Sen. James Clayborne’s announcement that he will not seek another term in the Illinois Senate brings to an end a 22-year career serving the 57th district.
Clayborne’s career was marked with controversy as well as a rise to power, becoming Senate Majority Leader 14 years after his election and often serving as the only black state senator from outside the Chicago area. Yet he also broke with Democratic leaders on occasion, even with his fellow attorneys, even as he was mired down in a lawsuit against a school and struggled with health problems.
Here is a timeline of some of Clayborne’s accomplishments and controversies in his career:
▪ 1995 — Clayborne is appointed to the state Senate, and then is elected in 1996.
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▪ 2002 — Clayborne defeats Republican Karron Waters in the general election.
▪ 2006 — Clayborne breaks with other black state senators by teaming with then-Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville) in sponsoring legislation to cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. As other senators accused him of “bowing to downstate ideology,” Clayborne suggested that his fellow lawmakers in the Democratic party should not “slavishly (do) the bidding of the trial attorneys’ lobby,” according to news reports.
▪ 2008 — Clayborne is reelected with more than 76,000 votes, unopposed.
▪ 2009 — Clayborne becomes Senate Majority Leader. Meanwhile, an ethics complaint is filed against Clayborne alleging that he pushed to merge Harmony-Emge District 175 and Signal Hill 181 school districts on the basis of a personal agenda. Clayborne’s son had allegedly threatened another student with a disassembled pair of scissors and was suspended for 10 days.
Clayborne filed suit against Harmony-Emge to stop the suspension. He also filed legislation to amend the definition of a weapon to “firearm, knife, brass knuckles or billy club,” which eventually passed. The ethics complaint, filed by a resident, accused Clayborne of seeking preferential treatment for his son. As for the effort to merge the districts, Clayborne gave up on his plan to force a voter referendum on school consolidation after a contentious public forum during which more than 300 residents from both districts criticized the idea. He had argued that the two districts would gain $2.3 million in incentives by merging, but received little support from the communities.
▪ 2012 — Clayborne serves as delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. In the election, he easily defeats a challenger in the Democratic primary and then defeats Republican Dave Barnes in the general election 60 percent to 40 percent.
▪ 2013 — Clayborne takes medical leave for a kidney transplant at age 49. He had been successfully treated for cancer of the kidney in 2002.
▪ 2014 — In a vote on term limits for the governor and other state officials, Clayborne casts one of two “no” votes in the Senate’s three-person subcommittee on Constitutional amendments, which killed the measure. Clayborne argued that term limits transfer power to government workers over elected officials. That same year, he defeats Republican Katherine Ruocco 51.8 percent to 48.2 percent for reelection.
▪ 2015 — Clayborne proposes a bill to require schools to provide bus service to students walking through violent neighborhoods at their parents’ request. He also receives the Outstanding Legislator of the Year award from the U.S. Minority Contractors Association, as well as awards from the ST. Louis Regional Chamber, Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents and Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council. With State Rep. Jay Hoffman, he sponsors legislation that allows the dissolution of Belleville Township.
▪ 2017 — Clayborne’s name appears in a report alleging that his office attempted to get a candidate hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation without proper qualifications. The report, created by a court-appointed monitor for a federal lawsuit, alleged the employee was hired at $54,900 to negotiate the purchase of properties after his resume was forwarded by Clayborne’s office.
Later, Clayborne announces he will not run for another term in the state Senate. In his final term, he sponsored a successful bill to create a Veterans’ Suicide Task Force for public awareness and assistance programs for veterans’ mental health; and has sponsored a bill to urge law enforcement to recognize white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations and to investigate them as such. He will step down in 2018 after a new senator is elected for the 57th District.