“Would you fight for someone you don’t even know?”

That question was posed by a candidate with a national platform and millions responded, “yes.” That is an easy response when it costs you nothing.

Would you fight for someone you don’t even know… if doing so could cost you everything? What if it meant risking personal safety… would you do it then?

Activism is easy when you are standing with a group. It is easy when you are in the spotlight collecting accolades and prestige. It is very easy when you can gather influence, garner credit, and even material wealth. But what if, buy speaking up, you knew that the ire of many would be directed at you; would you still speak up?

Some people have to make that choice. When they do, they reap the whirlwind for that effort and it may not be until years later — if ever- they are proven right. No one will remember them as a whistle blower or a ‘truth teller’. In fact, we now prosecute whistle blowers.

I hope you will remember this for what I write next.

This is a story of racism, collusion, corruption and a massive coverup. This is ultimately, I believe, a story of criminal negligence. I did not seek out the story, but in a strange twist of irony, the persons responsible sought me out.

I was not involved in this state race but knew of it. I myself was not a volunteer, nor a campaign staffer, and far too busy with other campaigns, national media, and other work. But it was an early morning breakfast meeting that piqued my interest.

An incumbent state representative, Rita Mayfield, drove quite a long distance to meet with me. This meeting was brokered by her associate, himself an activist and lobbyist. I am no one that these should be concerned with me and I live so far out of district.

It was at this long and delightfully pleasant meeting I understood why she had come. She asked me to stay out of her race for reelection.

“I am always going to side with the Progressive,” I told her. In response, she immediately began a litany of qualifications she believed were progressive enticements, including prior support for Sanders and such….all things I have heard from politicians before they are about to do something decidedly unprogressive. The rest of the meeting was pleasant, but slightly strained. She even spoke of reintroducing Medicare for All in the State House and asked if I would consult on that.

I asked her cohort to sit for an interview because I believed his advocacy on behalf of ex-felons and employment privacy rights was too important. He agreed to consider it.

I would later file a police report against this gentleman for credible threats made during a racial slur-laced rant over the phone.

What I found from other progressive organizers was troubling as they too had been courted through party acquaintances, with the same allure of introducing legislation for Medicare for All, promises of political appointments, favors to help others find employment, and other niceties.

All of these may have been sincere, but the timing was all wrong.

Now I was very interested in this race which, on the surface, seemed like nothing more than the standard incumbent versus progressive. I was so wrong.

I give full credit to reporter Sharon Lerner at The Intercept for her two excellent stories on the toxins pouring into the community and the blatant racism that revealed itself in the response. However, even a highly decorated journalist like Lerner missed part of this story as did CBS news reporters focused as they were on Willowbrook.

I thank all of these for their kind assistance in helping tell the rest of the story, the one alluded to, but untouchable by Chicago reporters.

What follows is the rest of that story and for disclosure, I am now a volunteer for the Democratic challenger, Diana Burdette, because I believe this district is deserving of a fighting chance.

The second part of this series is out now. Read it here!

Part 1 in this Series

Editor’s Note: Every source has been cited within the document as active links and all sources are publicly available unless otherwise noted. The goal is to allow readers to access the same source data used to draft this piece because transparency is paramount.

Part 1

This week, the last week of February 2020, a grieving family quietly laid to rest a man who had survived several bouts with cancer. He was a former resident near the Medline facility in Waukegan whose body could not endure another round of cancer. This husband, father, brother, son had not yet reached the age of 55, but part of his legacy recorded in thousands of dollars of medical expenses will live on.

This was the same week Sun-Times editorial board endorsed the incumbent state representative, Rita Mayfield, who had sworn to defend this district. The only obituary the Sun-Times had published was that of Jim Miller, the millionaire co-founder of Medline. They have missed dozens of similar stories over the last four years. They have also not spoken to the families here still suffering with loss, on-going illness, and decades of virtual obscurity that is life in a 5-time Super Fund, Environmental Justice community, one that suffers from post-industrial cumulative contamination.

Areas of increased cancer risk from a Medline Industries site in Waukegan. Ethylene oxide emissions from a Gurnee facility were not included in the U.S. EPA’s National Air Toxic Assessment map, (U.S. EPA)

Last week it was the Chicago Tribune who honored the incumbent with an endorsement despite a series of articles from 2018 — January 2020 covering the ethylene oxide (EtO) toxin crisis in the state of Illinois. In fact, it was the Tribune who broke the story to the public after nearly a year of local officials remaining silent. But even the Tribune had stopped covering the issues in Waukegan and Gurnee, the incumbent’s district, in late 2019.

Much of the Democratic Party has been silent about on-going issues in the district, even rallying around the incumbent, rather than taking meaningful steps to help the people who need it most. Over the last two weeks, the Illinois Speaker of the House and Democratic Party Chairman, Michael Madigan, spent thousands in in-kind donations on mailers to support the incumbent.

This money was spent outside the state with Ben Tulchin’s polling firm, and some with The Dover Group here in Chicago, a firm of seasoned campaign strategists with top credentials from Emily’s List, Obama’s campaign, and even Bloomberg’s network of businesses. They were able to produce beautiful mailers positioning the incumbent as a clear leader against Republican policy. The problem is the incumbent is being challenged in the Democratic primary, by Democratic candidate, Diana Burdette.

Rita Mayfield, however, has a donor that profile reads like a who’s-who of Republican backers with everything from Monsanto, to chemical lobbies, oil and gas, banks, pro-life and pro-choice groups, and even two Charles Koch charities; one of which lobbies for charter schools. Her voting record is also a ruddy hue of purple, not blue, as she declined to support LGTB marriage, voted with many across the state to enact an ALEC sponsored bill to criminalize protests of projects like the Keystone Pipeline, doesn’t support lifting the ban on rent control and only recently signed on to the Clean Jobs Act after a year of ignoring constituents petitioning her at open house events. Still, the mailers for Mayfield are slick and look the part.

None of this should matter to Chairman Madigan who spent more on these mailers than most Illinois residents earn on disability benefits in a year, or that none of these firms are union firms, or that the district targeted, Illinois 60th House District, has a median income of roughly twice the cost of these oversized postcards. This is just the way it is here; this is politics in Illinois.

It should come as no surprise then that in 2019, it was not Washington, D.C. recognized as the most corrupt city in the nation — it was Chicago. This sort of electoral lip service is nothing new for the 60th House district as incumbent Rita Mayfield was appointed to her seat a decade ago by Congressman Terry Link. The only thing that has changed since then is Link is now under FBI investigation for tax fraud, the rate of childhood asthma is nearly twice the national average, and Mayfield has her first primary challenger.

This primary race has put a wrinkle into the Lake County Democrat’s ‘business as usual’ plan to fill vacancies through appointments rather than push for special elections. Senator Link is expected to step down and his seat has a list of eager politicians waiting for an appointment to replace him. Mayfield has made no secret of her interests there and the party itself, while publicly citing neutrality in her primary race, has suggested they will appoint a hand-picked Latino for the IL60 House seat if primary challenger Burdette is able to garner enough support from the 53% Latino residents in the district.

What follows from here is how these events coalesced around one of the biggest tragedies and cover-ups the state has ever seen. It is a crisis that continues today, but few residents know just how deep this goes, how blurred the party lines really are, or that all of this is by design.

Part 2 available now – read it here.

Our Interview with Dr. Dylan Burdette, PhD, memeber of Union of Concerned Scientists and local EtO expert.