Republican Joel Pollak is said to be the new face of the local GOP establishment, but as a candidate for U.S. Congress from Illinois’ 9th District, he must beat Democratic powerhouse Jan Schakowsky on Nov. 2 to be the new face in that congressional seat.
Schakowsky, an incumbent who won 74 percent of the vote in the last election, has served in the House for 12 years, holds a leadership position among Democrats and has raised more than 11 times as much money as Pollak.
With less than a month to go before Election Day, Pollak, 33, is running a campaign against all odds for a “fresh start” in the 9th District, which encompasses parts of Rogers Park on the city’s far North Side and areas westward to Des Plaines.
Although the odds may be against him, Pollak spoke confidently about his ambitions in front of Park Elementary School in Evanston, where he delivered school supplies on a recent sunny fall afternoon.
“[Schakowsky] has been in office for 12 years and jobs here are down 5 percent. Is that her fault? No. But policy she voted for influenced that,” he said. “Everything happening in Washington is making things worse.”
Pollak said Republicans will probably win the majority in Congress this fall and that Schakowsky would be “sidelined.”
Pollak calls himself a fiscal conservative. He opposes the big bank bailouts and the Obama administration’s health care reform law. While he made clear that he is not a member of the Tea Party, Pollak received the party’s endorsement. They evidently share his concern for runaway spending at all levels of government.
A social moderate on some issues, Pollak supports a woman’s right to an abortion. He has no position on gays serving openly in the military; he favors civil unions but opposes gay marriage. He supports the 2nd Amendment and the right to own a gun. His biggest gripes with Schakowsky and the Democratic Party are mostly based on spending issues.
“She is the highest spender in the House and the biggest spender in all of Congress,” Pollak said, citing numbers released by the National Taxpayers Union. His campaign literature labels his opponent as a “bully” who opposes balancing the budget and limiting the national debt.
Schakowsky defended herself in an e-mail, saying, “That statement misrepresents what the National Taxpayers Union actually measures and distorts my record.”
“I am also one of 18 members of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which is working to find solutions to our long-term deficit and debt problems,” she said. “I have approached our mission with a focus on eliminating waste and inefficiency in government programs, particularly in the defense department, and closing tax loopholes that benefit companies that take American jobs overseas.”
Pollak also explained his foreign policy views.
An orthodox Jew, he strongly supports Israel in the ongoing conflict with Palestinians and Iran.
“I think the United States should make it clear that it will support Israel if it were to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran,” Pollak said. “The better thing to do is to create a coalition of countries that’s willing to confront Iran together, which is more credible than simply having Israel alone, or the United States alone, and certainly, we need to indicate that we will defend our ally and stand with them if they decide to do it.”
He also said the U.S. should play an important role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
“We shouldn’t overextend ourselves if one side or the other is not ready to make the necessary sacrifices for peace,” he said.
Pollak also criticized the Obama administration’s health care reform law, saying that it doesn’t produce better access to health insurance or a higher quality of health care.
He calls on insurance companies to sell health insurance across state lines, saying it would “help bring down costs. Greater competition lowers costs.”
“And I think we also ought to do something for the 6 to 8 percent of people under 65 who have pre-existing conditions and struggle to get access to health insurance,” he said. “If you ask the American people ‘What’s your top priority in health care?’ that’s probably what most people would say.”
Pollak argued that the law was hastily put together, and that lawmakers should “start over.”
Straying momentarily from politics, Pollak said he likes to watch TV and write in his free time. He was born in South Africa and raised in north suburban Skokie, where he graduated from Niles North High School. He went on to study at Harvard College and Harvard Law School. he later won a Rotarian scholarship and traveled to South Africa.
As a law student, Pollak took on U.S. Rep. Barney Frank at a televised press conference. Watch the video here.