Candidates in crowded congressional primary meet for forum | Politics

Candidates in the crowded Democratic primary to replace Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st) in Congress defined their platforms and differences from each other at a virtual May 23 forum sponsored by local progressive group Indivisible Group South Side.

According to a mid-May poll taken for Sen. Collins, 42% of voters are still undecided. As reported by the Sun Times, the poll only asked about five candidates considered to be the frontrunners: Pat Dowell, Jacqui Collins, Karin Norington-Reaves, Jonathan Jackson and Johnathan Swain.

Pat Dowell

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she ran for City Council, on which she has served since 2007, because she wanted to uplift a community that has been marginalized, ensure her constituents had good constituent services, get private and public resources to her ward, balance market-level, affordable and public housing development, improve schools, and improve open space and projects like the planned $25 million esports arena at 2500 S. Wabash Ave.

“I’m running for Congress because I want to bring that same energy and talent to uplift the 1st congressional district, which is marginalized in many ways,” she said, saying the district hasn’t gotten its fair share of federal resources, programs and services. 

Dowell supports “Medicare for All,” a single-payer health care system, suggesting a tax on companies that currently pay nothing in federal taxes could help finance it in addition to raising taxes on wealthy people.

She also said there should be prosecution of “rogue cops who are harming our communities” according to a nationwide standard, a national standard of community oversight of local police departments and investment in police training. Regarding a violence-reduction strategy, she said more job opportunities and the creation of generational wealth is the ultimate way out of the gun crisis.

Dowell pointed to Commonwealth Edison’s Bronzeville Community Microgrid in her ward alongside electric vehicle charging stations, ComEd partnerships with local high schools and an electric vehicle pilot program. 43 Green, the South Side’s first transit-oriented development project, is planned near the 43rd Street Green Line station. She wants to join the House Committee on Energy and Commerce “to make sure that we can continue to invest in this kind of technology,” she said, “not just in the Bronzeville community, but throughout the 1st congressional district.”

Dowell also supports partially eliminating student debt, reparations for Black people, codifying abortion rights and overturning the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal Medicaid money to pay for abortions, except to save the life of the woman or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape.

Jacqui Collins

State Sen. Jacqui Collins (D-16th) said she is rooting her campaign in economic, social and racial justice. “I’m running for Congress because of the urgency of now,” she said, channeling Martin Luther King Jr. “We have the suppression of voting rights, the rise of white supremacy and the attack on reproductive rights. I’m running for Congress to restore, renew and revive the American dream, for good-paying jobs, for decent and dependable health care, for safe places to live, for Medicare for All.”

She said restoring justice and consumer protection has been a foundation of her legislative career — she chief-sponsored legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage, played an influential role in the General Assembly’s reforms of the nursing home payday lending industries, and established legislative task forces on missing Black women and girls and racialized maternal and infant mortality rates — and touted her work ethic. She wants to serve on the House Committee on Financial Services.

Collins said the wealthy should be taxed to pay for single-payer health care, and also urged pharmaceutical companies’ monopolies to be ended. Public safety should be reimagined because of a lack of trust, she said, calling for eliminating qualified immunity at a federal level. She said that a lack of training is not the problem, however, implying that there are not issues with police conduct on the North Shore or in Beverly. A co-responder model should be investigated.

She touted legislation she supported in Springfield to ban ghost guns in Illinois and the state’s continuing issues with firearms, despite its strong laws around them, because of its proximity to states with overly permissive regulations. She noted public support for things like background checks, and she said she wants to fund ways to teach people that “a gun is not the way for people to settle disputes.”

The senator talked about efforts to buttress the wind energy industry in Illinois and the congressional district’s lakefront, where offshore wind farms could be developed.

She pointed to the disproportionate way Black women take out student loan debt and said she supports the pressure Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are putting on the Biden administration to cancel student debt. Collins wants at least 50% or $50,000 of debt canceled alongside forgiveness especially for students from low- and middle-income families.

She supports reparations for Black people.

She said Congress needs to codify abortion rights, equating reproductive health with justice, from ensuring low-income women get counseling needed for safe pregnancies to equal access to health care for safe pregnancies. Setting a right to privacy into law would also protect same-sex marriage and access to contraception, she said. Collins also supports repealing the Hyde Amendment.

