Rep. Jaime M. Andrade Jr. is currently in the seat, he was appointed last August when Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) left the seat she held since 2009 to fill her father, Dick Mell’s ward seat in city council. Andrade was a long-time aide to the elder Mell.Although Andrade, who voted for pension reform, and Mell refused to comment, Andrade is a front-runner in the race – he’s received nearly $125,000 in contributions.
Without a true incumbent, many of the candidates’ endorsers said it’s one of the more competitive primaries, which is set for March 18.
While most of the candidates agree on the needs of the Northwest Side district – increasing school funding, restoring the middle class and overturning Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s legislative power – many questioned each other’s claim to be an “independent voice” in the community.
“I think it’s time we get an independent voice in Springfield,” said Nancy Schiavone, candidate and 35th ward committeeman. “Springfield is broken. I think it’s really important that we reach out and support our community.”
Schiavone, who is the other front-runner in the primary with $66,000 in contributions, has gained support from other independent democratic officials who have worked with her on school and community issues.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ald. John Arena (45th) and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said Schiavone would not be afraid to stand up and speak out for what is right for the community rather than what her party tells her to support.
“I believe that Nancy is going to bring a very strong progressive voice,” Schakowsky said. “She has a compassion for those people who are in need now, and there’s plenty of them in the 40th district.”
Schiavone said there needs to be more transparency with tax increment financing and was the only person to address it while she campaigned.
But while Schiavone and the other candidates criticized Andrade for receiving campaign contributions from Madigan and the Democrat majority that totaled just over $40,000 — and linked it to his inability to be independent — Schiavone’s main contribution was the $40,000 she received from the Services Employees International Union healthcare group.
Dark horse candidate Mark Pasieka said, “That’s the Chicago machine I remember seeing when I was my daughter’s age and she’s 8.”
Pasieka, an electrical engineer who has neither given nor received campaign contributions, said, “I’m not a politician. But the title says representative and I think I can be a representative for the people.”
Jessica Hurtabo, Pre-K teacher at Frank W. Reilly Elementary School, said Pasieka and his wife have been very involved with community engagement in the school.
“He’s been so involved with our schools, so I can only imagine what he would do in that role for the community,” Hurtabo said.
While Pasieka said he’s been campaigning through word-of-mouth rather than relying on financial contributions, candidate Wendy Jo Harmston said her campaign has been a “true grassroots project” as well.
Harmston, who has over 40 years of experience with Chicago Public Schools, said she wants to build on her prior experience with education and the community’s arts and culture through the Northwest Arts Connection.
“Elected officials are partners in the community, not the boss,” Harmston said. “We need to look at what’s really good for the quality of life in the community and make sure that it’s something the community actually wants.”
Jane Friedman, who worked over 20 years with Harmston at the North River Commission, and Marlena Ascher, president of the Old Irving Park Association and Northwest Arts Connection, spoke to Harmston’s passion for the community and creative perspective.
“She goes about projects at a different angle that most people don’t think about,” Friedman said. “She’s good with responding to people and mobilizing them to make a positive reaction.”
Ascher said, “She’s an artist and artist’s create. She’s not locked in a box; she has the ability to see multiple perspectives.”
“I have a deep concern for the city and want to see that everyone is treated fairly,” Goldstein said. “I want to offer that experience of really being an advocate and standing up for the community member versus those ones who are told what to do.”
Timothy Vallianatos, a district community member who has helped with Goldstein’s campaign, said Goldstein’s only negative quality is he was one of Blagojevich’s attorneys.
“He’s like Robin Hood – he has a true valiant heart,” Vallianatos said. “He’s a real person and he’s not owned by the machine. He truly cares for people who are facing hard times.”
While each candidate spoke to their own “independent” qualities, Bart Goldberg, a former candidate who withdrew January 13 because he said his wife’s new consultant company was uncomfortable with him running for public office, summed up the underlying agreement.
“What the district needs is a real independent. Someone who can go there and be separate from the army and still make a difference. Someone who can speak for the real community issues,” he said.