Jesse White

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Jesse White

b. June 23, 1934

Illinois, Secretary of State (1998-)
Cook County, Recorder of Deeds (1992-1998)
Illinois, State Representative (1974-1992)
Chicago, 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman (1996-)

Coming back to Chicago in 1959 after serving with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, White became a public school teacher and a precinct captain with the 42nd Ward Democratic Organization working the increasingly black Cabrini Green housing projects. The organization's powerful Democratic Committeeman, George Dunne, a strong believer in promoting African Americans in the party, took White under his wing. By 1974 the immensely likable White's turn came in the Organization and Dunne slated him for State Representative.

The 1992 redistricting brought a series of changes to White's career. Because his legislative district had been remapped, White decided against running for state legislature. His mentor Dunne then stepped in to get White slated for Cook County Recorder of Deeds to replace Carol Moseley Braun, who was running for U.S. Senate. That same year, Chicagoans voted on a ward remap that moved White's power base - the Cabrini Green projects - from the majority white 42nd Ward to the majority black 27th Ward. At the same time, African-American 27th Ward Alderman and Committeeman Ricky Hendon lost much of his power base in the remap. In a classic Chicago deal, Hendon took Dunne and White's guarantee that he could be a State Senator and White became the unchallenged Democratic Committeeman. The Alderman? Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed the practically unknown Dexter Watson.

In 1995 White moved his protege from Cabrini Green and campaign manager, Walter Burnett into the 27th Ward Alderman spot. Then, in 1996 White won 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman. In 1998 White was slated by Democratic Party Regulars for Illinois Secretary of State, defeating Democrat Tim McCarthy (the Secret Service agent made famous for taking a bullet for President Ronald Reagan) and Republican Al Salvi. Since his victory in 1998 White has consistently earned the highest vote totals of any statewide official, often winning majority Republican counties by a significant margin.

As Illinois Secretary of State White controls a patronage operation second only to the governor's with thousands of record keeping jobs scattered across Illinois. Wisely, White has parceled the jobs out among Illinois' most powerful Democratic leaders, giving him considerable influence anywhere he needs it. White maintains most of his patronage army in both the 27th Ward and his old 42nd Ward, where many of the precinct captains in both wards hold Secretary of State jobs.

Besides ensuring 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett's safety, White has become Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Eugene Moore's patron. Moore, originally installed by the late John Stroger to succeed White, was forced to accept Darlena Williams-Burnett as Deputy Recorder to be appointed to the job in 1998. After Stroger's debilitating stroke in 2006, Moore turned to White as a safe harbor, who then assisted Moore in his 2008 reelection campaign against Ed Smith.

Although White is now in his mid-70's, he is in excellent health (often doing headstands when appearing with his Tumblers) and has publicly stated that he plans to run for reelection in 2010. If he does, White will likely be Illinois' first octogenarian constitutional officer in 2014.

Employment and Electoral History

Perhaps because he's been a fixture of Illinois politics for so long, it is easy to overlook White's very long - and impressive non-political resume. Born in small-town Alton, Illinois, White went to college at the historically black Alabama State University. After college White signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs, but was drafted into Army before he could report for spring training. After serving two years in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. White moved to Chicago to become a Chicago public school teacher. Soon after coming to Chicago, he founded in 1959 the now iconic Jesse White Tumblers, as a way to reach out to at risk youth in Chicago's ghettos.


  • 1957, Alabama State University, B.A.

Important Political Events

  • 1959, Founded Jesse White Tumblers, Joined 42nd Ward Organization
  • 1974, Elected State Representative
  • 1992, Elected Cook County Recorder of Deeds, defeating GOP Nominee Susan Catania, replacing Carol Moseley Braun
  • 1996, Elected 27th Ward Democratic Committeeman
  • 1996, Reelected Cook County Recorder of Deeds
  • 1998, Elected Illinois Secretary of State, defeating Tim McCarthy in the primary and Al Salvi in the general election
  • 2002, Reelected Illinois Secretary of State
  • 2006, Reelected Illinois Secretary of State