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Voters have every reason to be charged up about the races for Illinois congressional seats in the June 28 primary. Recent events have dramatically raised the stakes, from the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft opinion suggesting Roe v. Wade could be overturned, to mass shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, to Vladimir Putin’s devastating, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
For Republicans, President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings open the door for the GOP to possibly retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections in November, and even gain ground in Illinois, historically a blue state.
This is the first installment of the Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsements for contested U.S. House races statewide in the Illinois primary.
We begin with the crowded, contentious field vying to replace longtime congressman Bobby Rush.
Rush, 75, is retiring after holding this seat since 1993. Voters elected the famed civil rights activist and co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to 15 consecutive terms. Looking to replace him is a massive roster of 21 candidates — 17 in the Democratic primary and four in the GOP contest.
The district has morphed from being made up mostly of South Side neighborhoods to a broader swath that stretches through Southland suburbs and to communities on the fringes of Kankakee.
On the Democratic side, virtually every candidate has similar views on national and international issues — almost all are pro-abortion rights, advocates of stricter gun control and supportive of Biden’s approach toward Putin and Ukraine. What sets them apart is their views on how best to fix what’s wrong in the 1st District.
Jonathan Swain brings to the race a strong mix of government and entrepreneurial experience. Under Mayor Richard M. Daley, he worked as deputy commissioner in the city’s Planning Department, and as chairman of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Later he was on the Chicago Board of Elections. He also heads up his family’s liquor store business in Hyde Park, and is CEO of a nonprofit group that helps Black youths achieve in college.
Swain, 46, has his finger on one of the most troubling problems holding back South Side communities — the lack of access that small businesses have to capital. He told us he would push to have “conversations with banks to think about how they can change their underwriting standards to see who is a good risk and who is not.”
Charise Williams, 45, says her background as a former chief of staff and deputy director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority gave her invaluable experience in acquiring and allocating federal dollars for state purposes. We liked her focus on trade schools, as well as her work as a founding board member of Chicago’s HIRE360, a promising training program in construction and manufacturing trades. She wants to expand that mission by repurposing available land in the district for a campus that offers training in a variety of trades, from steel-working and bricklaying to HVAC work. Smart thinking — not every high school graduate or young adult wants to go to college, or can afford it.
Several candidates benefit from name recognition, perhaps none more than Jonathan Jackson, the 56-year-old son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The younger Jackson serves as national spokesman for his father’s RainbowPUSH Coalition, and owns a construction company in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side. Jackson has benefited from being at his father’s side during trips around the world to further the cause of human rights. But we feel we didn’t hear enough from him in the way of concrete strategies to re-energize economically neglected communities across the district.
Well-known to many 1st District voters, longtime Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, likens being a member of Congress to serving on the City Council. “Congress is a service office at the basic level, and I’m the only one who has provided services to constituents on a daily basis,” she told us. As a state lawmaker for nearly two decades, Jacqueline “Jacqui” Collins might disagree with Dowell. Collins has been a state senator for the 16th District since 2003. “No one in this race has a better track record of fighting for people,” Collins told us. “I stopped predatory lending, have taken on insurance companies, and I’ve taken on the nursing home industry. So I have a track record of legislative accomplishments. Not rhetoric, not promises.”
The candidate who most impressed us, however, was Karin Norington-Reaves, who correctly puts job creation as the paramount priority in the 1st District. What sets Norington-Reaves apart is that she is uniquely qualified to take on that task. When she worked as CEO of the Cook County Workforce Partnership, she connected more than 100,000 job seekers to jobs — many of them on the South Side and in Southland suburbs — and liaised with more than 2,000 companies to help create employment. She met with major employers such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Amazon to help them “think through tapping into the potential of the South Side and the Southland area … and break biases about what it means to be a Black youth on the South Side.”
Norington-Reaves, 52, is smart, articulate and driven. Her skill set is best suited for what the district needs most — jobs, economic opportunity and someone focused on local challenges as much as on the national agenda. She wins our endorsement.
Also on the 1st District Democratic primary ballot are: Marcus Lewis, a minister from south suburban Matteson; Terre Layng Rosner, a professor from Frankfort; Kirby Birgans, a middle school teacher from Chicago; Chicagoan Jahmal Cole, founder and CEO of the community group My Block, My Hood, My City; Chicago lawyer Cassandra Goodrum; Nykea Pippion McGriff, a Chicago real estate agent and former president of the Chicago Association of Realtors; Ameena Matthews of Tinley Park; and Chicagoans Chris Butler, Steven DeJoie, Robert Palmer and Michael Thompson Jr.
In the GOP primary for the 1st District, four candidates are on the ballot: Eric Carlson, director for the nonprofit that helps veterans and a resident of southwest suburban Lemont; business owner Jeffrey Regnier, a gun store owner from Manhattan in Will County, and Chicago conservatives Philanese White and Geno Young. Disappointingly, none of these candidates show readiness for the job. The Tribune makes no endorsement in this race.