Mayor’s campaign picks up steam

March 9, 2019 GMT

KANKAKEE — Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong is getting a head start in her expected re-election bid, which is more than two years away.

Last quarter, from October to December, the mayor’s campaign raised $36,851. That brings her total since taking office to $57,876, according to state Board of Elections records.

Her fundraising haul is sizable compared to her immediate predecessor, Nina Epstein, who had raised $1,500 by this point in her first term and $500 in her second. In fact, Wells-Armstrong’s total so far is greater than what Epstein raised throughout either of her terms — $49,834 in the first and $20,000 in the second.

The totals among mayoral candidates in Kankakee tend to be higher than other towns.

In Bourbonnais, Mayor Paul Schore hasn’t even filed a report with the Board of Elections, which only requires disclosure if a candidate raises or spends more than $5,000 in an election cycle.

So far this term, Bradley Mayor Bruce Adams has yet to raise anything, according to elections board records. (As it happens, both he and Wells-Armstrong have the same campaign treasurer, Nick Allen, a Bradley village board member, according to election board records.)

Of Wells-Armstrong’s contributions last quarter, $9,275, or one-fourth, came from organizations that do business with the city.

For instance, the suburban law firm that the mayor chose after taking office, Odelson & Sterk, donated $2,500 to her campaign. In all of 2018, the firm received $126,000 from the city.

Piggush Engineering, another firm selected by Wells-Armstrong, gave her campaign $1,000. It generated nearly $440,000 in business from the city last year.

The last quarter was the best for the mayor’s campaign since taking office. Most quarters, she has pulled in only a few hundred dollars, though she did particularly well in the last quarter of 2017, when her campaign raised $14,100.

In an interview, Wells-Armstrong said she held her annual fundraiser in November.

“People have a right to donate to who they support. It’s their money,” the mayor said. “I just bought Girl Scout cookies from someone in the community. I did it because I support her.”

Asked about city vendors’ contributions, the mayor said, “If you work with someone and support what they’re doing, it’s not uncommon for you to donate to that person.”

When Rahm Emanuel ran for Chicago mayor in 2011, he promised to reject donations from city vendors. He signed an executive order to that effect after he took office.

He apparently kept the pledge, although critics pointed out he has accepted contributions from vendors’ employees.

Wells-Armstrong has plenty of company among politicians who accept vendor donations.

Epstein’s campaign raised $775 from Richard Simms, whose engineering firm provided services to both the city and the closely related regional sewage treatment plant. Epstein’s predecessor, Don Green, received $250 from Simms.

Longtime city engineer Dave Tyson gave $900 to Epstein’s campaign. When Wells-Armstrong took office, she chose Piggush over Tyson.

A representative of Reform for Illinois, which wants stricter campaign financing laws, said the donations from vendors to Wells-Armstrong’s campaign “raise serious questions for voters about how these contributions might influence the mayor’s decisions.”

“In other places, there are caps on what vendors can contribute,” said Alisa Kaplan, the group’s policy director. “The first concern is whether contractors have influence on the mayor. The second concern is how the public will perceive these contributions.”