Collins wants to legalize cannabis, but she says the equity program Illinois passed alongside legalization “fell way short” of its goals and that a national scheme to invest in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs should avoid the same failings.

Karin Norington-Reaves

Karin Norington-Reaves, former head of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, said she hears voters say economic development and violence are the district’s two biggest issues. She said one provides the solution to the other, and she said she has unique capabilities and history in economic development and job creation among the candidates as founder and former leader of a workforce development system that facilitated more than 100,000 job placements throughout Chicagoland. She wants to serve on the House Committee on Education and Labor.

She supports “equitable care for everyone,” namely Medicare for All, but she also wants people to have employer-provided health insurance for those who want it. She wants to cap prescriptions and services costs. She also wants to close federal tax loopholes to pay for it.

She wants to repeal qualified immunity, in which officers are not individually responsible for actions that infringe upon civilians’ rights, she wants to see “real consequences” for entities that do not meet the terms of federal consent decrees, and she wants to increase funding “for police to do the jobs that they are capable of doing” alongside mental health responders. She is not against “defunding the police,” saying that law enforcement should be sound and unbiased.

She said there is no way to “legislate or incarcerate our way” out of the problem of gun violence, though she said stronger penalties for those buy firearms for people who cannot legally buy them, strong anti-ghost gun legislation and legislation to get “military-grade weapons out of the hands of civilians” are warranted. But the solution, she said, is “quality jobs, career training and career preparation.”

Norington-Reaves supports a Green New Deal, calling for incentivizing companies to retrofit facilities so that they do not disproportionately pollute communities of color. She also wants to create green jobs to decrease the racial wealth gap, noting her involvement in the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership, which focused on manufacturing jobs.

She stressed support for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, up for reauthorization, and said her depth of experience will help refine the legislation, which she called critical for human capital infrastructure, job creation and connecting employers to employees, with local dividends.

She noted her hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt from law school, despite having graduated in 1996 and mortgage-sized payments every month. “This is about banks being paid,” she said, not schools. She said there should be a way for people to pay their debts reasonably and within a reasonable amount of time. There should also be focus on college affordability, she said, noting many institutions’ high tuition even though they have large endowments.

She supports reparations for Black people, questioning the efficacy of a lump-sum payment as opposed to “long-term solutions” like universal basic income or educational funding that “addresses generational poverty, the inter-generational wealth gap and various inequities.” She also supports federally legalizing marijuana and a corresponding policy that acknowledges the disproportionate impact cannabis prohibition has had on communities of color. That could mean work that helps people of color get access to build wealth in the industry.

Jonathan Jackson

Jonathan Jackson said attracting new industries to the district to replace those that have left is vital, blaming lack of opportunities and safety for the area’s Black population loss. 

He said he supports Medicare for All, specifically calling for negotiated prices with pharmaceutical companies, saying, “Any time you have an American product sold abroad for cheaper than an American can buy at home, that’s a problem.” He pointed to hospitals that are indebted because patients lack access to Medicare.

No more studies are needed on policing, Jackson said, given Black people’s history with them. “We need someone who has unmitigated, involved tenacity, who’s willing to confront injustice.” He added that racial bias and insensitivity training is needed, and urged a repeal of qualified immunity.

Jackson also supports reparations for Black people, the Green New Deal, codifying abortion rights, legalizing marijuana and “(staying) away from banning menthol cigarettes,” stressing people’s freedom of choice to drink, smoke or gamble and the government’s need to stay out of people’s bedrooms.

Jonathan Swain

Jonathan Swain is the owner of the Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, 1214 E. 53rd St. He has held leadership roles in the youth mentorship and college access organization LINK Unlimited Scholars, helped found the Hyde Park Summer Fest and served on the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. He said he is running for Congress because violent crime today is exactly as it was 20 years ago, and adds that he wants to center the community’s voice in solutions.

Regarding police reform, Swain called for federal money to be earmarked to local departments for reforms, such as research to ensure that police stops conducted by these departments are not discriminatory. 

He stressed the need to reform the Voting Rights Act, calling to mind the effect the legislation has on legislatures’ composition and redistricting.

Swain also supports eliminating student debt, free public college, the Green New Deal, codifying abortion rights and reparations for Black people. He supports a private health care option.

