Jason Gonzales was three years from being born when Michael Madigan was elected to the Illinois House. Now 39 years later, Gonzales, a novice candidate, is taking on one of the most powerful politicians in Illinois in the Democratic primary. Call it a political version of David versus Goliath.
At the age of 73, Madigan was first sworn into office in 1971 and, with the exception of two years, has been Speaker of the House since 1983.
At the age of 42, Gonzales, an innovation consultant, is a first-time candidate.
“His base is waning. It’s not as powerful as it used to be,” Gonzales said in an interview with NBC 5 at his Southwest Side campaign office, when asked about his opponent.
Gonzales says he will need 10,000 votes to defeat the entrenched Speaker of the Illinois House who has plastered the 22nd District with yard signs. But the district is now over 70 percent Hispanic, which Gonzales says could favor him.
Two other candidates appear on the ballot: Joe Barboza and Grasiela Rodriguez. Gonzales contends they are ringers.
“I believe that whole-heartedly,” he said.
State records show Barboza and Rodriguez filed petitions to run at the final hour of the final day.
“Speaker Madigan’s people deliberately placed two Hispanic candidates so that they would try and confuse other Hispanics,” Gonzales said.
Speaker Madigan did not respond to a request for an interview.
It’s hard to find any evidence of an active campaign by either Barboza or Rodriguez. Neither has a campaign office or reported campaign contributions.
We were unable to reach Rodriguez. Barboza said by phone that he is a real candidate. His wife, who answered a knock on his Southwest Side front door, acknowledged some people don’t believe he is a real candidate. When asked if her husband is a bona fide candidate she replied, “I believe he is.”
The 22nd District, which Madigan represents, is comprised largely of Chicago’s 13th and 14th wards.
Madigan’s endorsements run from party regular 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke to progressive Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. While Democrats as well as Republican supporters of Governor Bruce Rauner have given to Gonzales.
In hardball politics, yard signs scattered in the district point to Gonzales’ checkered youth, spending 71 days in jail for credit card fraud, but don’t mention he turned his life around, earning master’s degrees from MIT and Harvard.
“I think this is a very winnable race,” Gonzales said.
Now he takes on a master politician, a political Goliath who over the decades has shown no mercy to many other David’s.