In the latest dramatic event related to county board politics, District 4 Democratic Nominee Hadiya Afzal of Glen Ellyn, who was running against incumbent Tim Elliott, withdrew her candidacy after a tweet on her personal Twitter account went viral in right-wing circles.
At 4:30 AM on Sunday, July 26th, Afzal retweeted a video of a police officer throwing a bottle into a crowd and having it thrown back at him, captioning it by saying she had been “watching this on repeat for fifteen minutes and laughing every single time”.
Andy Ngo, editor of The Post Millennial, posted a picture of Afzal’s tweet only an hour later, provoking an intense response from many on Twitter. Responses were not simply critical of the implication of laughing at “violence”- they often went into extreme personal attacks on Afzal’s religion and character. Some screenshots of the most shocking tweets are attached to this article.
For most of the day, news of Afzal’s controversy was contained on Twitter. She had quickly locked her account, which didn’t stop a wave of abusive comments which also appeared on her campaign Facebook page.
Afzal posted a public statement on Facebook that evening responding to the controversy; she made it clear she does “not condone violence in any form” and apologizes to “any individuals hurt by the remark”, but also mentions that Ngo’s tweet launched a “wave of coordinated racist, sexist, and Islamophobic harassment”.
Afzal’s apology did not resolve the issue, which continued to spread on social media; the controversy had been retweeted by political celebrities like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who asked rhetorically, “Hateful and sick. Does @JoeBiden agree? Will any reporter ask him?”
Although the controversy seemed to be mostly contained to the Twitter echo chamber, the DuPage Republicans seized quickly on the opportunity to make this a big campaign issue. Party Chairman Jim Zay (who is also a County Board Member) released a statement demanding that Afzal withdraw from the race, and taking the chance to repeat common tropes about the Democratic Party becoming “increasingly radicalized by far left candidates it promotes to appease its base”.
A few hours after Afzal’s initial statement, she announced that she would withdraw from the race.
This was done strategically; her tweet would have become a campaign issue for not only her race, but the other Democrats running for County Board. The DuPage Democratic Party quickly made it clear that they were trying to distance themselves from Afzal’s tweet. Chairwoman Cynthia Borbas posted that the Party wants to “ to be absolutely clear that we do not support violence of any sort”, adding in a later statement that she also believed much of the response towards Afzal to be “unacceptable and undeserved”.
You may be wondering….. What does this development mean for the District 4 race?
Afzal had won a 5 way primary in March, narrowly defeating Lynn LaPlante, who gave Dan Cronin a close race for County Board Chairman in the 2018 election.
Afzal was also on the ballot in 2018- running for another District 4 seat in a “vote for two” race. Afzal placed 4th; another Democrat, Mary Ozog, and a Republican, Grant Eckhoff, won the election. Afzal received several prominent endorsements in that race, including from Hillary Clinton, which became a commonly mentioned detail following Afzal’s Twitter controversy.
The election is approaching quickly, but there is still time for Afzal to be replaced on the ballot. The slating process involves a vote from Precinct Committeeman in District 4, and will probably occur as soon as possible.
There are many potential candidates for this seat, including LaPlante, who lost this year’s primary by a handful of votes and had been endorsed by the Daily Herald.
District 4 is a tough district for any Democrat to win; it is based primarily in Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, with portions of a few other towns, including Lombard and Carol Stream. In a tied countywide election, District 4 would be won by the Republican candidate.
There are signs that this district is trending Democratic; Hillary Clinton certainly won it in 2016, and the Democratic Board candidates received slightly over 50% of the combined votes in 2018. Sean Casten did well in this area, but if Jeanne Ives is able to increase Republican turnout in her base of Wheaton it may have an effect on down ballot races.
Democrats will have to find someone who is prepared to build a campaign from scratch, and it will be difficult to match the strength of Afzal’s proven voter contact operation less than 100 days to the election.
Overall, this controversy will probably not have a lasting effect on local politics; Afzal’s withdrawal from the race, and her party’s fast condemnation of rhetoric promoting violence, means it is unlikely to be used as a talking point by Republican candidates.
But it does expose the nastiness and abusive behavior that often arises online, and can be seen as a warning sign for local candidates who are trying to navigate social media. Even a minor misstep can spiral into a scandal.