The properly diverse candidate, Chicago Style

Some Democrats in Illinois are trying to frame next Spring’s primary contest for the US Senate as a question of picking the candidate who is the most diverse. That leads to the question of what, exactly, such people mean by diverse and why isn't the contest being described as being between a candidate chosen for consideration by the coalition of the affluent-credentialed urban elite with the underclass versus a candidate from the middle class suburbs? 

The first candidate to declare her intention to seek to challenge Republican (sort of) Senator Mark Kirk was two term Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth.

Duckworth and her husband Brian W. Bowlsbey at the October 2006 Glamour Magazine Women of the Year awards at Carnegie Hall,

One would think Duckworth would have the Illinois Democrat power brokers eating out of the palm of her hand as she has a life story straight out of a Hollywood script.  Make that several Hollywood scripts.  She is, as far as I can tell, the only female Asian American double amputee veteran of the Iraq war.  Her late father was a Marine who could trace his ancestry back to the Revolutionary War while her mother's a Thai national of ethnic Chinese ancestry.  She was raised in Southeast Asia and in Hawaii, where she matriculated at the University of Hawaii. While in graduate school, she joined the Reserves and became a helicopter pilot.  She also met her  husband in the Reserves. To add to this already rich human interest story, last December at age 46 Duckworth gave birth to her first child, a daughter.  Her Congressional district is in the far western suburbs of Chicago. It is an area she first moved to when she sought a doctorate from Northern Illinois University.

So why are some Illinois Democrats unhappy with Duckworth's candidacy?   It seems that when the Democrats speak of diversity these days, they don't use the term to mean variety or differences in background.  It has become a code word for favored interest groups with a claim to victim status.  Asians don’t seem to be either particularly favored or seen as victims by Illinois Democrat party leaders.  Thus some Illinois Democrat sought a  "more diverse" candidate than Duckworth to oppose Senator Kirk, lest the crucial African American vote in Cook County not turn out in mass to vote Democrat in the 2016 general election, 

These forces zeroed in on Andrea Zopp, who has recently announced she is in the race.  Among those who had been urging Zopp to enter the race was former Presidential Chief of Staff William Daley.  According to an entry at the site The History Makers, the African American Zopp holds both an undergraduate and a law degree from Harvard.  I have to say I can't find much I would consider to be genuine historic achievement in Zopp's background, unless one considers being hired because of one's race and sex to be anything other than taking advantage of an accident of birth.  It appears that ever since accepting a position with a large Chicago law firm right after graduation, Zopp has lived within Chicago.  She has changed jobs several times, working both in the private and the government sector, with her longest tenures being in the Cook County State's Attorney Office. Beginning in 2000, Zopp returned to the private sector, holding a series of top legal positions at major corporations, most of which she only had for two to three years before moving to a different corporation. When I read stories about Zopp, the reporters write about how accomplished she is, but include few details about specific accomplishments. What is more common is a recitation that she was the first African American women to hold any given position.

Zopp's current position is President of the Chicago Urban League, a century old not-for-profit civic organization that is held in high esteem by people who probably would be hard pressed to either describe its current mission or list its recent accomplishments.  Zopp was also appointed to the Chicago Board of Education in 2011 by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. She voted for the controversial public school closings.  Parental upset over those closings and the way school reassignments were handled helped create the closest mayoral election in over two decades. 

I was amused the History Makers site described Zopp's father as a lawyer.  That's akin to noting that Jeb Bush has a father and brother who are both politicians. Reuben K. Davis did practice law, but he was also a noted elected politician in Rochester, New York. Then in 1987 Governor Mario Cuomo appointed Davis to be one of the six Associate Justices of the NY Appellate Court, which is the highest court in the state of New York.  In other words. Andrea Zopp's father moved in the very highest political and legal circles of the nation's second largest state.

Zopp's background reminds me of the Chicago area black professionals often associated with Barack Obama. I refer to people such as Valerie Jarrett, Desiree Rogers, Rogers' former husband John W, Rogers, Jr. and Martin Nesbitt.   Their parents were respected, credentialed professionals and they attended elite schools.  Once they had advanced degrees of their own they proceeded to use contacts with politicians and players in both parties to obtain either lucrative positions for themselves or contracts for their minority owned businesses.  Zopp's career also seems to epitomize former White House Council and US Appellate Judge Abner Mikva's old adage about that the political power brokers in Chicago "We don't want nobody that nobody sent."  The right people in Chicago politics have had their eye on Zopp for a while now.

