Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Illinois: James Meeks to choose slate for independent gov camapign

Meeks bid for governor likely State senator to unveil slate of running mates By Rick Pearson and Christi ParsonsChicago TribuneMay 12, 2006--Edging closer to a third-party run for governor, state Sen. James Meeks said Thursday he is a week away from unveiling a slate of fellow statewide candidates and starting to gather the 25,000 signatures required to get on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
Meeks, a Democratic-aligned independent lawmaker who also is pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the city's South Side, released a statement saying that he "will likely formally announce his candidacy for governor" after his campaign overcomes any potential petition challenges.
Meeks, an African-American elected to the legislature in 2002, said in his statement that he planned "an aggressive petition drive" to begin May 20, when he announces the other candidates for statewide office running on his ticket. Meeks has until June 26 to submit petitions to the State Board of Elections and his election attorney, Burton Odelson, said he was confident the campaign would exceed the minimum.
Meeks did not return telephone calls for comment.
For weeks Meeks has criticized Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich for failing to develop a comprehensive plan to reform the property-tax dependent system of education funding in the state that Meeks contends deprives urban schools of needed resources.
Meeks has supported the concept of a tax "swap" that would boost state income taxes for schools while reducing property taxes. Blagojevich has opposed calls to raise state taxes.
While Meeks has sought to use the last several weeks to tease out details of his prospective candidacy, he also has tried to encourage support among white evangelical voters because of his opposition to abortion and gay rights.
Ostensibly, a Meeks candidacy would appear to hurt Blagojevich and potentially help Republican candidate Judy Baar Topinka since public opinion polls show the incumbent governor's most significant support among Democratic constituencies comes from African-American voters.
Topinka said in a statement that Meeks' "potential candidacy shows the enormous dissatisfaction with Gov. Blagojevich's performance in office--even from within his own political party." Blagojevich adviser Doug Scofield said the governor "respects Sen. Meeks and has worked with him on a range of issues, including [investing] more in our schools." Scofield said Blagojevich "will continue to make improving education a top priority."
Meeks' African-American colleagues in the legislature took a wait-and-see attitude toward his potential candidacy. Some suggested that he and Blagojevich might still be able to reach an agreement that would prevent a third-party challenge.
"Once he pulls the trigger on whether or not he's running, we'd be in a better position to say if we're going to support him," said Rep. Marlow Colvin (D-Chicago), who is chairman of the caucus of African-American lawmakers in the House. "Once he makes an announcement, we'd be in a better position to assess his viability."
Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) questioned Meeks' timing, contending a re-elected Blagojevich would look to resurrect the thorny question of education funding reform.
"A lot of people are cautious as to whether the governor's going to find some way to accommodate the senator," Hendon said of Meeks. "They can do it, they've been friends for a while."----------
rap30@aol.com link cparsons@tribune.com

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