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Can a Millstadt Republican represent all of IL House District 114? Black leaders worry.

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Provided
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Kevin Schmidt & LaToya Greenwood
Republican Kevin Schmidt, left, defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. LaToya Greenwood in the House District 114 race.

More than a year before the Nov. 8 election, Black leaders filed a lawsuit because they believed legislative redistricting would pave the way for a white candidate to win the Illinois House of Representatives race in a district that includes the predominantly Black communities of East St. Louis and Cahokia Heights.

Their concerns became a reality with Republican Kevin Schmidt of Millstadt unofficially taking the House District 114 race over incumbent Democrat LaToya Greenwood of East St. Louis. The Associated Press declared him the winner, though the ballots must still be canvassed and certified.

Black Democrats from East St. Louis have held the House seat continuously for 47 years since the late Rep. Wyvetter Younge took office in 1975. Younge served until her death in 2008. The late Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson Sr. succeeded Younge, then Greenwood won the seat in 2017.

Prior to Younge, the late Sen. Kenneth Hall of East St. Louis was area’s state representative from 1967 to 1971. Hall also served as a state senator from 1971 until he died in 1995.

Schmidt received just 197 votes in East St. Louis compared to Greenwood’s 4,990, according to unofficial election results as of Wednesday. Overall, Schmidt had 19,233 votes, or 52.8%, and Greenwood had 17,177, or 47.1%, in the district that stretches from East St. Louis, through Millstadt and then into the O’Fallon area. The results will be certified on Dec. 5 by the Illinois State Board of Elections.

When asked about overwhelming support Greenwood received in East St. Louis, Schmidt said he will reach out to local leaders to earn their trust and learn the needs of the communities.

“I think the local leaders there obviously know exactly what they need so my plan is to work with the local leaders in that area and accomplish what needs to be done,” said Schmidt, who is a 40-year-old chiropractor. “I plan on working and speaking with the people there and hearing out what they need.

“I look forward to serving all of the people in this district, emphasizing the word all.”

Schmidt said he wants “to make Illinois a better place to live, work, raise a family and run a business.”

Greenwood could not be reached for comment regarding the election results. Last year, however, she released a statement that said she supported the redrawn map for District 114.

“Under the new map, I believe the 114th District will remain a strong district for African-American representation in Springfield, and I would not have supported the map if I believed otherwise,” it said.

But Frank Smith, who recently served four years as the chairman of the East St. Louis Democratic Central Committee, supported the lawsuit filed by the NAACP over the redrawn District 114 map that was approved by Democratic lawmakers and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last year.

Smith thought Greenwood could lose because of the way the district “was being cut up and gerrymandered.”

“And I was correct,” he said after the Nov. 8 election.

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Derik Holtmann
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Belleville News-Democrat
Frank Smith, former chairman of the East St. Louis Democratic Central Committee, believes redistricting caused Rep. LaToya Greenwood to lose the Nov. 8 election.

“LaToya has done an excellent job for her community,” Smith said. “There was nothing wrong with her leadership and what she’s doing.”

The redistricting, he said, led directly to her midterm loss. He is “disgusted” with the state Democratic leaders for allowing the redrawn map, he said.

The NAACP lawsuit ended on Dec. 30 in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois when three judges ruled in favor of the defendants, who included Democratic Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

Concerns raised by Black leaders

Marie Franklin, who is running for mayor in East St. Louis, said Schmidt’s win was “troubling” for her.

“The first thought I had was I just remember when Rep. Wyvetter Younge held that spot and for us not to have a person that looks like us as a representative was troubling to me,” she said.

“I would hope that Mr. Schmidt would be intentional about engaging our community and our people so that he can represent us in the way that shows our values and our thoughts in our community,” Franklin said. “So I am hoping, I’m cautiously optimistic that he will be a decent human being and that he will understand that he is representing all of us.”

East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III could not be reached for comment.

Cahokia Heights Mayor Curtis McCall Sr. said he was saddened that “we lost our representative … representing Black people in St. Clair County.”

“It’s a sad day that we lost that seat,” McCall said. “Rep. Greenwood was very instrumental in getting the funds that we needed in Cahokia Heights to help us repair our aging sewers.”

The state has pledged $21 million for improving the sewer system in Cahokia Heights, according to Pritzker’s office. Greenwood and State Sen. Christopher Belt, who retained his seat with a Nov. 8 win, were instrumental in garnering state funding to address the problem.

