GOP Misfits in Illinois Undermine President Trump’s Minority Outreach

By DOUG IBENDAHL • April 21, 2018


“What do you have to lose by trying something new?” – Donald J. Trump


That was a question then-candidate Donald Trump regularly repeated on the campaign trail. It was part of a message he regularly directed specifically to African Americans. The obvious point being that black voters were being betrayed and taken for granted by politicians of the past like Hillary Clinton.


This President is serious about rebuilding America and restoring economic opportunity to all, regardless of race or creed. And it’s not just rhetoric. We’re witnessing the results on a daily basis. Donald Trump is a man of his word.


I wish we could stop there and declare to black citizens in Illinois that everything is fine. Just hold on, help is on the way. Unfortunately, we can’t.


While our President is literally working night and day to make us proud again of Republican leadership, some local yokels in Illinois – actually let’s call them what they are, failed misfits – are actively undermining our President’s positive work and destroying the Republican brand in Illinois.


I’ll give you just the latest illustration by telling the story of what I witnessed at a GOP event last week in Chicago.


Last Wednesday, April 18, each of the 102 counties in Illinois held a Republican county convention. Every two years this is where the county GOP chair and other county party officers are picked.


And every 4 years, this being one of those years, the county conventions are also the place where under the easily rigged system only the Illinois Republican Party uses, the 18 members of the state central committee (“SCC”) are picked. One member is selected from each of the state’s U.S. congressional districts. The SCC is the State GOP’s senior governing board and its members pick the state party chairman. The current state chair is Governor Rauner flunky, Tim Schneider of suburban Cook County.


Cook County GOP Chair Sean Morrison banning Republicans from Republican convention Wednesday night.

I attended the Cook County GOP convention Wednesday night at the Irish American Heritage Center on the far north side of Chicago. Or at least I tried to. Upon arrival I was informed it was a “closed meeting” and only open to elected committeemen in the county, of which there are only 80 in all of Cook (50 GOP ward committeemen in the City of Chicago, and 30 GOP township committeemen in suburban Cook).


I informed the gatekeepers that this wasn’t just some “meeting,” but was in fact a convention where party officials who supposedly represent me are chosen. I know of no other county party which doesn’t allow regular Republicans to simply attend and observe their convention, even if the attendee isn’t a committeeman and can’t vote on any business. The prior Cook County convention two years ago was also a colossal trainwreck, but at least any Republican could attend.


You might think that a county party that constantly loses county elections by embarrassingly large margins (that’s in the rare event that a GOP candidate even bothers to run) would open its doors and welcome the public to its party convention every two years. Seems like one simple thing to do. A small baby step towards trying to be inclusive and grow.


But I’m not even offended by run-of-the-mill stupidity anymore. I’ll accept not being allowed to attend my county party’s convention. I’m only a life-long Republican who actually supports our President after all.


Here’s the true outrage from last Wednesday, and the part I do refuse to accept. A black woman named Adrian Wright was also barred from attending the convention (other good Republicans were too but I know Adrian the best and will focus on her story).


Chicago 3rd Ward Republican Committeeman Adrian Wright outside Trump campaign office in battleground state of Ohio.

Unlike me, Adrian is actually an elected Republican official. She was elected Republican ward committeeman by Republican voters in the predominantly black 3rd Ward on the south side of Chicago in 2016. And that was a real election, with rank-and-file Republican voters going to the polls and asking for a Republican ballot – very different from the too-easily rigged system our state party uses to pick SCC members across the state.


Even by the silly closure rules the Cook GOP was enforcing Wednesday night, Adrian should have been allowed entry. She’s one of the 50 lawfully elected ward committeemen in Chicago.


But it gets worse. Not only is Adrian a lawfully elected committeeman, she was also one of two challengers running for state central committeeman for the 7th congressional against do-nothing incumbent Carol Smith Donovan. (I also live in the 7th, and enthusiastically encouraged Adrian’s run when I heard she was interested in the post.)


The good news is Do-Nothing Donovan lost, but not to Adrian. The other challenger won, and I look forward to meeting him and wish him well. But the point is Adrian Wright was banned from a convention where she had a right to be, and where she was a candidate for a higher party office.


It would be an understatement to say the party went out of its way to give Adrian, the sole black Cook County resident running for SCC, a taint of inferiority in her race for SCC. And not just because she wasn’t allowed inside the convention. Neither the Cook County GOP nor the Chicago GOP recognizes Adrian as a committeeman, despite the fact Republican voters in her ward elected her fair and square. Both list the 3rd ward, along with several others, as “vacant.” Needless to say, that is not a good status to have if you are running for SCC and seeking votes from your fellow committeemen.