Nykea Pippion McGriff

Nykea Pippion McGriff, a former president of the Chicago Association of Realtors, said the death of her son five years ago to gun violence spurred her congressional run. 

She wants a national misconduct registry of police officers and more training about community relations and recognizing implicit bias. She said she supports universal background checks and trauma-oriented funding earmarked for communities that have been disproportionately affected by gun violence.

McGriff also supports reparations for Black people, codifying abortion rights, the Green New Deal and cannabis legalization. She supports a private health care option.

Charise Williams

Charise Williams, who has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, said she is running for Congress to ensure the district gets fair funding and resources and a voice “that is really, truly representative of the communities.” She has worked as the deputy director and chief of staff of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, managing a $500 million budget

Williams also administered the state’s Restore, Renew, and Reinvestment Program meant to reinvest a quarter of all recreational marijuana sales back into communities with high unemployment, poverty, gun violence and incarceration. She wants to legalize cannabis nationwide and apply a similar program from coast to coast in addition to expunging federal marijuana criminal records.

She said she supports a Green New Deal, including a federal jobs guarantee. She said she is interested in furthering the removal of lead pipes in the district and ensuring that a new green economy will not result in inequities — “What I want to make sure also doesn’t happen is that we’re very cognizant of eliminating fossil fuels and getting rid of carbon emissions is that we just don’t take the problem out of one neighborhood and put them in another neighborhood.” She wants to serve on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

Williams also supports universal healthcare, reparations for Black people, codifying abortion rights, free public college and student loan debt forgiveness up to $50,000.

Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson, an attorney and workforce development professional who once taught at Chicago Public Schools, called a lack of jobs and violent crime the two biggest local issues facing the district. He said the two biggest issues facing the country are inflation and democratic backsliding.

“I believe in the spirit and the potential of this district, and that belief is evident in my record as a servant-leader,” he said, noting his college involvement in Big Brothers Big Sisters, experience in the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School, public defender’s offices and human rights clinics, and other programs.

He supports Medicare for All, reparations for Black people and overturning the Hyde Amendment.

Steven Dejoie

Steven Dejoie, a Hyde Park native, recalled his past work with Blue Gargoyle, 5655 S. University Ave., doing community service work with homelessness and mental health issues. He also said he has worked as a banker and businessman.

A former banker and businessman, he said violence is the district’s biggest problem; last year, he worked on a community-led anti-carjacking program in East Hyde Park.

Dejoia also supports Medicare for All and overturning the Hyde Amendment.

Chris Butler

Chris Butler, senior leader of the Chicago Embassy Church Network, said he has been involved in politics since he was 12 years old and urged that the next representative be a non-politician, someone “who’s quietly, to not much fanfare, built families, organizations and efforts in this district, city and region.” 

Butler also supports Medicare for All, reparations for Black people and universal basic income. He is the only candidate who does not support abortion rights. 

Kirby Birgans

Kirby Birgans, a middle school science teacher, said he’s running a human rights-first campaign. He pledged support in his opening remarks women’s and LGBTQ rights (he is the only openly gay candidate) and criminal justice reform. 

He said corporations should “pay their fair share in taxes,”called for higher taxes on the wealthy and for those dollars to be invested in housing, as well as establishing a national rent control. 

Birgans also supports abortion rights, overturning the Hyde Amendment and Medicare for All.

Ameena Matthews

Ameena Matthews, a violence interrupter who ran against Rep. Rush in 2020, said she would fight for more federal funding for health care and education as well as for climate change and criminal justice legislation. 

She also supports Medicare for All, increasing funding for federal housing programs and overturning the Hyde Amendment.

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer, a high school teacher and real estate broker, said economic and educational opportunities for youth would curtail violence on the South Side. He has coached sports and Special Olympics teams and wants to start trade skill and entrepreneurship mentorship programs. 

Palmer also supports Medicare for All and reparations for Black people.

Cassandra Goodrum

Cassandra Goodrum, a criminal justice professor at Chicago State University, said youth engagement would solve many of the community’s problems. As an attorney Goodrum has worked with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, in Social Security and family law.

Goodrum also supports Medicare for All, overturning the Hyde Amendment and federal decriminalization of cannabis.

Candidates Jahmal Cole, who founded the nonprofit My Hood, My Block, My City, Pentecostal MinisterMarcus Lewis and college professor Terre Layng Rosner were not present at the forum.

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