New State Rep in 10th District; family ties are controversial
September 6, 2019

Jawaharial “Omar” Williams.

By Jake Ekdahl

When Democratic committeemen filled the vacancy created by former 10th District State Representative Melissa Conyears-Ervin’s election to City of Chicago treasurer, they chose Jawaharial “Omar” Williams, son of 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, who sits on the committee and controls the largest share of the committeemen’s votes.

Williams, age 44, worked as a laborer in the City’s Department of Water Management.

Other candidates for the job were WVON radio morning show host Maze Jackson, aides to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White Chavonee Carter and Dwight Lee, U.S. Representative Danny Davis aide Gerard Moorer, former State Representative Eddie Winters, and former public official Eddie Rasul.

Conyears-Ervin resigned her former post May 1, saying she would leave the decision of her successor to the committee. 

Williams has a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern Illinois University and is a past president of Young Democrats of Illinois.

“I have no doubt it’s a case of nepotism, which is not uncommon in Chicago,” said University of Illinois at Chicago Political Science Professor Dick Simpson. 

Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward), who is also Conyears-Ervin’s husband, pushed for 72-year-old Rasul, who pledged he would not run for reelection. 

“Who does placeholder candidates?” Burnett said. “No one does that. That, to me, doesn’t sound right.”

Burnett said he preferred a candidate “start with their foot in, so it will be easier for them to run [for reelection] when they have to run.”

Burnett cited Williams’s familiarity with politics as valuable experience for the job. “He grew up around politics and around politicians,” Burnett said. “He has an idea of how we take care of folks, how we conduct ourselves. When he went to Springfield he was right in the mix. He was right in on negotiations on the budget, and it was easy for him because it’s easy for him to be able to articulate his ideas, his concerns, his agreements, and disagreements.” 

Voting among committee members was weighted by 2018 general election turnout. Burnett held the greatest share with 28.94%, followed by Ervin at 17.94% and Waguespack at 17.59%. The committee’s other seven members split the remaining 35.83% of the vote.

The winner needed only a simple majority of votes to become Conyears-Ervin’s successor. 

Ervin and Burnett both backed Conyears-Ervin in her bid for treasurer.

Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward Alderman, also objected to Williams’ candidacy. Waguespack evoked the case of Derrick Smith, a former District 10 State Representative, as an example of a pick for the job gone wrong.

A jury sentenced Smith in 2015 to five months in prison for one charge of bribery and one charge of extortion after an FBI sting showed he took a $7,000 bribe.

“There was a vacancy for the state rep seat,” Burnett said. “Derrick Smith worked as a state representative, did a good job as a state Representative, but he did something corrupt. He took money from somebody. He should have known better.”

On Waguespack’s attempt to draw parallels between Smith and Williams, Burnett said. “I don’t know what he’s trying to say.” 

Burnett remains confident in the new state representative for District 10.

“He’s a good kid, he’s a good father,” Burnett said. “I think he’s going to do a great job.” 

Despite repeated attempts, Williams could not be reached for comment. To contact Williams’s office, call (312) 265-1019.