. Halsted St.) in the Hoover-Leppen Theatre.
For more information on the primary candidates, their campaign websites are listed below:
Margaret Croke: https://crokeforillinois.com/
Jimmy Garfield: https://www.jimmygarfield.com/
Marty Malone: https://www.martymalone.com/
Jonathan “Yoni” Pizer: https://www.yonifor12.com/
Ryan Podges: https://www.ryanpodges.com/
Kimberly Walz: https://kimwalz.com/