Accusations fly in heated 5th District Senate race

March 12, 2012 4:30:07 PM PDT
Charges and counter charges are being exchanged in a heated race for the Illinois Senate in the 5th District located on Chicago's West Side.

Democratic leaders are divided over the two candidates: Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and Annazette Collins.

On Monday Watkins, who ran for mayor of Chicago last year, took her campaign to the federal building, carrying a letter which asks the feds to investigate her primary opponent. She says when State Senator Annazette Collins served in the Illinois House, she awarded state scholarships to students who did not live in Collins' West Side district.

"These scholarships went out of the district," said Watkins. "People who were given these scholarships then paid into Annazette's campaign."

Collins, who served five terms in the House, was appointed to the state Senate last year to replace the retired Rickey Hendon. She said it was not her job to vet the students, a half dozen of whom used the same West Side address on their applications.

"Once I make a recommendation and once they sign the affidavit saying they live in our district, then it's the State Board of Education to investigate further," said Sen. Collins.

Collins also was accused of taking a federally insured loan and a Cook County homeowners exemption on a residence located outside the district.

"It just proves that she's been living outside of the district and claiming to live inside our district," said Watkins.

"When we found out we made a mistake and it was an error, we paid those dollars back and we've moved forward," said Collins.

The controversies caused Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to switch his support from Collins to Watkins. Governor Pat Quinn endorsed Collins as did U.S. Congressman Danny Davis despite the residency questions surrounding the lawmaker and her scholarship awardees.

"It's never been proven that they lived outside the district when she gave them the scholarships," said Davis.

Collinn's alleged ethical lapses apparently do not concern State Senate President John Cullerton, who has given her significant financial support.

"My campaign is about things that I have done, things that I have already achieved," Collins.

In the meantime, Watkins continues to focus on her opponent's ethics. She mailed this card showing side by side photos of Collins and convicted governor Rod Blagojevich with a quote from Jesse White calling Collins "the most unethical person in government".

"We've contacted Lisa Madigan, we've contacted Cullerton, we haven't gotten any movement," said Watkins. "That's why we came downtown to the U.S. Attorney's office."

The latest pre-election poll indicated the race is very close.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the district is newly-drawn and includes the gentrifying area in the West Loop.