Valencia paints vision of secretary of state’s office with reduced language barriers, better library hours and more digital access

City Clerk Anna Valencia officially launched her bid to succeed outgoing Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White on Monday, promising “everyone will have a seat at my table.”

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Before White’s time leading the office, Valencia said it used to be a place where “people with special connections could land jobs” or a “campaign contribution could buy you special treatment or a permit.”

White changed that “pay-to-play” culture, Valencia said, pledging to build on the changes the longtime secretary of state made.

“Running an office that serves all people — Chicago, downstate, in the suburbs, everyday working class people of all races, just like my family — requires the highest standards of integrity and an honor,” the Granite City native said. “That has been the hallmark of my career, and it will be the hallmark of my service as secretary of state.”

She said her father, Joe, “proudly stripes … streets” currently as a member of Painters District Council 58, which endorsed Valencia Monday.

Valencia made her announcement at the headquarters of the Painters District Council 14, which also is backing her bid along with Unite Here Local 1. The unions will provide the boots on the ground, and financial support, needed for the statewide race, which is becoming increasingly hotly contested.

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Roushaunda Williams, a leader with Unite Here Local 1 and vice president of the Illinois chapter of the AFL-CIO, said Valencia has “truly earned her place in the heart of our union members,” pointing to her “meetings with fire union workers, walking picket lines with striking hotel workers, advocating for policies that help working people.”

City Clerk Anna Valencia and Mayor Lori Lightfoot discuss changes in ticketing and penalties after a Chicago City Council meeting in 201
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times file

“Anna has shown us who she was through the years,” Williams said. “She was an outspoken advocate. … With Anna by our side, people started to come forward, with her being a champion for our cause people stepped forward to share their story. Anna has been in our union life, and part of our union family, since 2017. She gets the work done — she does what she says she’s going to do.”

Valencia said her campaign will focus on equity, accessibility and modernization from “Chicago to … Granite City, Springfield, Peoria and Rockford — and everywhere in between,” vowing that “everyone will have a seat at my table.”

Her plan to carry through on that includes reducing language barriers for those needing to do business with the office, expanding library hours, increasing grants for technology upgrades and investments so “no matter what ZIP code you live in, your library can get you plugged in to the digital world.”

Valencia also said that, if she’s elected, she’ll call for a commission to make sure the state is a leader in expanding access to voting.

Valencia’s official arrival in the race comes a day after former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias won the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Asked about the Southwest Side Democrat endorsing another, non-Latino candidate in the race, Valencia said she wasn’t concerned.

City Clerk Anna Valencia, left, in 2019; Then state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, right, in 2010.

City Clerk Anna Valencia, left, in 2019; Then state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, right, in 2010.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file; Brian Kersey/Getty Images

“The most important endorsement I can get is from the voters,” Valencia said. “We’ve got a year and 21 days in this race to build a grassroots coalition like you saw today — Latino pastors and Black women and union painters, Unite Here Local 1. This is what the coalition is going to look like — very inclusive, very diverse, all across the state — and this is just the first of many endorsements that we’re going to be rolling out.”

Valencia went on to say she feels “very confident” about her chances, pointing to her roots in southern Illinois and her experience in an executive office over the last four years.

“It’s about relationships, it’s about momentum and strategy and that’s what my team has,” Valencia said. “This is a long game — a year and 21 days — and we’re playing the long game. So, I’m very confident that we’ll have every resource we need to go on TV, to advertise, digital, all of that.”

Ald. David Moore (17th), left, last  year; State Sen. Michael Hastings, center, in 2015; Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), right, in 2019.

Ald. David Moore (17th), left, last year; State Sen. Michael Hastings, center, in 2015; Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), right, in 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia; Brian Jackson; Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Valencia joins Giannoulias, Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd) and David Moore (17th) and state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park who are all vying to replace White, who announced in 2019 he would not seek reelection.

The office typically handles the rather mundane tasks of issuing driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations, but it’s coveted by politicians for its high profile, thousands of jobs and potential as stepping stone to the governor’s mansion or another, higher office.

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