DuPage County Board candidate says Democrats abandoned her when going got tough

  • Hadiya Afzal

    Hadiya Afzal

Updated 8/7/2020 6:16 PM

Nearly two weeks after announcing she was bowing out of a DuPage County Board race, Glen Ellyn Democrat Hadiya Afzal has not officially withdrawn her candidacy, causing consternation among some members of her own party.

After initially apologizing for a tweet quickly seized upon by conservatives and even Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Afzal, the Democratic nominee for a District 4 seat on the county board, has taken a more defiant posture in interviews with a podcast and the Daily Herald.


She now says local Democrats bear some blame for her decision to end her campaign less than 100 days from the general election.

"You can't have a local Democratic Party that purports to support and promote young candidates, progressive candidates of color, female candidates, if they refuse to stand by them in difficult times," said Afzal, a recent college graduate. "I want to make sure this doesn't happen again to any other candidate."

Afzal implied some Democrats were working against her in a conversation with the Muslim Rumspringa podcast hosts, who dedicated a one-hour episode to her departure and the reaction to her tweet last month about protests in Portland, Oregon.

She also cast doubt that a "20-year-old's tweet" would be a liability to other campaigns. In November, Democrats are trying to take control of the Republican-dominated county board. Afzal narrowly won a five-way primary race for the chance to challenge Republican incumbent Tim Elliott, a Glen Ellyn attorney.

"We had such strong progressive policies and beliefs," Afzal said in the podcast episode. "And that's additionally a reason why we were pushed out, because we had made headway with voters when talking about these issues, but again it was just party people that we needed to convince and that didn't happen."

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DuPage Democratic Party Chairwoman Cynthia Borbas said in a statement that some of Afzal's comments are unfounded, but she would not specify which ones. Afzal's remarks also came as a surprise to county board members Dawn DeSart and Liz Chaplin, two Democrats who said Afzal's podcast interview contradicted her apology.

Afzal posted that she was repeatedly watching a video of a clash between protesters and officers and "laughing every single time." The clip appears to show a federal officer throwing a projectile over a barricade, then being hit in the head by a projectile.

Afzal's tweet surfaced after conservative social media personality Andy Ngo shared a screenshot to his Twitter followers July 26. Afzal has said she became the target of death threats and "racist, sexist, and Islamaphobic harassment."

During the podcast, Afzal said she first received a message of support from the party chairwoman, but later that same day local party leaders recommended she step aside.


Afzal said she felt abandoned and hurt hearing that "people were 'making calls all day' and no one thought to make a call to me, myself, and were instead reaching out through an intermediary to demand that I withdraw."

"And I think it's really just the culmination of a series and a campaign of intentional and deliberate undermining and harassment from certain individuals here as well, which is an endemic problem for young progressives, especially women and minority, candidates running for office," Afzal said in the podcast last week.

It's unclear to whom Afzal was referring; she would not elaborate.

"I know there were some concerns from some candidates and elected officials that this could harm other candidates that are running and distract from other candidates," Chaplin said Friday. "So I know that was discussed among some people, but, honestly, that's about the extent of it."

Chaplin said Borbas asked her to call Afzal and let her know that "she did the right thing" by announcing her intention to leave the race. Chaplin said she told Afzal she hoped she would stay involved with politics.

"Putting that tweet out there was not probably the best decision she could have made, but the attacks that she received were unfounded, so I wanted to call her to give her some support," she said.

Chaplin and DeSart said they were surprised to hear a segment of the podcast when the hosts were laughing as Afzal described the video. Afzal said the "reaction from the officers seemed so comical compared to the violence that the protesters were being met with by those same officers."

"Violence is never right, and it's certainly never 'funny,'" DeSart wrote in an email. "To me, that seemed to negate Hadiya's apology."

She also said she was surprised to hear Afzal complain about local Democrats two days after posting a withdrawal letter citing the "awful things people on the international platform, Twitter," were saying about her.

Afzal has not submitted an official notice of withdrawal to the DuPage County clerk's office.

"This greatly burdens the DPDC, because it hurts the District 4 County Board race," DeSart said. "The party needs to know one way or the other, sooner rather than later."

The last day a candidate can withdraw is Aug. 27. The deadline for the party to submit a replacement candidate is the day before.

Afzal this week said she will turn in the paperwork and that she isn't reconsidering her decision. She maintains her apology was sincere, that other candidates and Democrats are upset about what happened and that she ultimately is dropping out because of safety concerns.

Afzal said she was disappointed by what she called a lack of support from local Democratic leaders in contrast to Republicans defending GOP county board members who faced their own controversies this summer.

Pete DiCianni sparked an outcry when he confronted Black Lives Matter supporters during a pro-police rally and for responding crudely to an email from a resident demanding his resignation. Sean Noonan came under fire for "liking" a Facebook comment that claimed people won't stop rioting until a few of them "are shot dead."

"They issued their apologies for what they had done," Afzal said. "And they managed to move on, and I think that if we had done the same, perhaps it wouldn't have ended this way."

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