PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday March 17th, 2014, 12:18am

Election Preview: The Democratic Battle In Illinois’ 40th District

The five-person race in Illinois’ 40th legislative district on Chicago’s Northwest Side is one of the key Democratic battles to watch in Tuesday’s primary election. Progress Illinois takes a look at the contest.

The five-person race in Illinois’ 40th legislative district on Chicago’s Northwest Side is one of the key Democratic battles to watch in Tuesday’s primary election.

Four Democratic candidates are challenging incumbent State Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago), a former top aide to the now retired Chicago Ald. Dick Mell (33rd). Andrade, who also previously served as the Chicago City Council’s assistant sergeant at arms, has represented the 40th District since August, when he was appointed to fill Deb Mell’s vacancy. Mell left her state rep post, which she had held since 2009, to succeed her father as alderman of Chicago’s 33rd Ward. 

Andrade’s four opponents include attorneys Aaron Goldstein and Nancy Schiavone, who is also the 35th Ward Democratic Committeeman; Wendy Jo Harmston, a community development organizer; and Mark Pasieka, an electrical engineer.

Last Monday, a sixth 39th District Democratic candidate, Chicago Public Schools educator Melanie Ferrand, officially suspended her campaign. Some of Schiavone’s backers had challenged Ferrand’s candidacy due to a paperwork technicality, which led to Ferrand being removed from the primary ballot.

“This race is important for the 40th district, because there is not really a long-time incumbent, as has been the tradition in many parts of Chicago,” said Anna Zolkowski Sobor with the Old Irving Park Association, a community group in the district.

It remains to be seen, however, what impact the contested race will have on voter turnout. Only about 4,000 of the approximately 45,000 registered voters had cast ballots when Deb Mell ran unopposed back in the 2012 primary election, Zolkowski Sobor has pointed out.

“For many people in the district, (this race is) kind of like a reset,” she added. “We’ve got now five people running, and it’s leveled the playing field.”

Goldstein, however, sees the race a bit differently.

“In my mind, there’s an incumbent as far as family dynasty,” Goldstein said of Andrade’s connection to the powerful Mell family.

But Goldstein — who was a defense attorney for convicted former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (who is Dick Mell’s son-in-law) during his second trial — has himself faced jabs from some of his opponents who have accused him of being part of the political “machine.”

“I have no connection to the machine. I’ve never been in the machine. It’s laughable. But it’s predictable,” Goldstein said, referring to some of the attack ads against him. “I’m not a committeewoman. I’m not an alderman’s aide. I’ve never held a political office. I’m as distant from the machine as one can get. I represented an individual who was charged with a crime, and oh, by the way, the constitution says every individual charged with a crime is entitled to an attorney.”

Neither Andrade nor Schiavone responded to interview requests for this story.

Goldstein was quick to point out that he has also served as an attorney representing homeless students, low-income people in civil matters as well as individuals involved with Occupy Chicago protests.  

During this election cycle, voters in Illinois’ 40th District, which includes parts of Logan Square, Albany Park, Avondale and Irving Park, have been inundated with campaign mailers, Zolkowski Sobor said. The political literature has been focused on Andrade, Goldstein and Schiavone, the perceived top-three candidates. 

“That has been the number one complaint [from community members], the number of flyers we’ve been getting both pro and anti candidate from various sources,” she said. “Obviously, outside PACs [political action committees] have determined that this is a hot race, or they wouldn’t be spending so much money on it.”

Harmston said the mailers have been getting especially intense over the past month, with residents typically receiving two to eight pieces of literature a day, mostly from supporters of Andrade and Schiavone. 

“If you have that money, fine … [but] when you claim to be an independent, and you’re getting all this PAC money, you’re not independent,” Harmston stressed. “But having said that, I would spend the money much more wisely, I think, than how I see it spent … I’d figure out ways to gather people together at some event.” 

Goldstein acknowledged that his campaign has sent out ads against Andrade.

“All I did was point out the fact that Andrade … will vote along with [House Speaker Michael] Madigan in every sense of the word. And I think that’s bore out by the amount of money that he’s received from Madigan,” he said. “As to Schiavone, she’s paid for in a different context, in that she’s been given tons of contributions from various other special interests as well.”

Campaign funding

At the end of the fourth quarter, the “Friends for Nancy Schiavone” committee reported having $61,518 in the bank, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. She has since pulled in contributions from AFSCME Illinois Council 31 PAC, the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE and the SEIU* Healthcare Illinois-Indiana PAC, among others.

The “Friends of Jaime Andrade M. Andrade, Jr” committee had $48,768 in the bank at the end of the fourth quarter. Since then, the committee has seen donations from the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois PAC Fund, the Equality Illinois PAC, which works to advance LGBT rights, and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association PAC, to name a few. Andrade also received in-kind donations from two political funds steered by House Speaker Madigan, Friends of Michael J. Madigan and the Democratic Majority fund, for payroll, printing and postage. 

Goldstein’s political fund reported having $16,687 at the close of the fourth quarter, which ended on December 31. The “Citizens for Goldstein” committee has since received money from the Illinois Education Association and two contributions from individuals

Neither Harmston nor Pasieka have committees. 

In an interview with Progress Illinois, Pasieka said “it’s not about the money” for him.

