For a sitting, massively rich Republican governor who just added $50 million in personal cash to his re-election campaign, a sitting Chicago alderman with a measly $50,000 probably doesn’t seem much of a threat.
And perhaps pro-business, union-critic Governor Bruce Rauner has nothing to worry about from 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, a liberal (progressive, if you prefer) who has decided to take him on.
Pawar, 36, in an exclusive interview with NBC Chicago’s Ward Room, made it official as of Tuesday.
“I am running because we’ve gotten to a point in this country where wealth worship is the only qualifier for public office, trumping public policy. Chopping benefits or declaring strategic bankruptcy or selling companies off in pieces for profit is somehow seen as the secret ingredient for an Illinois utopia,” said Pawar.
The case he plans to make? In his words, “Government should be aspirational. People like to tell us how terrible government is but it was the federal government after the Great Depression that created the middle class. And sent a man to the moon.”
Pawar, an Indian-American, who holds three graduate degrees in urban planning, disaster management and social policy, is accustomed to being discounted.
It was in the Spring of 2011 in the Machine fortress 47th ward that Pawar was written off by a pile of prominent progressives like Mike Quigley, Forrest Claypool, Heather Steans, Bridget Gainer, and last but not least, Rahm Emanuel whose Ravenswood house is in the ward. The whole pack of them went with retiring alderman Eugene Schulter’s anointed pick, Tom O’Donnell.
But Pawar, earnest and intelligent, outworked and outguessed them all, knocked on every door, and resonated with fed-up homeowners who complained they hadn’t seen or heard a new idea from their politicos in a long, long time.
And so Pawar beat the machine and the Progressives with 50.8 percent of the vote, enough to win free and clear without a runoff.
The best piece written about his victory was done by The Reader’s Ben Joravsky:
It’s a great read and, following the general election of 2016 where we once again saw conventional political wisdom upended, it’s a reminder that we sometimes fail to see the rebellion that’s right in front of us.
Pawar, for his part, has tried to be a consensus builder in City Council. Sometimes to his credit, sometimes not. But he has worked hard, been thoughtful, and so far, is still idealistic enough not to be under the yoke of the Mayor nor a member of the Old Guard. Nor is he a full partner of the Progressive Caucus.
One of his greatest fights has been in behalf of quality public high schools in his ward.
Does Pawar have the wherewithal to go up against the potential primary election cash of Democratic billionaires (Chris Kennedy & JB Pritzker)? Or to take on, maybe, a couple of state senators (Kwame Raoul & Andy Manar), a pair of congresswomen (Robin Kelly & Cheri Bustos) or an Attorney General named Madigan?
He’s decided to try.
And so, as of early Tuesday morning, Ameya Pawar tells Ward Room he’s in.