BLOOMINGTON — For the first time in three decades, the McLean County Democratic Party will have a new chair this year.
Chairman John Penn will not pursue another term after 34 years in that position, he confirmed, setting up a scramble for his successor to be elected by local precinct committeemen on April 16.
Three people have announced they're considering pursuing the job: Patrick Cortesi, co-founder of Indivisible McLean County, a chapter of the nationwide liberal activist group; Dorothy Deany, McLean County Democratic Party co-chair; and Erik Rankin, an Illinois State University political science professor.
“There are communities in Bloomington-Normal that don’t feel the Democratic Party has been able to do much for them," said Cortesi, who works in facilities management for Bloomington's District 87. "We need to do better outreach to some communities in town and do a better job explaining our values. We can’t always be against something. We need to be for something and communicate that effectively.”
Deany, a Bloomington retiree, said she's running because there's value in the continuity she brings as a multi-year member of local party leadership.
"I have witnessed and respect the history and tradition of the county party, and understand, and look forward to, working with recently active groups to unite our party in supporting democratic candidates, locally, statewide and nationally," she said.
Rankin said he decided not to run for a fourth McLean County Board term specifically to pursue the party chairmanship. He also holds a master's degree in political management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"We’re seeing a paradigm shift, moving from (elections being) coronations and giving people a choice,” he said. “What better person to help Democrats get elected to public office than someone that has done so for three terms?”
Both of the county's other major political parties also will have new chairs: Republican Party Chair Chuck Erickson will step down to focus on his legal practice and McLean County Board service, and Libertarian Party Chair Bennett Morris will step down to run for chair of the Illinois Libertarian Party.
Former Republican party vice chair Connie Beard is running for chair, and Normal City Council member Scott Preston is considering a run. Steve Seuss has announced he's running for Libertarian party chair.
All three parties are gearing up for the March 20 primary election, followed by the general election on Nov. 6. While Republicans have a strong base of power, including a 15-5 advantage on the county board, Democrats are optimistic about their chances in the first elections under Republican President Donald Trump, and local Libertarians are on the ballot as a major party for the first time.