Chicago Alderman Wants To Trade City Hall For Governor’s Mansion

Alderman Ameya Pawar
Alderman Ameya Pawar
Alderman Ameya Pawar
Alderman Ameya Pawar

Chicago Alderman Wants To Trade City Hall For Governor’s Mansion

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Whether you realize it or not, the race for Illinois governor has begun even though election day isn’t until Nov. 6, 2018 — more than a year away. 

So far, five Democrats are competing for the party’s nomination to run against Gov. Bruce Rauner. Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talked to one of those candidates — Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, whose 47th Ward includes the North Park and Ravenswood neighborhoods. (The other Democratic candidates are entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker, businessman Chris Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss, and Bob Daiber, the regional superintendent of schools for downstate Madison County.)

Pawar was first elected to the City Council in 2011, beating retiring Ald. Eugene Schulter’s anointed successor in a surprise political upset. Pawar is also the first Asian-American to become a Chicago alderman. 

Pawar talked about what he considers his achievements; his relationship with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who lives in his ward; and what taxes he would create to help solve the state’s many financial problems. 

Here are some interview highlights. 

On his voting record in the City Council

Tony Sarabia: As alderman, you regularly vote with the mayor. And Gov. Rauner blames a lot of the budget stalemate on “old politics,” pointing to House Speaker Michael Madigan. Would you follow party lines, always siding with Madigan if you were governor? How would you break through that?

Ald. Ameya Pawar: I mean, I beat the Chicago machine in 2011, but then I got to work. I didn’t sit there and spend the next six years talking about how I beat the Chicago machine. I spent the last six years passing legislation, like the paid sick leave ordinance, upping the minimum wage, creating the nation’s fourth independent budget office, passing one of the strongest anti-waste ordinances. 

I got to work. I did what I said I was going to do. I didn’t just sit there and say, “OK, I’m an outsider and I beat the machine, so now I’m going to have to figure out how to position myself as an outsider for the next four years so I can get reelected as an outsider.” 

That’s ridiculous. That’s the problem in politics — everyone is so focused on trying to say government is broken, government is a problem, I’m the most outsider’s outsider, and then look where we are today.

On the influence of money in elections

Pawar: I won my first race without any money, and then I raised a lot for my reelection and I won with the biggest margin in Chicago. I raised $330,000 last quarter, which in any other normal race would be a very respectable amount. 

Look, this is the way I see it: This is life. There’s always someone who has more money than you. That’s OK. That shouldn’t stop you from doing something you believe in. 

On how he would pay for his legislative goals, like universal childcare

Pawar: A progressive income tax is the only way that we can start addressing these investments that we need to make. We can legalize and regulate and tax marijuana, which would allow us to expand childcare. Closing corporate loopholes would create enough revenue to start helping plug our deficits for public schools and universities. 

We live in a very wealthy state. The money is there. It’s just concentrated at the very top. And the way this game works, of divide and rule that Bruce Rauner perpetuates, it keeps all of us — from the upper-middle class all the way down to the working poor, fighting each other over scraps so nothing at the top ever changes. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.