In a governor’s race that is heating up every day, it’s no wonder why voters are emotionally drained. The cool down from an intense presidential campaign that worked our stress levels to an all-time high is now being filled with local media soundbites from Illinois state gubernatorial candidates.

The youngest Democratic candidate to throw his hat in the ring is 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. The son of Indian immigrants, he is currently in his second term serving the Ravenswood community as city councilman. In 2011, he ran against Tom O’Donnell for the aldermanic seat, which also serves Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home ward and who was endorsed by the veteran Alderman Eugene Schulter.

Without missing a beat, Pawar hit the streets—knocking on doors, introducing himself to residents and running a successful grassroots election campaign which led to over 50 percent of the votes in his favor. He won re-election in 2015 by 80 percent, with high approval from constituents.

Now, he has set his sights on the highest public office in Springfield with less than two terms under his belt as a local legislator.

The racial make-up of the North Side ward does not reflect a heavy saturation of Black and Brown residents, but Pawar feels this should not deflect people’s opinion of him as an advocate of social rights.

“I have a real record that I’m proud of—a real progressive one. What’s different than the other candidates in the race? I worked to raise the minimum wage and chaired the Working Families Taskforce, which led to the Chicago paid sick day ordinance. I worked to preserve affordable housing in the city and on a number of initiatives from progressive policy and worker’s rights. I also bring a different level of experience, which is I can pass legislation and watch how that plays out,” he said.

Immigrant Roots

He recounts his father’s childhood growing up in India.

“My dad was five years old when India gained independence. To maintain power, the British divided the natives based on where they lived, what they did for a living and the religion they practiced. They pitted country men against one another and forced them to fight each other over scraps so that the wealthy could stay wealthy. As a result, my dad grew up in the aftermath, starving, sick and poor,” he recalls. Pawar feels there are similarities to Illinois’ current leadership under Governor Bruce Rauner.

There are four planks that Pawar says is the foundation that his campaign is building on to carry out his advocacy for social change.

“What we’re proposing is a 21st Century ‘New Deal’ between your state government and you. The first one, changing that funding formula using progressive income tax to pay for schools. Secondly, universal childcare so if we say we have family values, you actually support working families. Having a child shouldn’t put you out of work,” he explains.

The third plank is providing jobs through capitol. Using a massive public works program to rebuild communities—getting the people in the communities to rebuild their own communities. We have to work with the trades to actually open their doors to minority communities. “We have not invested in schools, working families with child care and we haven’t done enough to create jobs,” said Pawar.

The fourth plank is criminal justice reform.

The alderman admires President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal plan to revitalize the American economy through implementing social services programming regulated by government.

Pawar says, “I think the New Deal was an example of what happens when people come together to work for one another. You’re talking about a time after the Depression. We needed to make massive public investments using public dollars, using the public to build those investments. To build schools, roads, bridges, invest in arts and theaters. We brought power and water to small towns. We built parks, national parks and trails—all of this because we believed if we invest in one another, we would end up with a great middle class, and we did.”

He has aggressively covered over 900 miles of Illinois, becoming familiar with downstate towns such as East St. Louis, Cairo and Carbondale. According to his representative, the 37-year-old plans to take his “no nonsense” style to meet folks in Charleston, Jacksonville, Macomb, Sauk Village, Kankakee, Galesburg and other Illinois towns to compete for resident’s votes in the 2018 gubernatorial primaries.

Many of these towns have been severely affected by the budget stalemate that has been a battle between Governor Rauner and House Democrats for close to two years. Businesses relocating from small cities such as Peoria, leaving the state entirely or massive closings have cast a shadow on business development.

“I do not believe we should be in the business of letting big business walk in the door and say, ‘Pay me or I’m leaving.’ If you go to any of the small businesses here, if they were having troubles, our response from government, ‘I’m sorry, you have your bootstraps.’ So, paying big businesses to stay, just incentivizes the future behavior of them saying, ‘It’s time for me to leave again.’”

Making a Will and a Way

Pawar understands his war chest will not be a match compared to billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker or the familiarity of Chris Kennedy’s family dynasty, but he doesn’t seem to be intimidated or motivated by either fortune or power. With no party or labor union endorsements thus far, Pawar has reportedly raised since March 31 close to $248,000. Many contributions have come from private contributors and small donations.

His advocacy for the working class has become a rallying cry to help those who are unable to help themselves. So, his strategy is to flip the script back onto “deep pocket” politics.

“When I see all of these economic anxieties, it’s not because the taxes are too high—it’s because it’s too high for average people. The wealthy people get away with paying a fraction of what normal people do.”

Some question the young alderman’s political and ambitious moves as he branches outside of local government for such a high-ranking post in state government. He has prepared himself in researching emergency and how different branches of government should aptly prepare communities for unforeseen disasters in his 2014 book, Emergency Management and Social Intelligence: A Comprehensive All-Hazards Approach.

“We’re all fighting each other over scraps. Look at what California has done or Minnesota or Connecticut or New York. States that have tax breaks—they tax the rich fairly—not penalize them. They’re school systems are better funded,” Pawar said. “You have less disparity between those who have and those who don’t. Illinois is a model for what not to do. It’s a model for segregation. It’s a model for bad public policy. If we want jobs, good paying jobs and good schools—we have to invest in them.”    

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