For the past 22 years I could always hang my hat on three things: Illinois state government is corrupt, St. Clair County runs the East St. Louis political plantation, and state Senator James F. Clayborne is the consummate self-serving public serpent.
Soon, however, one of those constants will go away as Clayborne, the second most powerful guy in his chamber, has announced that he will not seek a seventh term. I, for one, say good riddance, based on over two decades of columns documenting Clayborne’s exploits, arrogance and displays of greed , irreverence and lack of accountability.
On his watch, East St. Louis lost its only hospital, as Clayborne stood moot because of legal and political conflicts of interest.
On the dime of his campaign contributors “Jet Stream James” has literally traveled the globe (to Egypt, China, Vietnam, Europe, Japan, Turkey, Jordan, Puerto Rico, the list goes on), spending nearly $50,000, while upgrading his tickets on dozens of occasions and spending over $40,000 with “Book-A-Limo,” his go-to chauffeur, on over 200 occasions.
All fitting for a “political playa” of his ilk, who was a regular at the Obama White House; escorting the likes of Creola Davis and Vonetta Harris to receptions hosted by President Obama and, eventually, hooking them up with $72,000 and $86,000 per-year state jobs, with IDOT and the Prisoner Review Board, respectively.
Clayborne even used his political influence to force IDOT to make four hires (including two with no highway or transportation credentials), according to a federal lawsuit on patronage hiring. But what do the feds know?
Back when his 9-year-old son was suspended for threatening another student with scissors in the Harmony-Emge School District, Clayborne introduced a bill to redefine the definition of “weapon” to exclude scissors. He also attempted to force a ballot referendum to merge Harmony-Emge School District with the Signal Hill School District. Some would perceive that as vindictive.
When asked about spending campaign funds for personal travel, Clayborne once said that “campaign dollars are donations. They’re not public dollars.”
Clayborne’s chickens may finally be coming home to roost. Around the same week as his campaign announcement, Clayborne’s firm (Clayborne, Sabo and Wagner) was fired as the legal counsel for the City of ESL, following steep spikes of over 50 percent in legal expenses for the city and a victory for ESL Mayor Emeka Jackson Hicks, who promised to audit all ESL contracts for excessive spending, back in 2015. Clayborne’s replacement is ex-chief judge John Baricevic.
Clayborne lost a city contract and nearly lost his state Senate seat, two years ago, to unknown upstart, Republican Katherine Ruocco, with a meager 51.8 percent of the vote. Maybe he sees the handwriting on the wall.