Our state is in financial crisis. Our politics are in paralysis. A Legislature with more thoughtful and independent-minded members, men and women who are well informed and inclined toward compromise, would be welcome. Your vote in the March 15 primaries, and then in the November general election, may matter more to the future of Illinois than it has in a generation. Here are our endorsements for Chicago-area races.
Early voting at satellite facilities begins Monday. For suburban Cook County sites, go to www.countyclerk.com. For city sites, go to www.chicagoelections.com. Read the candidate questionnaires and related news stories at suntimescandidates.com.
2nd District, Democratic primary
For an open seat created by the pending departure of Rep. Edward Acevedo, we endorse Theresa Mah, a former senior policy adviser to Gov. Pat Quinn. Mah, a former professor of Asian-American history and ethnic studies, rallied with residents in Chinatown to have most of that community placed in a single district in the latest round of redistricting. Residents there now have a more unified voice. Mah also pushed for a public library branch in Chinatown and lobbied with an advocacy group to restore the 31st Street bus route. They scored a victory when the CTA announced a pilot program to temporarily bring back a reconfigured version of the service. With an impressive record in public service as well as academia, Mah gets the nod over Alex Acevedo, a pediatric nurse and volunteer in the Pilsen community who is the son of Rep. Acevedo.
4th District, Democratic primary
We endorse incumbent Cynthia Soto, who can point to a handful of legislative victories for projects benefitting her district, which includes Bucktown, Humboldt Park, Logan Square and Ukrainian Village. While her legislative record since taking office in 2001 isn’t all that impressive, she is by far the stronger of two candidates. Her opponent, Robert “Bob Z” Zwolinski, has volunteer work to his credit. But his level of experience and knowledge for the job of a legislator is not close to acceptable. For instance, when asked by the Sun-Times Editorial Board about anti-union right-to-work laws — a hot topic of debate in Springfield — he said, “No answer on that one.”
5th District, Democratic primary
Illinois sorely needs Democratic state representatives willing to challenge the authority of House Speaker Michael Madigan, but state Rep. Kenneth “Ken” Dunkin’s erratic behavior in the Legislature, showing little appreciation for when a solid front really is smart, looks more opportunistic than brave. Voters in the 5th District, a skinny swath that stretches from Grand Crossing on the South Side to Goethe Street on the Near North Side, should choose the well-informed Juliana Stratton, who has a strong background in public policy, including her job as the director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Stratton, a Bronzeville attorney who specializes in civil rights and employment discrimination, is backed by CTU President Karen Lewis, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and big labor organizations. That’s not necessarily all good, but at least Stratton’s financial support in this Democratic primary comes from actual fellow Democrats.
Dunkin skipped a crucial vote to overrule Gov. Bruce Rauner on spending cuts for child care and services for the elderly and disabled. He also torpedoed a Democratic effort to override a veto of a bill designed to limit Rauner’s control of collective bargaining with public unions. Now, much of Dunkin’s campaign money comes from groups with Rauner ties. Also troubling, it was revealed last week that Dunkin twice was convicted in the late 1990s of violating orders of protection and battery, and he failed to pay child support.
6th District, Democratic primary
Genita C. Robinson is far and away the best candidate for what we believe should be viewed as an open seat. Technically, Sonya M. Harper is the incumbent in this district, which extends through narrow sections of downtown Chicago and grows wider south until it reaches Englewood and Marquette Park. Democratic committeemen appointed Harper in October to fill the seat after the death of Rep. Esther Golar. We applaud Harper’s social justice work in Englewood, but Robinson has an incredible resume. She is a lawyer and former senior staffer with the Chicago Public Schools who understands the issues in Springfield, especially education. We trust she would work well with fellow Democrats in the Legislature, yet not be owned by the party. She is an easy pick over Harper; community activist Darryl D. Smith, who nearly beat Golar in 2006; and Kenyatta Nicole Vaughn, who failed to show up for an interview.
7th District, Democratic primary
Two-term state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside, a former Proviso High School District 209 president, has been criticized for insider politics. But Democratic challenger Chris Harris, a former Forest Park village commissioner who lost a mayoral run last April, strikes us as too bellicose to be an acceptable alternative. Welch gets our endorsement, without enthusiasm. In 2012, Pioneer Press reported Welch had at least 19 close friends and relatives in jobs in the school district, where he then was school board president. Also in 2012, the district had to cough up $400,000 to settle a defamation lawsuit over anonymous blog posts traced to Welch’s computer. But it’s hard to see how the thinly experienced Harris, who repeatedly referred to Welch as a “shill” for House Speaker Michael Madigan and special interests during an interview with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, could build the rapport with fellow legislators necessary to help the 7th District, which includes all or part of Bellwood, Berkeley, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, La Grange Park, Maywood, River Forest, Westchester, Melrose Park, Western Springs and Northlake.