Senator Kirk has let it be known that he would prefer to face the relatively unknown Zopp over Duckworth. Duckworth is a seasoned campaigner with statewide name recognition.  This will be Zopp's first attempt at elected office and she is little known outside of Chicago civic and social circles. 


It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.  While it does, we can look forward to Zopp spouting the drivel of identity politics,  

My consideration is that as an African-American woman I think I bring perspective that the African-American community and also other communities of color will respond to, and I think that perspective is not represented in the race."

Democrat used to claim that people like George W, Bush and Mitt Romney had been born on third base and now act like they had hit triples.  One can certainly say the same of Andrea Zopp.

I searched for a photo of Andrea Zopp with William "Bill" Zopp, her husband of many years, to compare with the all the photos of Congresswoman Duckworth and her husband Brian Bowlsbey.  They were hard to find.   Despite there being many photos of Zopp at civic lunches, gala fund raising dinners and award programs gracing both political stories and the social pages in Chicago media, her husband Bill wasn't in any of those photos. Wasn't he in attendance? It didn't seem to be a lack of interest on his part as in an update to his high school alumni site, the retired agent of the Drug Enforcement Agency noted his extensive involvement in Chicago civic affairs.  I even found a news reference of him accepting an award on his wife's behalf from a civic group when she had a scheduling conflict. But never a picture him or of them together. Finally I found one thumbnail on the Urban League's site in a display of photos from the 2013 gala.  Then when I was attempting to learn if Zopp's three children, who are all grown, had been educated in Chicago's public schools, I finally found a photo of Bill Zopp. On a news site -- a weekly community paper with a paid subscription of 6,000.  (I am still trying to find out if their children went to public or private schools.) 

Here is Andrea Zopp, on the left, in an example of one types of photo often seen of her in the Chicago media, It is from the 2014 Urban League Golden Fellowship Dinner. That is actress/singer Vanessa Williams in the middle and opera singer Jessye Norman on the right.

And here is her husband Bill Zopp

The caption reads Morgan Park resident Bill Zopp stands alongside a fire hydrant he recently painted on the 10300 block of South California Avenue. Zopp is painting hydrants and curbs in the 19th Ward to help maintain the neighborhood.

When I started looking at this contest, it was from the position of being amused that the truly in a class by herself Duckworth was somehow found to be lacking in diversity by Chicago Democrats.  Now I am wondering what it might mean that I can find all these pictures of Asian American Congresswoman Duckworth with her white husband and almost no pictures of the high profile African American civic leader Andrea Zopp with her white husband.  It's almost as if the Chicago political media complex considers him a closely guarded secret.    

It appears to many that in Andrea Zopp some Chicago Democrats are hoping to recreate the same magic that Barack Obama brought when he exploded on the political scene in his 2004 US Senate race.  There may be a particular urgency to find a black candidate with appeal outside of the south and west sides of Chicago because currently the only black politician in Illinois with statewide appeal is the 81 year old Secretary of State Jesse White.  But much of the mixed race Obama's appeal to black voters was in his marriage to Michelle, who is very much a daughter of Chicago's black middle class and the black American experience.   Will Chicago voters respond with the same massive turnout for a Harvard educated black woman married to a white man originally from West Lafayette Indiana? 

The Chicago Democrats promoting Zopp may also be overlooking that 2004 was perhaps the low water mark for the Illinois GOP as the party was still reeling from the exposure of the corruption of GOP Governor George Ryan.  In recent years, that has changed as downstate voters have regained a lot of their traditional wariness of politicians with close ties to the Chicago machine in high profile positions, In his reelection bid last year, Governor Pat Quinn lost every county in Illinois except Cook County.  Against a weak opponent, Senator Dick Durbin, who is from downstate, carried only 14 of 102 counties.   Will suburban voters be as dazzled by Zopp's academic credentials as they were with Obama's and completely ignore her long-standing ties to corrupt Cook County politics? 

Mark Kirk hopes that Zopp will have enough appeal to win the primary because Duckworth has another asset in her favor in addition to her personal story and experience as a candidate. She us generally not seen as being closely associated with the Cook County Democrats.