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Outgoing Ald. Pawar still mulling what comes next: ‘I think change is good’

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). Photo by Mark Brown

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). Photo by Mark Brown

Having been elected on a promise of self-imposed term limits, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said he’s “always been prepared” for his pending departure from the Chicago City Council.

“It’s something we’ve been kind of mindful of from the beginning, which is, a lot of this is fleeting and to enjoy it while we can. But don’t let the job define you. Don’t let any one thing define you,” he said Friday.

That doesn’t mean he has an actual plan for what comes next.

Pawar is one of about a dozen City Council members give or take, depending on the final outcome in two wards, who won’t be back for the start of another term.

He promised two terms and out when he came out of nowhere to get elected in 2011, and so it will be.

But Pawar also may be the departing alderman we’re most likely to hear from again in the future, based on a combination of his age (38), ambition (he’s run for higher office twice in two years) and talent (a mix of cerebral policy wonk and earnest charm).

With that in mind, I asked him to sit for an exit interview.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). Photo by Mark Brown

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th). Photo by Mark Brown

Pawar told me limiting himself to two terms was the right decision, even though he believes he could have easily won re-election.

“I think it’s always good to have a new set of eyes on the problems, and I think change is good,” he said. “After eight years, there are some things that could be done better, that someone can pick up the ball and run with it in a way we hadn’t thought about it.”

Pawar said he is quickly getting over his April 2 loss in the city treasurer’s race to state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin.

“Losing isn’t fun,” he said. “It stings.”

But he reminds himself that everyone has ups and down in their work careers, except that in politics, it plays out on a public stage.

“You’ve got to respect the decision of the voters,” he said.

As to next moves, that’s more complicated.

“I know there will be opportunities. That’s not the issue,” he said.

The issue is figuring out what he wants to do with the rest of his life, while keeping in mind he’s about to lose his health insurance and has a family to consider.

Pawar said he threw himself into the alderman’s post so totally that he looked up after six years and realized he’d failed to appreciate his successes.

“One of the things I want to do is make sure that I’m present. I don’t want to move a million miles an hour all the time because there’s no finish line at that point,” he said.

I pointed out that instead of slowing down after those six years he’d thrown himself into his quixotic run for governor.

“There was a lot of misunderstanding on why I did that,” he said, explaining anew his need as the son of immigrants and the husband of a woman whose family had survived the Holocaust to fight back against what he calls the “divide-and-rule” politics of Donald Trump.

Pawar thinks he made an important contribution in helping frame the conversation in the governor’s race — in particular on the need for a progressive income tax and to legalize marijuana as a way to move away from the war on drugs.

Will he ever run again?

“I don’t know,” he said, recalling how he was called into a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top political operative in 2011 after defeating a candidate anointed by the outgoing alderman.

“He said: ‘You’re not even supposed to be here. We don’t even understand how you got here.’ And he was kind of saying like, know your role.”

“If I was scared to go down, then I wouldn’t have run for this office in the first place, because as that operative said, I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place.”

“I like politics. I’ve enjoyed my time in public service. But I also don’t want to plan my life around another office because I don’t want to root for somebody to fail so I can have an opportunity to run for something.”

What he really wants, he says, is to “change the American narrative that some people deserve more than others.”

He wants people to see what he calls the “common instabilities” that everyone is facing these days, whether they’re upper middle class, poor or in-between.

Sounds like a good job for a politician — who’s not afraid to lose.