A seemingly quiet race for an Illinois county board drew national attention last week following the release of an attack ad many claim is “homophobic.”
A mailer sent out to households in the 15th District on Thursday depicts Democratic challenger Kevin Morrison as a puppet controlled by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is also a Democrat. Morrison — who is gay — took issue with the fact that he is depicted on his tiptoes with an exaggerated limp wrist.
In conversation with INTO, Morrison argued it was a coded attack on his sexual orientation.
“Everyone knows that, especially if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, a male with a limp wrist is just a classic, bigoted caricature of a gay man,” he claimed in a phone interview. “It’s used to offend our community and bring us down.”
“I saw that for exactly what it was,” Morrison added, noting the flier was mailed out on National Coming Out Day.
LGBTQ groups agreed the flier intentionally crossed a line. Annise Parker, President and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, claimed in a statement that Republicans “knew exactly what they were doing.”
“For too long, openly LGBTQ candidates were defeated by opponents who appealed to homophobia in a desperate effort to win votes,” Parker claimed, “but I am confident this attack ad will backfire. […] Cook County voters are demanding leaders who unite their constituents, respect differences, and put forward positive solutions for the region.”
But the Illinois Republican Party, which mailed out the flier, has denied any allegations the illustration was intended to be anti-LGBTQ.
In a statement, Executive Director Travis Sterling told INTO the controversy is “nothing but a desperate attempt from Kevin Morrison to try and hide the fact that he takes his orders from Toni Preckwinkle and Mike Madigan.”
“The whole image paints the entire picture clearly,” Sterling asserted in an email.
In the full illustration, the mailer’s caption emphasizes that Madigan — the alleged puppet master controlling the marionette — has Morrison “right where he wants him.”
Confusingly, the attack ad refers to Morrison by Madigan’s last name.
“Kevin ‘Madigan’ Morrison walks in lockstep with Mike Madigan and will take any opportunity to increase your property taxes,” the flier alleges. “Kevin ‘Madigan’ Morrison hasn’t paid property taxes but wants to raise our taxes.”
“Say ‘No’ to Kevin ‘Madigan’ Morrison’s plan to increase our property taxes,” it continues.
What the Illinois GOP neglected to mention, though, is that the mailer is extremely similar to a much-criticized attack ad in last year’s Fort Lauderdale mayoral race. In fliers mailed out by his opponent, openly gay mayoral candidate Dean Trantalis was depicted as a tuxedoed ventriloquist dummy in makeup.
Supporters of Trantalis’ campaign claimed the ad played on decades-old stereotypes of male effeminacy. The candidate, though, brushed off the attack, claiming he “would never be seen in” such an outfit.
Trantalis ultimately defeated his opponent, Bruce Roberts, by 29 points. In doing so, he became the Florida city’s first openly LGBTQ mayor.
Morrison believes Illinois’ 15th district is also poised to make history.
Representing the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the district has been held by the GOP for decades. Morrison, though, describes the area as politically “in transition.” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won five out of the six counties in the Chicagoland area during the 2016 election. She took his district by 20 points.
Although Morrison wouldn’t cite specifics, he claimed early polling showed that he was ahead of Republican incumbent Timothy O. Schneider.
As a former bullied youth, Morrison said it’s been particularly heartening to see his candidacy be embraced by voters in the area. The candidate told INTO he “never thought [he] would one day be able to run in [his] home district,” let alone have a shot at winning in November.
“It has been overwhelmingly positive experience,” Morrison claimed. “People like my message, and the responses overall are incredibly positive, even when I’m talking to Republicans.”
If elected, he would be the first openly LGBTQ-identified commissioner on the Cook County Board.
As a commissioner for the 15th district, Morrison pledged to stand up for marginalized groups — whether LGBTQ people, women, or racial minorities — and ensure everyone has a seat at the table. He cited the Trump administration’s “negative attacks on every disenfranchised group you can imagine” as inspiring his run for office.
“I want to be a voice that pushes our county in a better direction,” Morrison said.