A select group of Democratic Party committeemen unanimously appointed Austin Chamber of Commerce executive director Camille Lilly as the 78 District state rep.
The decision came today after a two-hour public meeting during which committeemen heard prepared speeches from all seven candidates who applied for the $67,836-a-year part-time position on the Oak Park Democratic Party’s web site. State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), who led the group of committeemen, said he wanted to make the appointment process as open and transparent as possible, but one of the candidates said he believes it was business as usual.
The Illinois House seat became vacant when Mayor Richard M. Daley last month appointed Deborah Graham alderman of the 29th Ward; she succeeded Isaac “Ike” Carothers, who earlier this year pled guilty to taking bribes from a developer.
By law, committeemen have the power to make appointments when certain elected offices become vacant, and in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for those decisions to be made behind closed doors.
The group of committeemen charged with finding Graham’s replacement were Harmon; Graham; former 36th Ward Ald. William J.P. Banks; 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts; 28th Ward Ald. Ed Smith, who voted by proxy through Mitts; 7th District state Rep. Karen Yarbrough; and River Forest Committeemen Tom Cargie, who voted by proxy through Harmon.
Committeemen heard brief speeches from each candidate in a packed conference room at the Carleton Hotel in Oak Park. After each speech, committeemen asked each applicant how they would vote on certain pieces of legislation currently under review in Springfield.
When Harmon asked applicant Rev. Marshall Hatch, a pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church who also applied to be 29th Ward alderman, how he’d vote on a same-sex civil unions bill, Hatch said he believed in “equality for all,” which caused Harmon to ask a follow-up question.
“I’m counting votes,” replied Harmon. “Will you be able to vote for the bill?”
“Well, if you vote for me,” said Hatch.
“I see you’re counting votes, too,” said Harmon.
“I don’t know what I’m counting, to tell you the truth,” said Hatch.
“You’re obviously learning,” said Harmon.
Committeeman Banks made it a point to ask the candidates if they plan on running in the November general election as an independent candidate if they didn’t win the support of the committeemen. Former state legislator Ted Leverenz was the only applicant who said he intended to run.
“This is the time that I can use all the skills I possess to get the job done for this district, which I’ve done before,” Leverenz said.
After the committee interviewed each candidate, Harmon suggested a five-minute recess so committeemen could mull over what each candidate said, but Banks instead called for a motion to vote, a move that Harmon said surprised him. “Often time, you’ll see the committee want to take a pow-wow and talk to each other before taking a vote. Obviously, that wasn’t the case,” he said after the meeting.
All the committeemen voted for Lilly, an administrator at Loretto Hospital, with the exception of Cargie, who intended to vote for Ralph Martire, a former Sun-Times columnist who heads the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. But Cargie wasn’t present for the vote, and Harmon voted as a proxy for Cargie. Harmon told the committee he had some “latitude” on Cargie’s vote if a committeeman calls for a motion of unanimous vote, which Banks quickly called for and the committee approved.
The committee’s decision to jump into the vote immediately after the interviews had one candidate wondering how serious the process was being taken by committeemen.
“The deal was done before the process was rolled out,” said Hatch after the vote. “Even when the fix was in the works and I was at a disadvantage, I still felt like I lost something today.”
Harmon said he believes all the candidates had lobbied committeemen before the meeting, and that’s why the committee unanimously voted for Lilly. After the meeting was adjourned, Harmon said he thought the process worked.
“In the end, the decision was unanimous, but it was a well thought out and carefully made decision,” he said.
As for Lilly, she said she plans on voting for a Democratic proposed budget — one that might call for an increase in the state’s income tax. Lilly said she’ll resign from the Austin Chamber of Commerce and that her immediate concern is getting down to Springfield on Tuesday.
“I know I’m driving, but I’ll have to work out all the details tomorrow,” she said.
See AustinTalks’ previous stories on the Illinois House 78 vacancy: