The Nov. 8 presidential election was a game changer for 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar.
In the days leading up to the election, Pawar mulled a run for mayor in 2019, but that possibility faded as it became clearer Mayor Rahm Emanuel intended to run for re-election. With the end of Pawar’s self-imposed two-term limit approaching and his reluctance to run against Emanuel, it was not clear where the alderman was headed next.
When President-elect Donald Trump won the election, Pawar switched gears and began considering a run for another office — governor.
“[With Trump’s election], you get immigrants versus refugees, urban areas against rural areas. That playbook, I think, in many ways is a repeat of what Gov. Rauner has been doing in Illinois for the last couple of years,” Pawar said. “That’s not productive.”
Pawar has not made a commitment to run yet. He has an 8-month-old daughter with his wife and former chief of staff Charna Epstein, who now works as chief operating officer of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute. His decision to run would have to be right for the whole family, he’s said.
Still, Pawar appears to be serious about the possibility.
He has been making calls around the state and plans to start traveling outside Chicago after the holidays to talk face-to-face with voters, he said.
He also recently hired Sam Hobert, a former campaign staffer for Pawar’s 2015 re-election bid, to lead exploratory efforts. After Pawar’s successful re-election, Hobert, 25, worked for Illinois Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-49th) on her successful re-election campaign.
Pawar first revealed his possible plans to run for governor to Politico, where he said he would want to run a “progressive campaign.” When asked what that entailed, Pawar outlined four big issues to tackle: public education funding, criminal justice reform, expanded childcare and job creation.
One of the main components of Pawar’s campaign message is that keeping money in the hands of the wealthy isn’t the answer for the state or for the nation, naming both Gov. Rauner and President-elect Trump as his adversaries.
“Investing in people in this state requires the very wealthy paying their fair share,” Pawar said. “We can properly fund schools, we can properly fund social services, but instead of doing that and having that conversation, Gov. Rauner and his three or four very dear friends are basically sprinkling us with the few dollars here and there and telling us if we only had term limits, Illinois would be some sort of paradise. It’s an absurd set of politics, and it’s driving people apart.”
While he was still considering a run for mayor, Pawar advocated for implementing a graduated income tax rather than raising property taxes to fund public education in Chicago, an issue that would be much easier for a governor to tackle than a mayor.
Public education remains high on Pawar’s priority list, but since the election of Trump, he’s also been vocal about civil rights.
His Twitter bio reads, “If Donald Trump creates a registry for Muslims, then we all register as Muslims.” He has also handed out signs that say, “Hate has no home here,” from his North Side office. Furthermore, Pawar has joined the call to Rauner to make Illinois a sanctuary state, mirroring the efforts in City Council to declare Chicago a sanctuary city in 2012.
Last year following the deadly terror attacks in Paris that left at least 130 people dead, Rauner joined several other GOP governors, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, in vowing to temporarily suspend acceptance of Syrian refugees in the state. Pawar says as governor, he would want to establish Illinois as a sanctuary state to protect lawful immigrants, especially in light of Trump’s election and his previous promises to crack down on illegal immigrants and Muslims.
“These are my constituents … and it’s sad that we’re in a place where the federal government is now looking to round people up,” Pawar said. “If it comes down to it, then yes, you use the power of the state to protect the Illinoisan from the federal government and the president-elect.”
If Pawar decides to officially throw his name into the governor’s race, he will enter as a young democratic alderman who is relatively unknown outside of Chicago. His opponent will have the advantage of incumbency, name recognition and a campaign coffer that’s significantly larger than Pawar’s. Furthermore, Pawar will have to win over a legion of voters outside Chicago who overwhelmingly voted for President-elect Trump.
Nonetheless, Pawar says he knows what he would be up against, and his goal isn’t to win by raising more money than Rauner or by changing the minds of those who voted for Trump.
“Something about what the president-elect said to them spoke to them, and I want to hear what the Democrats have to do better,” Pawar said. “My sense is we have to start talking about income inequality and taking action in a meaningful way and stop worshipping wealth, and more importantly start funding education in an equitable way. I think if you go out there and talk to people and respect them and you don’t necessarily look at them as a ‘D’ or an ‘R,’ but you look at them as a human being with respect, I think they’re willing to listen, and I’ll go do that.”