15th District, Democratic primary
Our pick, Jac Charlier, has a realistic view of the state’s fiscal mess and is willing to make tough choices to get us out of it. He wants to raise the corporate income tax to pre-2015 levels and impose a tax on services. He is not opposed to restoring the 2011 personal income tax hike. Agree with him or not, give him credit for telling it like he sees it. Twelve-year incumbent John D’Amico, on the other hand, is a sure-fire vote for House Speaker Mike Madigan in a Legislature that desperately needs a few more independent thinkers. His one tough stand, to our thinking, came three years ago when he voted in favor of making same-sex marriage legal in Illinois. Charlier, a former state parole officer, more recently co-founded a coalition on the Northwest Side to address noise pollution overwhelming residents since O’Hare Airport opened new runways.
22nd District, Democratic primary
Jason Gonzales gets most of his campaign money from Republicans but claims he’s a true Democrat. Feel free to wonder how that works. Gonzales also says he has a plan in this race to defeat the single most powerful Democrat in Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Feel free to wonder about that, too. Gonzales has a strong background, with master’s degrees from Harvard University and MIT, but he overstates his ties to the district, where he first rented an apartment in August 2014. He also wrongly accused Madigan of “ridiculous lies” for a mailer that accurately quoted from a Cook County state’s attorney request that he be denied a pardon for youthful credit card fraud. For his part, Madigan has been Speaker too long, and he declined to sit for an endorsement interview. And two other names on the ballot — Joe G. Barboza and Grasiela Rodriguez — are widely seen as inactive Madigan plants to divide the opposition. We offer no endorsement in this district, which includes parts of West Elsdon, Garfield Ridge, West Lawn and Clearing.
29th District, Democratic primary
Former Thornton Township High School District 205 President Kenneth “Kenny” Williams, of South Holland, is making another run at unseating six-year incumbent state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City. He is joined by one-year Dolton Elementary School District 149 board member Wilbur “Will” Tillman, also of Calumet City, who runs a small business rehabbing foreclosed homes. But voters should stick with Jones in the largely south suburban district, which is shaped like a reverse “L” stretching from West Pullman in the Ninth Ward south to Crete and then west to Monee. Jones backs a progressive income tax, supports sensible energy and gun violence legislation and recognizes Illinois must reverse its decades-long cuts to public higher education. Williams, who owns a Dolton barber college, and Tillman remain focused on local issues and have not articulated informed views on the gamut of statewide concerns.
40th District, Democratic primary
Both candidates in this Northwest Side race still have much to learn about legislating, so we’ll settle for an independent thinker. We believe Harish I. Patel, a progressive, fits the bill. We trust he will not vote in lockstep with House Speaker Michael Madigan. Patel, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a small-business owner and community organizer who launched a nonprofit to boost civic engagement among millennials. Jaime Andrade is in his first full term as a representative for a district covering Irving Park, Albany Park, Avondale, Logan Square and Portage Park. He came up through the 33rd Ward Democratic organization under former Ald. Dick Mell, and we fear, to put it kindly, that he looks too often to the party for guidance.
63rd District, Republican primary
Incumbent Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, has held this McHenry County seat for 17 years, and the betting is heavy he’ll stroll to victory again in November. Maybe that’s why the two fellows running in the March Republican primary, Steven Reick and Jeffery Lichte, are running at less than full speed. Both failed to respond to repeated requests to participate in the endorsement process. No endorsement.
66th District, Republican primary
Voters are fortunate to have two excellent candidates in this four-way race to fill the seat being vacated by state Rep. Michael W. Tryon, R-Crystal Lake: McHenry County Member Carolyn Schofield of Crystal Lake and West Dundee Village Trustee Dan Wilbrandt, a McHenry County assistant state’s attorney. We strongly prefer Schofield for her impressive breadth of experience in government, which includes sitting on the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Northwest Water Planning Alliance and an earlier stint on the Crystal Lake City Council. The other two candidates in the southeastern McHenry County and northern Kane County district — including parts of Algonquin, Carpentersville, Crystal Lake, Lakewood, Lake in the Hills and Huntley — are Lakewood Village Trustee Paul Serwatka and Allen Skillicorn, an East Dundee trustee and vice chairman of the Kane County Republican Party.