West Side nurse launches primary bid against Pritzker, aiming to become Illinois’ first Black woman governor

Beverly Miles says she thinks billionaire Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done “a phenomenal job” but thinks “it should be the working people in office for the working people.”

SHARE West Side nurse launches primary bid against Pritzker, aiming to become Illinois’ first Black woman governor
West Side resident, nurse and community advocate Beverly Miles announces her candidacy for governor of Illinois Thursday.

West Side resident, nurse and community advocate Beverly Miles on Thursday announced her candidacy for governor of Illinois.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

She’s a U.S. Army veteran, a registered nurse and a West Side activist. Now, she wants to become the first Black woman to hold Illinois’ highest office.

Beverly Miles would have to unseat a billionaire governor from her own political party to make it happen, but that’s not fazing the West Garfield Park resident.

“Servitude and advocacy is in my DNA. I served my country. Now, I want to serve the great state of Illinois,” Miles said during a campaign kickoff Thursday morning at Kells Park, announcing her Democratic primary bid against Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sitting governor has yet to formally announce he’ll run to hold his seat in 2022, though it’s widely considered an inevitability — especially since he dumped $35 million into his campaign fund earlier this year.

Miles, who works at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital after serving 15 years at various Army bases prepping soldiers for deployment, said that without any deep pockets backing her primary challenge, she expects her support to come “from the everyday working people.”

“It should be the working people in office for the working people,” Miles said. “We need people who represent us.”

Miles criticized the rollout of Illinois’ cannabis industry and the dearth of minority-owned dispensaries under Pritzker, but she withheld criticism otherwise, saying she thinks “he’s done a phenomenal job” managing the state during his first two and a half years in office.

She said she decided to run for governor last summer as she watched civil unrest unfold across the city.

“When I looked at my community, when you have homelessness, mental health and substance abuse issues, and the looting — what I saw was trauma,” Miles said. “As a registered nurse, I understand what that means. As a disabled Army veteran, I live with PTSD. I know what that looks like. I know what that feels like …. In my community, people don’t have access to care.”

She said the key issues of her platform include supporting Medicare for all and reparations for descendants of slaves, as well as tamping down gun violence.

“With the violence in Chicago, it’s going to take somebody that understands battlefield operations. I’m community tested and battlefield-ready,” she said.

Miles previously mounted unsuccessful campaigns for alderman and committeeperson of the 28th Ward in 2019 and 2020, respectively. She put together about $10,000 for those bids, most of it coming from her own bank account, according to finance records kept by the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Last summer, she joined other nurses across the city who called for hospitals to bolster supplies of personal protective equipment — before the brutal COVID-19 resurgence that spiraled into Illinois’ worst days of the pandemic.

Her Army career included a stint in southern Illinois, part of the experience she says will help her connect with voters across the state.

“One thing I noticed from city to city throughout the state was the same for Black people: poverty, homelessness, drugs, violence,” she said.

Illinois voters have never elected a Black governor, and they’ve never had the opportunity to vote for a Black woman for that office. Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton became the first Black woman elected as the state’s second-in-command, as Pritzker’s running mate in 2018.

The late former Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka was the last woman to appear on the ballot for Illinois governor. The Republican lost to disgraced ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2006.

Miles is the first Democrat to challenge Pritzker. Three Republicans so far have entered the fray for the GOP nomination.

Pritzker signed a law earlier this month pushing back the primary election to June 28, 2022, due to pandemic-related delays in census data.

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