Take a look at those two party directories linked above. Note that almost all of the “vacant” wards are on the south and west sides of Chicago. Most of those are predominantly black wards where black people, like Adrian, ran and won for Republican ward committeeman. But they’ve all been purged.


Of the 80 total GOP committeeman spots in all of Cook County, there may only be one or two black committeemen left who are being recognized. I don’t have the exact figure, but I know the number of black people who escaped the purge is tiny.


Whenever I’ve talked to the misfits responsible for this scandal about how unbelievably racist this all looks, the response I’ve gotten is along the lines of: “Oh don’t worry Doug, we purged some white committeemen too.”


No, I’m not making this up.


It is true that of the 13 GOP ward committeemen who were “fired” by misfits two years ago, shortly after all 13 were elected by Republican primary voters, a minority are not black. One of those committeemen, Steven Graves, who happens to be white, hired a lawyer (no, not me) and took the Cook County Republican Party and Chicago Republican Party to court. Last month he won his case. But if you look at those party directories, he’s still not being recognized.


It’s ridiculous that Graves had to go to court to be recognized in the first place. He ran for 19th ward committeeman and was elected fair and square by Republican voters there in 2016. The 19th is on the southwest corner of the City and is home to a lot of firefighters and cops – most of whom I think it’s fair to say love Donald Trump. Graves does too. He has always been very open about the fact he used to be a Democrat but came to the realization that his old party left him. It’s the same realization former Democrat Ronald Reagan had well into his life. I know for a fact Graves worked his ward hard for Trump in the 2016 campaign, and I also know he even purchased his own Trump signs to distribute throughout his ward.


Graves’ dedication paid off. The 19th produced the third highest vote percentage for Trump out of the 50 wards. And while Trump didn’t win the 19th (Trump did not win any Chicago wards), he did win several precincts within the 19th.


Graves stayed focused on helping Trump – while both the so-called Cook and Chicago Republican parties fought him in court for two years. Of course those two organizations had plenty of time to litigate against a proud Trump supporter because the misfits calling the shots have never lifted a finger for Donald Trump. They didn’t during the campaign and they still don’t today.


Adrian Wright with fellow Trump supporters.

Now back to Adrian Wright. Rest assured, just like Steven Graves, Adrian is not some Chicago Democrat interloper. Her Republican activism goes back to the days when Ron Gidwitz (yes, that Ron Gidwitz) was a Republican ward committeeman in Chicago. She’s so conservative she was on the Illinois ballot in 2016 as a delegate for Ben Carson. When Carson dropped out of the primary Adrian became a huge Trump supporter.


And I do mean huge. Adrian was a minority outreach leader for Trump in Illinois in 2016, and she travelled to the battleground state of Ohio to work on the ground in advance of the November election. She also volunteered at the Republican National Convention and at the Inauguration.


In other words, Adrian has done more for President Trump than probably all of the white committeemen combined, the same committeemen who sat passively on their hands and watched Adrian being strong-armed away, under threat of arrest, from the convention last Wednesday night. I witnessed it all and it was beyond disgusting. I had little respect for most of those committeemen before. I have zero now.


So what’s the beef the misfits have with Adrian Wright? It’s the same nonsense Steven Graves has had to deal with. It’s a scandal that goes back two years now and I detailed the facts when I wrote about the Cook County convention two years ago.


No doubt some of the 13 GOP ward committeemen who then-chair of the Cook County party Aaron Del Mar and Chicago GOP chair Chris Cleveland “fired” two years ago didn’t run for the right reasons. And I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more is in fact a Democrat who ran as a Republican because the Dems either rejected them or they didn’t want to wait in line for a chance at having a title.


But that’s not a new problem, and it’s certainly not one that’s confined to Chicago. The answer is to recruit and support better Republicans. That’s why we have campaigns and elections. Del Mar and Cleveland failed to do their jobs, and then simply made up their own new rules after their failure, and after Republican voters had already exercised their rights and expressed their will. The misfits didn’t care if what they did was at variance with state law. As previously noted, the circuit court officially rejected their scheme last month.


But even if you could find a judge who would agree that a political party can do whatever it wants, no matter how breathtakingly stupid the conduct might be, that doesn’t mean it should be done.


Unfortunately we’re burdened with some small, inept people who don’t have the first clue how to build a party.


And by the way, for Aaron Del Mar to declare anyone “not Republican enough” is beyond the pale considering that not long ago he reportedly was a proud Hillary Clinton fan (Del Mar and Hillary, all smiles here). Sean Morrison replaced Del Mar as Cook County chair at the convention two years ago, and on Wednesday night Morrison was reelected to the post. It’s safe to assume that reelection came without the votes of the black committeemen Morrison had removed from the convention under threat of arrest.


