Will Guzzardi is a 24-year-old ex-blogger for the Huffington Post who moved to Chicago two years ago after graduating from Brown University. Guzzardi ran against Rep. Toni Berrios, daughter of Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios, in the 39th state representative district on Chicago’s Northwest Side. With all precincts reporting, Guzzardi trails Berrios by 111 votes. Ward Room talked to Guzzardi today about why he’s not conceding, and why the race was so close.
Ward Room: Have you conceded the election yet?
Guzzardi: No, we haven’t. The results haven’t been certified by the Board of Elections yet. There are plenty of votes out there still to be counted.
Ward Room: How many ballots are still out there?
Guzzardi: I was down at the Board of Elections this morning when the absentee ballots that have come in this week were being opened, and it’s difficult to get a read on how many were 39th District ballots, because they weren’t sorted by precinct, but there were many hundreds coming in from around the city.
Ward Room: Would you ask for a recount, or pay for a recount, if you’re still behind after these are counted?
Guzzardi: We’re taking things one step at a time. We want to make sure every single vote gets counted.
Ward Room: You’ve lived in Chicago for two years, and you took on the head of the most famous political machine in America, and nearly defeated it. How did that happen? Why was this race so close?
Guzzardi: I think people in this community are really looking for new leadership. These are difficult times and we’re concerned about the state of public education, we’re concerned about the economy and foreclosures and the safety of our neighborhood. We believe that we deserve representation that is going to fight for those issues every single day, and that’s going to be independent and willing to stand up to leadership when it has to.
Ward Room: You say “independent.” Did that turn out to be a big selling point for you as you campaigned?
Guzzardi: Absolutely. People have seen what machine politics does for our community. It just doesn’t fight for us, on so many of the critical votes that come up, there’s a choice that our legislators make between the special interests and the interest of the families in our community. We need legislators who are willing and able to choose our families.
Ward Room: Was Joe Berrios an issue?
Guzzardi: From our perspective, it was a campaign about the issues. One of the ways this race became as close as it is is I knocked on doors starting in August, five hours a day, every single day, eight or nine hours on the weekends. Every single day, you’d hear about the same bread-and-butter issues. People don’t want to hear attack ads, they want to hear about those bread-and-butter issues.
Ward Room: Did you model your campaign after Ald. Ameya Pawar’s, because he was in a similar situation, taking on a large organization, and did the same kind of extensive door knocking.
Guzzardi: The victory that Alderman Pawar won, and for that matter, what happened in the 45th Ward with Ald. [John] Arena, it’s a type of politics that this city needs more of: grass-roots organizing.
Ward Room: Do you think your showing and the success of those two politicians shows that machine politics is less effective than it used to be?
Guzzardi: Absolutely. With the decline of patronage, machine politics doesn’t have the same muscle that it used to, and I think that leads a vacuum that can be filled with solid, dedicated, grass-roots organizing. I think progressive, independent candidates have an obligation to run their campaigns that way, and when we do, as we saw on Tuesday, the results will be truly powerful.
Ward Room: I want to read you a quote from Scott Cisek, an employee of Joe Berrios at the Cook County Democratic Party: “If [10th District congressional candidate] Ilya Sheyman’s ‘progressive’ supporters in the city of Chicago had not wasted so much time, effort, and treasure trying to take out Toni Berrios, a pro-choice, pro LGBT progressive Latina, with one of their rich white college buddies from out of town, Sheyman might have been able to pull it off. As a big progressive myself, watching the ‘organized professional left’ makes me think of Voltaire’s comment on the Holy Roman Empire. They are neither organized, nor professional, nor supportive of leftys outside of their clique. Sad.” What’s your response to that criticism of your campaign?
Guzzardi: “One of their rich white college buddies from out of town.” In my opinion, this was a race between an entrenched incumbent who has voted consistently on the side of corporate interests and machine special interests, and a progressive, independent candidate.
Ward Room: He seems to be raising the argument that this was a race between a white gentrifier and the Latino community. Did you find that to be a dynamic?
Guzzardi: We sought support from people of all backgrounds across the district. Thousands of Latino people, thousands of people of all backgrounds got together on Tuesday and stood up for a new type of leadership.
Ward Room: What were the issues in the legislature that people really wanted to talk about when you were out campaigning?
Guzzardi: The corporate tax breaks. People said to us, “My property taxes are going up, the cost of living is going up for me and meanwhile, the state just gave away $300 million to these big corporations. What about our families.” And Berrios voted for them.
Ward Room: What about the personal income tax?
Guzzardi: While we needed some new revenues, the last thing we needed was a regressive hike that put disproportionally more of the burden on poor people.
Ward Room: Would you favor a constitutional amendment for a progressive tax?
Guzzardi: Absolutely. I’ve been talking about that since Day One of this campaign.
Ward Room: If you end up not being a nominee, would you consider running as an independent in the fall?
Guzzardi: We’re keeping every option on the table at the moment. Right now, we want to make sure that all the votes are counted.