"I never had a problem with emotions. But its okay. Its okay," an emotional Chuck Jefferson tells supporters as he chokes back tears, but he adds his road doesn't end here. "And just so it's clear. I'm not resigning. I'm retiring," he said to claps and cheers.
He has been in the public service for more than two decades and served in the General Assembly just shy of fourteen years. For eight of those years. he served as Assistant Majority Leader in the Speaker's cabinet, a rapid rise Jefferson says is very rare. "I think i did it because i hit the floor working when i got to the general assembly."
Jefferson is also the first African-American legislator to represent Rockford, a legacy he wants to see continue with his successor. "It's also sad to say after a 150 history here in Rockford. and I'm first African-American representative," he says, "So that tells us we still got a long ways to go here in Rockford."
The gathering was not without controversy when former Alderman Victory Bell asked why activist Dot Turner was not included as a speaker and stormed out. "I am not out of order," he said during the gather, "And if you feel i am. Take the door. This lady should of been represented. I don't care what nobody says!"
Bell left before 'Eyewitness News' could get clarification on his objections, but his wife says Bell was upset about more than turner being left out of the program. She says Turner has been shut out of the entire process, which bell thinks is wrong.
Jefferson believed the outburst was inappropriate. "This is my retirement party and my retirement announcment and I thought that was out of place," he says.
But this moment was focused on Jefferson, honoring his decades of public service. First term Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) told the crowd, "I admire that perserverance, it takes a lot to serve and be in public office."
Jefferson says about the future, "I will continue to do things in the community and try to make a difference in other peoples lives. Whether that makes their lives a little better whatever the case might be."
The Democratic Central Committee is meeting next week to determine a replacement for Jefferson.