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Media decide who’s viable as a candidate

Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins is the other woman in the mayoral race.

Most of you don’t know that because she is having a heck of a time drumming up news coverage.

The only time her name was mentioned as a mayoral candidate was in connection with the alleged fake notary public signature controversy.

In that story, Watkins’ name was mentioned right alongside that of James Meeks, Rob Halpin and Carol Moseley Braun.

Both Meeks and Halpin ­— the man whose only credibility as a genuine candidate seemed to be his refusal to move out of Rahm Emanuel’s house — have dropped out of the race.

But before bowing out, both men got enough ink to position themselves as real mayoral candidates.

Despite Watkins having filed 41,000 signatures and her claims that she has already raised nearly a half million dollars, her campaign isn’t attracting media attention.

“I’ve attended at least five political forums. I respond to the issues, but the media doesn’t pick up anything I say,” Watkins told me Monday. “We just had the New Chicago 2011 forum. CLTV covered the whole thing and never mentioned me. You wouldn’t even know I was there.”

As of Dec. 23, there were 15 names still left on the official candidate list. Eight of those people, including Braun, were still facing challenges. It is only fair to note that other lesser-known candidates aren’t getting coverage either.

Still, Watkins is not your run-of-the-mill lesser-known candidate. She is a longtime community activist who made a name for herself as the co-founder of the Developing Justice Coalition. The group of community organizations was instrumental in getting a bill passed that keeps low-level felony convictions for drug possession and prostitution sealed.

She also founded TARGET Area Development Corp. in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, a group that has worked to improve public safety by lobbying for better housing, schools and commercial development in neglected areas of the city.

A reformed drug addict who has been clean for 25 years, an evangelist and a community organizer, Watkins grew up in Cabrini-Green, dropped out of high school, but returned to the classroom to earn a bachelor’s in public administration from Roosevelt University, a master’s in human services administration from Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies and a doctorate in management of nonprofit agencies.

For years, Watkins, who lost her only daughter in a plane crash south of 51st Street over Lake Michigan in 1997, has responded to shootings of innocent victims of Chicago’s ongoing gang- and drug-related violence. Now, not even those appearances are deemed worthy of on-air or print coverage, Watkins said.

“I think [the media] have made a decision about who is going to get covered and who the candidates are,” she told me. “But they are determining who the candidates are for people and not allowing the public to see all the candidates.

In 2005, Watkins was the subject of a lengthy, flattering article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune magazine headlined “I’m the one who makes the noise.”

“It is as though the spirits of Saul Alinsky and Martin Luther King Jr. have taken up residence in the body of this middle-aged, coffee-colored woman,” wrote Don Terry.

She believes that having not run for public office before makes her a strong contender in this race.

“That just means I have never been involved with corruption or cronyism,” she said. “I am proud that I have never been a politician, but I am a public servant.”

As for the push for a black consensus candidate, Watkins says, she is not trying to see a “black person get elected.”

“I am trying to see the right person get elected because we need significant change. It goes beyond the black community,” she said.

On Tuesday, Watkins will launch the “Vote for Change” Tour at her campaign office at 1562 W. 79th St.

I have no prediction about how well Watkins will do in this contest, but she has earned the right to at least be heard.

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