L. Jimenez, Peters, Rabbitt, Stoneback, LaPointe, Rashid – Chicago Tribune

Democrats have a stranglehold on Springfield governance, and that includes the Illinois House. Will that change with the November midterms? It all begins with what happens in the June 28 primary.

This is the first installation of the Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsements for contested Illinois House races in the June 28 primary. We start with several Chicago-area contests:

Incumbent Delia Ramirez’s decision to run for Congress has left open a seat that includes Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Lillian Jimenez is the clear choice in this Democratic primary. Her strong resume includes her current job as director of the Office of Welcoming Centers for Immigrant and Refugee Services at the Illinois Department of Human Services, and her previous work as chief of staff for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia when he was a Cook County commissioner. In that job, she helped coordinate Garcia’s efforts to pass the county’s first minimum wage and paid sick leave legislation. She recognizes the need for strong, lasting ethics reform that bars outside employment for lawmakers and strengthens the role of the legislative inspector general. One of her opponents, Manuel Jimenez Jr., is a high school teacher from Humboldt Park who told us ethics reform includes having an open door policy and holding community meetings. Also in the race is Hector Villafuerte, who is active in the Humboldt Park Advisory Council. Lillian Jimenez is endorsed.

Democratic incumbent Sonya Harper has been in this seat ever since her appointment in 2015 to replace Esther Golar, who died while in office. She’s a former TV news producer and reporter, and has been an active community leader in her Englewood neighborhood. In Springfield, she’s the joint chairperson of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Unfortunately, we cannot endorse her because she would not respond to our questionnaire or our request for an endorsement interview. Her opponent, Carolyn Crump, is a Chicago police officer who said Illinois should fix its massive pension crisis by lowering income taxes and property taxes. The problem is much more complex than that. We make no endorsement in this race.

North Siders might have seen those campaign signs on yards and parkways urging citizens to vote for “the Nerdy Democrat.” That’s Andy Peters, 34, a University of Chicago graduate and the owner of a cafe in the Andersonville neighborhood who correctly views the state’s pension crisis as an urgent problem. “The legislature needs to stop kicking the can down the road and tackle the pension deficit problem now,” he tells us. He’s right in backing a pension reform referendum that would ask voters to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow a reduction in future benefit growth to levels that the state can afford, while keeping current benefits untouched.

There are other strong candidates in this race. Hoan Huynh, an investment projects leader for a community investments organization called Chicago Beyond, supports reining in the influence of big money in Illinois politics, as well as a state constitutional referendum seeking an overhaul of redistricting in Illinois. Joe Struck, an insurance sales manager, also impressed us. Other candidates for this seat, open because of the upcoming retirement of Illinois House Democratic Majority Leader Greg Harris, include Sergio Mojica, a former CPS high school principal, and Eileen Dordek, a licensed clinical social worker. In a talented field, Peters impressed us the most. He’s endorsed.

The choice is clear in this Northwest Side district. Michael Rabbitt is head of the business transformation office at Argonne National Laboratory and says ethics reform in Illinois politics is his top priority. He also believes it’s time to reform tax increment financing districts, TIFs, which local governments are supposed to use as tools to revitalize blighted areas. Too often, Rabbitt says, they’re misused as slush funds for politicians’ pet projects or as a way to benefit well-connected developers. We agree. The incumbent is Chicago firefighter Michael Kelly, appointed to the job in November 2021 after the sudden midterm resignation of John D’Amico, a longtime ally of indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan. The Sun-Times noted after his appointment that Kelly voted Republican in the 2010 and 2012 primaries. Pick a party, mr. kelly. It’s time for a fresh face in the 15th District. Rabbitt is endorsed.

Democratic incumbent Denyse Wang Stoneback appeared at a League of Women Voters candidates forum in Skokie on May 24, the day of the horrible mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and said it reminded her of how she felt after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 that killed 20 children and six adults. “I was working on second grade textbooks for little children in my job as an educational publisher,” she said during the forum. “And I just thought, ‘What’s the use of doing these textbooks when second graders are getting shot in their classroom, to pieces?’” She became a gun violence prevention activist. Once she took office as a state lawmaker, Stoneback pushed legislation to ramp up gun safety. A new bill she has introduced would make it easier for police to retrieve guns from people who have had their firearm owner’s identification card revoked, require handgun safety training for FOID card applicants, and establish a commission to combat gun trafficking. Her opponent, Kevin Olickal, is a 29-year-old law student from Skokie who brings a lot of energy to the race, but he’s against a pension reform referendum and backs giving unions even more power than they have now. Our endorsement goes to Stoneback.

Democratic incumbent Lindsey LaPointe showed her independence from the party line in 2020 when she added her name to a handful of Democrats who called on then-House Speaker Michael Madigan to resign as speaker and state Democratic Party chairman. Madigan had been linked to a federal corruption investigation at the time, and now he stands indicted and faces a criminal trial. That was one reason why we endorsed her in the 2020 primary and general election. Since then, she has represented her Far Northwest Side district well. She backs taking the responsibility for decadesl remapping away from the General Assembly and handing it to a nonpartisan commission, which is something we also support. Her opponent, small business owner Tina Wallace, advocates state legislation that would cap property taxes and provide homeowners sorely needed tax relief. That’s good, but LaPointe is the better choice. She is endorsed.

We never liked the way longtime Democratic state lawmaker Michael J. Zalewski from west suburban Riverside got to the General Assembly. In 2008, Rep. Bob Molaro waited until after his primary win to announce his retirement. Zalewski’s father, then 23rd Ward Ald. Michael R. Zalewski, and other party leaders handed the younger Zalewski the job, and he then easily won the November 2008 general election. We didn’t endorse him in 2008 or in 2010, when he won reelection. The elder Zalewski is one of the Michael Madigan allies entangled in the ComEd bribery scandal that led to the indictment of Madigan, former House speaker and Democratic Party chief. Since 2010, Zalewski has gone unchallenged — until now.

Abdelnasser Rashid is a young, intelligent Harvard University graduate from south suburban Justice with experience as the field director of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 2015 mayoral run and as deputy chief of staff to Cook County Clerk David Orr. He backs consolidation of local governments that are duplicative, and more transparency about how politicians use campaign funds. Most of all, he brings to the race a desire to upend the status quo of machine politics. “People are sick and tired of corruption, and want ethical representation,” he told us. We agree, and think Rashid brings the kind of change needed in the 21st District, which includes the Southwest Side and southwest suburbs. He’s endorsed.

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