Duckworth Wins Major Union Endorsement in Illinois

Union scrutinized for close relationship with corrupt Gov. Blagojevich

Tammy Duckworth
Tammy Duckworth / AP

A powerful Illinois union with deep ties to Chicago Democratic politics endorsed Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) in the Democratic Senate primary on Monday.

The Illinois SEIU praised Duckworth’s "record of supporting issues crucial to working families" in its endorsement announcement.

The union represents 150,000 members and is a strong force in the state. However, it came under scrutiny in 2008 for its close relationship with former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted in 2012 of seeking out bribes in exchange for political appointments—including an appointment to the same Senate seat Duckworth is currently trying to win.

A 2008 federal complaint against Blagojevich alleged that the governor reached out to SEIU for help with the seat-selling scheme and union officials acted as intermediaries between the governor and the White House. While there was no indication that union officials committed any crimes, the case highlights the close relationship between SEIU and the former governor, who is currently serving out a 14-year prison sentence.

Blagojevich spent years cultivating his relationship with SEIU, and the union was the largest overall donor to his 2006 re-election campaign.

Tom Balanoff, the head of the SEIU Illinois State Council, testified in the case that Blagojevich spoke to him about potentially trading the Senate seat—which had previously been held by President Obama—for positions in the Obama administration.

The former governor also allegedly tried to secure a high-paying union job and benefits for his wife in exchange for the Senate seat.

Balanoff, who still runs the SEIU Illinois State Council, lauded Duckworth in the endorsement announcement on Monday.

"We look forward to continuing to work with her in fighting for a fair economy that works for everyone," said Balanoff.

Duckworth released a statement on Monday thanking the Illinois SEIU for its support.

"SEIU is an incredibly effective and diverse organization, and we share a commitment to fighting to improve the lives of working families and making our state a fairer and more decent place," said Duckworth.

Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, was elected to congress in 2013, after spending two years as an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Previously, Duckworth served as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, a position she was appointed to by then-governor Blagojevich.

Republicans have sought to highlight Duckworth’s ties to Blagojevich, and the Senate candidate attempted to distance herself from the incarcerated politician earlier this year.

"I think if you look at my record, you'll see that I have consistently been an independent voice and that I bring a very unique perspective to the discussion," said Duckworth last March.

Duckworth is running for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. She is leading the Illinois Democratic primary race, which also includes attorney Andrea Zopp and state senator Napoleon Harris.