A political process mixing elements of old-school backroom dealmaking with new-school Internet social networking produced auditions akin to "American Idol" Saturday, as Illinois Democrats selected finalists for their vacant lieutenant-governor nomination.
Among those selected were General Assembly stalwarts like state Sen. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest and state Rep. Art Turner of Chicago. Turner ran second in the February primary for the office to Scott Lee Cohen, who soon after surrendered the nomination amid a rash of unsavory personal disclosures.
In addition, Hoffman Estates resident Raja Krishnamoorthi, who was a runner-up in the primary for the post of state comptroller, Carbondale's Sheila Simon, daughter of former lieutenant governor and U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, were among the finalists.
Subcommittees of the state Central Democratic Committee met at five locations in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate to select 17 candidates for a final vote to take place March 27 in Springfield. The winner will run with Gov. Pat Quinn in the November election.
Yet at the same time, some candidates with less name recognition made it through the vetting process, including Paul Park and Megan Drilling, both of Glenview and both of whom were among 20 people who presented themselves before the Schaumburg subcommittee.
"I don't watch 'American Idol' because my children aren't in that age group," Drilling said, "but I'm familiar with the process, and yes, I very much feel this is like 'American Idol.'"
Drilling, a 38-year-old architecture and development consultant, was one of about 200 state residents who signed up online.
The five-member subcommittee was given marching orders to advance 5 percent of the applicants, giving them two slots. Drilling, citing her participation in local development projects and the National Organization for Women, quickly laid claim to one of them, saying, "I'm one of the people trying to take advantage of this unique situation. I do feel the fire of political office burning within me."
The subcommittee agreed, and gave Park even higher marks. The 74-year-old with a specialty in industrial development presented himself as a former delegate to the Democratic National Convention and as president of the state's Korean American Democratic Committee with the backing of the Asian American Coalition. He proposed creating jobs by building the most advanced steel plant in the world on former US Steel sites in Chicago.
"Mr. Park, who was our No. 1 choice, never would have come to the surface without this process," said subcommittee co-chair Nancy Shepherdson of Deer Park, "and he did."
While applauding the openness of the process, she said the central committee is much more likely to take political strategy into account.
She said they'll be looking for someone politically aligned with Quinn and can hit the ground running as a statewide candidate. She named Garrett, Turner and Krishnamoorthi as top contenders.
Other members of the General Assembly who will be in Springfield as finalists next weekend include Rep. Mike Boland of East Moline, Sen. David Koehler of Peoria and Sen. Iris Martinez of Chicago.
Spiridoula Mavrothalasitis of Mundelein made the cut, as did Dirk Enger of Winfield, James Farrell of Oak Park, Dean Koldenhoven of Palos Heights, Jasper St. Angel of Rockford and Chicago's Thomas Carroll, Lori Koziana and Jay Rehak, an English teacher at Whitney Young High School.