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Eye On Illinois: GOP hyperbole won’t solve Chicago’s crime wave, sway reliable Dem voters

Let’s play a numbers game.

We did this a few weeks ago with regard to Gov. JB Pritzker’s approval rating. So, today we look at one of the men hoping to replace him: Jesse Sullivan, a 37-year-old venture capitalist who lives near Springfield.

Sullivan, like most Republicans, is building part of his campaign on statistics around violence and crime, especially in Chicago and its suburbs, which must be flipped red in order to win a statewide election. On Monday he tweeted a graphic citing 1,009 homicides in Cook County so far in 2021 to back up his claim that “Chicago has become a corrupt war zone.”

He compared those homicides to just 13 “fatalities among Western coalition soldiers involved in the execution of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2021,” and another chart showing no single year of casualties among U.S., United Kingdom or other coalition military forces, since the invasion in 2001, surpassed 710.

Notice anything missing?

According to a July 26 United Nations report, there were 1,659 civilians killed in the first half of the year in Afghanistan, a 47% increase compared with 2020. More women and children died from January to June than in the first six months of any year since the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began counting in 2009.

National GOP strategists know about the Afghan statistics because they spent May and June hammering President Joe Biden over a Taliban offensive mounted concurrent with a US-NATO troop withdrawal.

Perhaps Sullivan could have compared coalition deaths to the seven line of duty Illinois police officer deaths in 2021, three of which were the result of gunfire, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (omdp.org). Or he could have done some loose per-capita calculations, looking at about 5.2 million Cook County residents compared to about 39 million Afghanis.

It’s impossible to say there’s no public safety concern in Chicago. Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, Rockford and Peoria residents have their own valid worries. But a war zone? The Brown University Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs issued an April report claiming 241,000 deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan war zones since 2001, including more than 71,000 civilians dead as a direct result of war.

Sullivan’s campaign website touts his time as a Human Terrain Team Analyst on counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan – a civilian contractor. He’s already faced blowback for unfounded claims of leading combat patrols, so conflating a city he needs to win with a war he experienced firsthand is unlikely to engender respect and support from voters not already predisposed to his political views.

The GOP gubernatorial primary will be a tough fight. Undecided voters are watching and should hope for a forthright leader to emerge victorious.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.