“I thought she was a very good, effective state representative and I’m sad to see that she will no longer be in that position,” McCall said.

McCall urged Schmidt to make contact with other elected officials in his district. McCall said he wants Schmidt to represent Cahokia Heights and East St. Louis the same way he would O’Fallon, Mascoutah and Millstadt.

“I am going to do everything I can to work with him and I hope he’ll do the same,” he said.

On Wednesday, Schmidt issued a news release stating that he would maintain traveling district office hours “to make it easier for the people of the district to meet me and talk to me about their concerns.”

But he called out Greenwood for not congratulating him on his victory or offering her support in the transition to new representation.

“I am disappointed LaToya never called to concede,” Schmidt said in the news release. “These State Representative seats do not belong to the people who hold them. They belong to the people. Our state and our nation are sharply divided right now but at the local level we can change the script by leading by example.”

Creation of House Districts

Single-member House districts such as the 114th District were first implemented in the 1982 election after voters approved a 1980 amendment to the Illinois Constitution to reduce the number of state lawmakers.

Prior to that, three House members were elected from the Senate district where they lived, according to Kent Redfield, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois in Springfield.

Each party was allowed to nominate two candidates so voters would see four House candidates on their ballot but only three would get elected. In a traditionally Democratic area such as St. Clair County, for example, two Democrats typically would win and one of the Republican candidates would win the other.

The 1980 amendment was known as the “cutback amendment” since it reduced the number of House members from 177 to 118.

“With 177 members on the House floor, it was incredibly crowded,” Redfield said.

In 1980, the three House representatives elected from St. Clair County included Younge, Democrat Monroe Flinn of Cahokia, and Belleville Republican Celeste Stiehl.

The Democrats’ hold on the House District that included East St. Louis began in 1982 and persisted until Schmidt’s victory.

Redistricting lawsuit

The NAACP filed its lawsuit regarding District 114 on Oct. 15, 2021, as part of an effort to block a Republican from winning the seat.

The complaint alleged that state Democratic leaders approved a redistricting bill that removed nearly 20% of the Black residents from District 114 and replaced them with white residents.

The suit alleged the bill was a “racial gerrymander” that was “enacted for the purpose of electing and protecting White Democratic incumbents in House Districts 112 and 113 at the expense of the Black voters’ opportunities to elect their candidate of choice in House District 114.”

Court records show the suit was ended on Dec. 30 but the online records did not show a reason why it was ended.

House District 113 Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, and House District 112 Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, were both re-elected on Nov. 8.

Neither Hoffman nor Stuart could be reached for comment about District 114.

Bob Sprague, chairman of the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee, also could not be reached for comment.

Greenwood's vote totals

Smith, the East St. Louis Democratic activist, believes the population changes as part of the redrawn District 114 map caused Greenwood to lose the election.

“I knew that by being in Dupo, by being in Millstadt, by being in Mascoutah that we were going to have a hard time and we did,” he said.

Smith said the redrawn map didn’t take any East St. Louis precincts out of District 114, but some areas around Belleville were removed.

The population in East St. Louis dropped 31.6% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Records show a population of 27,006 in 2010 and 18,469 in 2020.

Smith, who said he has been active in Democratic politics for nearly 50 years, believes there were East St. Louisans who were not counted in the 2020 census and he downplayed this decrease as a reason for Greenwood’s loss.

Smith said there are East St. Louis homes with two or three families residing in them that were not recorded in the census.

Greenwood’s previous vote totals were lower this year compared to previous years when the bloc of Democratic votes in East St. Louis would offset any gains made by Republican candidates outside of East St. Louis.

In 2016, she had 8,195 votes from East St. Louis as part of her 26,029-vote total. Those totals dropped this year to 4,990 in East St. Louis and 17,177 districtwide, according to unofficial election results.

Meanwhile, the number of votes that Stuart received in St. Clair County for District 112 increased from 4,495 in 2016 to 6,891 in 2022.

Hoffman’s totals in St. Clair County in District 113 decreased from 23,533 in 2016 to 20,621 in 2022.

Smith said he wished Greenwood well and that he hopes Belt, a Swansea Democrat, will continue his efforts to help East St. Louis.

“There’s a lot of problems that I think LaToya and the senator are working on,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of unemployment, a lot of our people are suffering because of the high costs.”

Mike Koziatek is a reporter who covers the Belleville area for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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