… On the Way to the Poll
By Ken Hare
Chicago Defender Staff Writer
Remember Acorn and Acorn Housing? For those of you too busy to remember, allow me to refresh your memory. Acorn is the acronym for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The grassroots, not-for-profit organization that gave President Obama his introduction into community organizing – Chicago style.
Acorn was founded in 1970 by Gary Delgado and Wade Rathke in Little Rock, Arkansas. The organization quickly found its niche by addressing systemic issues plaguing low-to-moderate income Black and brown people of color. At its peak, the organization had 500,000 members spread out across 100 cities nationwide, most of whom identified as Democrats. Acorn’s leadership were very strategic political players and leveraged their membership to exact reform in key areas like housing, living wages and especially collective bargaining, just to name a few.
So it’s no surprise that the organization made quite a few enemies throughout the years as they continuously managed to gain “wins” as the organization called them, with their campaigns for meaningful reform. Their biggest win was helping Democrats gain the Oval Office in 2008. The “Yes We Can” movement completely caught Washington’s Republican power structure off guard as the nascent Senator from Illinois was now Commander In Chief, thanks in part to Acorn’s massive voter registration drives across the country.
Defiant and determined, a Republican-inspired counter-attack was launched against Acorn in what can only be described as a made-for-TV movie. According to media reports, beginning in the fall of 2009, two conservative activists secretly made and released videos of staged interactions with low-level ACORN personnel in several offices, portraying them as encouraging criminal behavior. Several independent investigations eventually found the videos to have been partially falsified and selectively edited by the activists, James O’Keefe, and Hannah Giles. ACORN was eventually cleared finding its employees had not engaged in the alleged criminal activities, but in the meantime, the organization suffered an immediate loss of funding from government agencies with which it had contracts, and from private donors. They eventually went bankrupt and closed all of their offices nationwide.
Why Should this Matter?
Quite possibly, similar circumstances have just surfaced in the Illinois State Representative, 5th District race – specifically, Ken Dunkin’s campaign. This past weekend, a press conference was held by Chicago’s Third Ward Alderman, Pat Dowell, who supports Dunkin’s challenger Juliana Stratton along with fifth-term, Illinois Secretary of State, Jessie White. Alderman Dowell brought forth allegations accusing Dunkin‘s campaign workers of paying for votes.
In a statement to WBBM, Dowell said “I believe a crime was committed,” and that “voting is supposed to be a sacred right and it should not be corrupted by people who seek to represent us.” The Chicago Defender has reviewed a video posted online of the alleged incident. The footage shows what appears to be the inside of a campaign office, at roughly 50 seconds into the video, a worker sitting at a desk hands what appears to be money to an unidentified person.
Anthony Jackson, spokesperson for the Dunkin campaign explained: “We deal with a lot of volunteers from the 5th district and some of them registered and voted on the same day as well as knocked on doors in the community, all in the same day.” He further stated “Quite a few of our people don’t have bank accounts so we pay them in cash, $50. That’s minimum wages for four hours of work at $10 per hour, plus traveling expense comes out to $50 per day. They appreciate that and it might seem small but it can make a big difference to somebody unemployed.”
Another video recording taken outside appears to show a woman in a red jacket instructing an individual how they can make money if they “..Punch 121..,” she claims. The unidentified person that appears to be filming the incident says “I got to go down there and then come back here.” To which she responds “How you gonna get your money.” Spokesperson Jackson replied “No one in our campaign is paying people to vote. That’s not true.”
In a page ripped straight out of the Republican playbook, complete with shady characters, hidden cameras, and allegations of bribery; Ken’s Democratic nemesis may have given his campaign a last-minute shot in the arm. In the infamous words of embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Regardless of how the situation appears to look on the surface; Ken Dunkin hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing. However, there’s no denying that the prime time coverage may actually boost his name recognition with the majority of voters headed to the polls on March 15th.
Other media outlets have reported that the allegations are being looked at by the States Attorney’s office.