“I’ve worked very hard. My wife worked very hard. My eight volunteers, which I never paid a dime, they did it with their own free time,” he stressed. “The only money I spent on this campaign was for a toner cartridge [and] 500 bucks for a lawyer, and should I win this election … at my victory speech all I’m going to say is, ‘Neighbors, motivate yourself. Let’s take Chicago back.’ You don’t need the endorsements. You don’t need all the money … You just need history as a good neighbor, and that’s all I got.”

Pasieka proudly stated that he has “accepted no money from anyone.”

“They only promise I’ve made thus far is I will represent the majority, not the 1 percent,” he said. 

For her part, Harmston said she has never been seeking “the Madigan slate” and is running as an independent Democrat “very consciously.”

“I thought I’d get more money than I have, but on the other hand, I was basing my campaign on dealing with people direct, communicating with people direct and being out there, and not just letting mailings do the work for me,” she said. 

Pasieka made a point to stress that he has no interest whatsoever in becoming a “career politician.”

“I’ve spent so many years getting an education in electrical engineering, in optical engineering, and I’ve even got a master’s in electromagnetics, which is a physics degree. I don’t want to be a politician,” he said. “I can do other things … but I have a feeling that maybe this was what I was supposed to do … We’ve got over a hundred something lawyers down in Springfield for the last couple decades. Now, this problem that is basically on our heads right now wasn’t created by engineers or neighbors — it was created by lawyers.”

Endorsements

Andrade has garnered endorsements from groups ranging from the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois to the Equality Illinois PAC. The Chicago Federation of Labor, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, the Illinois AFL-CIO and Personal PAC, an Illinois pro-choice political organization, also back Andrade.

Both Harmston and Pasieka do not appear to have political endorsements.

Some of the elected officials backing Schiavone include U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9) and Chicago Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th).

“Nancy comes from humble roots on the Northwest Side of Chicago and understands what 40th District residents face every day,” Schakowsky said in a statement. “As a community activist and advocate for working families, Nancy Schiavone has proven that she has the compassion, experience and dedication necessary to serve the 40th District.”

In addition to the aforementioned supporters, Schiavone has also garnered the endorsement of Citizen Action Illinois and the 45th Ward Independent Democrats.

On top of the Illinois Education Association’s endorsement, Goldstein has the backing of the United Hellenic Voters of America.

Illinois Education Association President Cindy Klickna noted in a statement that Goldstein “is the only candidate who has been unwavering in his support for public schools and teachers.”

“The incumbent voted for the unfair and unconstitutional pension bill, Senate Bill 1,” she added. “We need a representative who will stand up for public schools and educators and Aaron is that candidate.”

State issues 

As Klickna pointed out, Andrade voted for the controversial state pension overhaul, which the legislature approved in December.

Goldstein said he strongly opposes the new pension law, which he believes to be unconstitutional. 

“It was an attack, which I think is an attack that we’ve had in this city state and country from some time now — an attack on working folks,” he said. “I see the pension reform bill not only as something that’s unfair to state employees, particularly teachers, I see this as a wave of corporatization of our schools, a corporatization of our government and really pushing and squeezing the middle-class, and getting the middle-class basically fighting with the working class and the poor as well.”

Schiavone is not in favor of the new pension reform law either. And Pasieka believes the state broke its contract with state employees. 

In a candidate questionnaire for the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Andrade said it “was evident that something had to be done to fix Illinois’ pension crisis, and taxpayers, employees and legislators all recognize this.”

“To prevent further damage to Illinois’ fiscal condition and credit rating, the General Assembly had to act and begin to restore Illinois’ fiscal house,” he wrote.

Harmston said she “would have voted for something” if she were in Springfield as a legislator weighing pension reform.

“A few of my fellow candidates have fallen on the sword on principle saying, ‘No, absolutely not’ without offering what else should to be done, so to me that’s disingenuous,” she added. 

Meanwhile, Goldstein took Andrade to task for comments he made at a candidate forum last month regarding Madigan’s proposal to cut the business income tax in half, an idea Goldstein opposes. Andrade had stated that, at the moment, he does not support a business income tax decrease, explaining that he wants to see how the issue of the state’s temporary income tax shakes out. The state income tax increase for both personal and corporate rates is scheduled to expire come 2015. 

“Blame me for reading between the lines, but [it’s] obvious Madigan told him he can sort of be against it right now, but he’s got his vote,” Goldstein said.

Harmston said she thinks the temporary income tax hike should phase out as planned in 2015. But like all the other candidates in the 40th District race, she is in favor of a graduated, instead of a flat, state income tax system.

Andrade has cosponsored House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 33, which looks to replace “Illinois’ flat tax with a progressive income tax that offers middle-class families relief while requiring the very wealthy to pay their fair share,” he stated in the Chicago Tribune’s questionnaire. 

If elected, Harmston, a former public school teacher, said she will also “be a loud voice for public education.” 

“In spite of the obvious major challenge that the state faces financially, they can’t have schools at the bottom of the list again and again,” she stressed, later adding that she also supports an elected Chicago school board but with certain safeguards so that it is not just another “patronage swimming pool.”

On Schiavone’s website, she states that she “will work to ensure that sufficient funding is allocated to address the crumbling infrastructure of our educational system; to provide teachers with the tools and resources they need; and to end the unfair attack on our teachers who work so tirelessly to make a difference.”  

There are no Republicans running in the 40th district. Check in with Progress Illinois on Tuesday for our coverage of the March 18 primary election in the 40th District.

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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