The former communications chair of the McLean County Democrats will now serve as party chair, filling the position vacated by Nikita Richards in November.
The party’s central committee elected Patrick Cortesi to the role Wednesday night.
Cortesi lost a run for party chair to Erik Rankin in 2018. Running unopposed this year, Cortesi said he wants to build on the progress county Democrats have made since then.
Cortesi noted the party gained four seats on the McLean County Board over the last two election cycles, inching closer toward its top goal of gaining the majority. “And I think we’ll be able to do it in 2022,” he added. Republicans currently hold a 11-9 majority.
For Cortesi, communication is just as vital a skill in this new role.
“I think it’s important for candidates and the parties, even more so today, to harness the ability of media and social media outlets to get their message out there,” he said. “It’s easier for them to do, yet it’s more important that they do it effectively.”
Harsh political rhetoric is thriving on social media, as is misinformation. Cortesi said as the new face of the party, he plans to stick to a rule he developed as communications chair: “Never use a quote or use a story if it couldn’t be verified as absolutely true.”
“I tried to refrain from opinion pieces, or memes, and if I did use those kinds of things I made it perfectly obvious that those were opinions, and not news or facts,” he said.
Some members of the McLean County Republican Party have continued to push the false narrative that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election from President Trump. Rioters holding the same belief stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. last week, resulting in six deaths. GOP Party Chair Connie Beard denies that Trump’s rhetoric incited the violence, and previously blamed Antifa for the incident on the party's Facebook page.
About 60 Trump supporters from McLean County attended the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 that preceded the riots, hosted in part by Normal Town Council candidate David Paul Blumenshine.
Cortesi said that kind of rhetoric from local officials “just creates more division and more confusion amongst the residents of McLean County.”
“The truth is, Joe Biden won a fair and free election,” he said. “So when you’re not willing to admit that, when you’re giving in to the big lie, when you’re telling your supporters that this election was somehow stolen from you, then incidents like what happened the other day are predictable.”
Democrats may have won the county in the 2020 presidential race, but there was no decisive “blue wave” in county-wide races.
Cortesi said to gain ground in 2022, “I think we need to get back to more of a focus on community-building.”
He noted some activities like door-knocking and town meetings can’t happen during the pandemic. “We’re going to have to be creative and find a safe way to do that,” he said.
Cortesi said he’ll look to the campaign of Stacey Abrams and other organizers that helped Georgia flip blue in the presidential election and senate runoffs as an example.
“For years, they’ve been reaching out to residents in their communities and just having conversations about what was important, what their values are, what they wanted to see from their government,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to start doing.”
With Trump out of office in a week, Cortesi said he expects to win back some working-class voters from the Republican party.
“Donald Trump and his administration in his term left a lot of broken promises,” he said. “I’m not really sure what you could say he accomplished for the working person.”
He pointed to Trump’s tax legislation that took effect in 2018 that Cortesi said disproportionately benefited the top 1% of wealth owners in America, and congressional Republicans’ recent vote to keep COVID-19 relief payments at $600 while Democrats pushed for $2,000 payments.
“I think the Democrats and the Democratic party of McLean County can do a better job of getting that message through, that traditionally we’ve been there for the working families, and we’re going to continue to be moving forward,” Cortesi said.
But Cortesi said he expects to be a largely hands-off party chair compared to his predecessors.
“At the time, I think each of those chairs fit what was needed for the party at that time,” he said. “John Penn was very labor-centric, very community focused, and rightfully so. I think Erik Rankin brought to the party a desire to be bigger and better, and get more done,” he said. Cortesi said Nikita Richards used her connections to continue that push forward.
Now, it’s time to turn the focus away from the party chair, Cortesi said--“back to the precinct committee people, back to the candidates, back to the people that really make up this party.”
Cortesi said he has a track record of helping the diverse local Democratic party work together to accomplish shared goals, and he’ll do the same to foster cooperation in local government.
“I have a knack for finding that area of compromise, and if we can do that within our own party, then I think I can also convince people to do it outside of our party,” he said.
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