Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar wants to start many things in his quest to become Illinois’ next governor: A massive infrastructure program that will create tens of thousands of new jobs. A progressive income tax. Universal access to child care.
There is one thing he wants to stop: “Wealth worship.”
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“Wealth is fine,” he told me over a recent lunch downtown.
“I just don’t believe we should worship it,” he added. “Being wealthy and being successful and being able to run government are not synonymous.”
It’s a handy political hook for the 47th Ward alderman’s long-shot bid for the 2018 Illinois Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
In these times, a hyper-wealthy businessman can buy high office with big-time cash and dubious promises of competence. For example, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald J. Trump.
Other Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls include the billionaire entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker, and Chris Kennedy, the wealthy scion of a famous family. They are touted as headliners because of their bucks.
Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston and Bob Daiber, a regional school superintendent from downstate Madison County, are also in the hunt.
One of them will take on Rauner a former equity investor who has already dropped $50 million into his campaign fund.
Pawar, 36, is serving his second aldermanic term and lives in Ravenswood with his wife and 1-year old daughter. He claims little wealth, and that’s fine with him.
“We have conflated racist rhetoric and bigotry and bombast and wealth, with authenticity,” he said. “That’s why we ended up with Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump.”
Pawar, a studious policy wonk and historian, is modeling his campaign after another kind of politician.
“What we should think about is, the last time we had authentic politicians, was with FDR.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected at the height of the Great Depression. He launched an unprecedented set of innovative and initiatives called the New Deal. Roosevelt massively expanded the role of government and brought America back via reforms in industry, finance, infrastructure, labor, and housing.
Pawar wants a 21st century New Deal. He argues that cynical politicians like Rauner and Trump get ahead by pitting people who should be natural allies against each other, and leave them “fighting for scraps.”
“What is happening in this country and in this state, the few are dividing the many based on who we are, what we look like, what we do, class, geography,” he said. “So, we can either continue to let them do that, or we can unite.”
This spring, Pawar will go “barnstorming” around Illinois on what he calls “equity tours.” He wants to illuminate the connections and commonalities people around the state, in places crippled by economic disinvestment, crumbling infrastructure, struggling schools, and poverty.
Most of Illinois’ schools are underfunded, he notes, not just the beleaguered Chicago Public Schools. Chicago, Cairo, Rockford, Peoria, East St. Louis all suffer economic disinvestment.
“The problems with substance abuse, lack of mental health care is a white black and brown problem,” Pawar asserts. “So, we are going to go to communities and show the problems are the same.”
Worshipping wealth is not the solution.
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