In any case, the “not Republican enough” label certainly can’t be applied to Adrian Wright under any circumstances. She’s been a Republican for most if not all of her adult life. She told me she pulled a D ballot in 2008 merely because a close friend was running for local office as a Democrat and she wanted to support that friend. (For the record, Bruce Rauner admits he voted in the Democratic primary in 2006. And that was for less legitimate reasons.)


Put yourself in the shoes of a black person living your whole life in an almost all black ward in the inner city of Chicago. You never hear a peep from any Republican. No one is reaching out to you. Plus, there’s typically little reason to even bother pulling a Republican ballot because there are usually very few Republican candidates on your ballot to begin with.


Are we as Republicans really going to say we won’t recognize a black person in a low-level party office because they supported a Democrat friend a decade ago? Or what if a black person had the nerve to vote for the first black president in history, are we really going to say that person can’t run for anything as a Republican until some arbitrary waiting period set by the likes of Aaron Del Mar and Chris Cleveland expires?


I say no way. I say Adrian Wright is exactly the kind of person the Illinois Republican Party needs to be welcoming. If it doesn’t, it should expect to keep losing.


Yes, our Illinois party most definitely needs to purge some people. But I would start with the misfits who are destroying our President’s outreach efforts and leave the black people alone. But that’s just me.


Two years ago Del Mar, Cleveland, and the people dumb enough to listen to them went out of their way to demonstrate that all of the GOP’s diversity and outreach talk is a fraud. And the current Cook County chair Sean Morrison doubled-down on the fraud by personally ordering black committeemen barred from the Cook County GOP convention. Again, I was an eyewitness.


Watching Sean Morrison in action at the convention last week was almost surreal. I thought I had seen everything in Illinois politics. But I never thought anyone could be quite that stupid, especially since he knows who I am and should be aware I’ve gotten buffoons ousted from the party before for disrespecting black people. Keep in mind, Morrison isn’t just your typical party hack. He also holds public office. A big one. Morrison is one of just 17 Commissioners on the Cook County Board. State GOP chair Tim Schneider just happens to be another.


Two years ago I wrote about having some hope for the new chairman. I trust people until they give me a reason not to. Needless to say, Morrison has provided multiple reasons. He’s squandered the great opportunity he was given to be a leader.


And before any GOP purist gets on their high horse, keep in mind, we’ve regularly had Republicans openly supporting Democrats while sitting on our SCC! Just one example is Roger Claar. Read more. And Claar ran unopposed again for SCC in his congressional district Wednesday night. Other than me and maybe a couple of others, no one has ever said a peep.


In other words, aging puffy white guy gets a pass on his multiple party betrayals for years while black Republicans are singled out and threatened with arrest for merely trying to attend their own party’s convention. Seriously people? Is this who we are?


If you disenfranchise a dedicated black Republican woman who was lawfully elected by Republican voters in a real GOP election, a woman who was a minority outreach leader in Illinois for Donald Trump — that’s a career-ender.


If Republicans can’t unify on that, we can’t unify on anything.


I told Chris Cleveland this directly on the phone months ago when I saw he was listed as chair of Jeanne Ives’ gubernatorial campaign committee. I also shared my concerns with Ives directly. Suffice to say Ms. Ives does not appear to be a big fan of unsolicited advice.


A ham sandwich could have beaten Bruce Rauner in a Republican primary this year – if the ham sandwich truly embraced our President’s winning agenda (Ives never did), and if the ham sandwich didn’t have a campaign chair who still disrespects a minority outreach leader for Donald Trump.


When you disrespect President Trump or any one of his supporters, you disrespect us all. But Jeanne Ives and Chris Cleveland were part of the failed Ted Cruz primary campaign in Illinois so they may never get it. And they may never fully appreciate Donald Trump’s serious commitment to bringing new people, including our black neighbors, into the Republican Party for the first time in their lives.


On the national level, President Trump deserves all of our support. He is one Republican I can confidently say is doing his job – in fact he continues to exceed the high expectations I had for him on day one. I’m certain the President would be appalled at the situation here too. But he has plenty on his plate and it’s not his job to fix the mess we call the Illinois GOP in any case.


I will continue to encourage any voter, including my African American friends, to support President Trump because he’s actually a doer who keeps his word. But until there is a serious house-cleaning in our state and meaningful innovation of the Illinois GOP machinery (finally restoring direct and real elections for the 18 members of the SCC for example would be a big step forward in fostering real accountability and participation), I honestly cannot think of a single reason why any person, especially any black person, would support the local yokels – excuse me, I mean the failed misfits — in Illinois.


The misfits are clearly doing a lot more harm than good. Let’s get rid of the baggage so we can build unhindered and do our part in Illinois for President Trump’s 2020 re-election.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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