[ Editor's note: The original interview referred to Mark Pera as pro-life; he is actually pro-choice. Windy City Times regrets the error. ]
Mark Pera, a self-described mainstream Democrat, feels that it is time to change the direction of leadership in Illinois' 3rd District.
Pera is not alone in his want for change. The race is crowded, with Democrats, Republicans and a Green Party candidate all vying for the seat. Three Democrats, including Pera, are racing against the incumbent, conservative Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, son of former representative William Lipinski.
Pera works as an assistant state's attorney with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, focusing on environmental issues, where he has been for the past 10 years following several years in a private practice. He has served as president of the Lyons Township High School Board of Education since 2001, as well.
The pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-war candidate feels that he better represents the concerns of the district, which encompasses south suburban areas such as Berwyn, Palos Hills and Brookfield.
Windy City Times: One of your campaign messages is that it's time for a change.
Mark Pera: The issue is pretty much that I'm a mainstream Democrat running in this race and he [ current Rep. Dan Lipinski ] keeps handing us issue after issue.
WCT: One of your concerns is that he seems to keep voting along with the Republicans?
MP: One of our concerns is that on a lot of major issues he has voted with Bush, whether it is issues regarding choice or the first big energy bill back in 2005, when he voted with Bush, allowing big tax cuts for big oil. … He voted with Bush on issues I characterize as personal privacy issues: choice, Terri Schiavo, etc.
WCT: One of those main issues you mentioned is pollution. You have a background prosecuting polluters?
MP: I'm head of the Cook County State's Attorney's office prosecuting environmental crime [ the Environmental and Energy Department ] and also handled the public utility matters regulation. On the environmental side, I was one of the lead prosecutors in the Dave Matthew's Band bus case, for example. I was also part of the team that shut down an asphalt plant in Hillside that was emitting a lot of air pollution. There was an oil refinery … in Blue Island. I was also part of the team that was instrumental in shutting that down. I have a broad based background protecting the environment, and I hope to continue that in Washington.
WCT: What are the top few items, if elected to office, you would like to tackle right away?
MP: Well, we have to stop this war in Iraq. … It's time to cap the funding and get our troops out within the year. That's been my position consistently all along. Congress has shown an absolute inability to do anything about it. I think that's got to change. We touched on energy and the environment. We need to move forward aggressively on alternative forms of energy. It's a challenge that the American people are more than willing to rise up to if they get the proper leadership. Healthcare is a big issue. The fact that the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies write our healthcare policy while 47 million people don't have health insurance—that's deplorable.
Overall, the message that we're trying to send to people is that we're almost past the Bush years. Pretty soon it's going to be in the rearview mirror, and I think the American people are very anxious to start anew and tackle some of these problems and move forward with really a lot of hope that we can make changes and make a difference for everybody. That's the message that I've been delivering, and we've gotten a great response to it. … There is a … real receptivity by voters towards independent Democrats that can move forward without being tied down to the old business as usual folks.
WCT: Do you think the 3rd District needs someone that does have these more mainstream Democrat stances on important issues such as the war and women's right to choose?
MP: I think the 3rd District is more than ready for it. Really, on both tracts that I talked about, I think they are really tired of the friends and family program of nepotism. They're looking for an independent voice. They are tired of the fact that Dan Lipinski, the candidate, is sharing his office with Bill Lipinski [ his father and former U.S. representative ] , the lobbyist. … It's that kind of stuff that people are really, really tired of. It's just not the issues that are important, but so is the fact that people are looking for an independent voice that's not beholden to the special interests.
WCT: What is your stance on gay marriage?
MP: I'm in favor of civil unions. I would be strongly opposed to any attempt to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriages. I think in many instances, it's a state issue. I also think, in general, that it is a matter of time. As I talk to gay leaders in the community, I think that they are surprised that we have made as much progress as we have made. If you said five years ago that we would be where we are at now on issues that are important to the gay and lesbian community, I think you would be surprised.
WCT: Do you support civil unions because you think they are more attainable at this point?
MP: Yes, I think they are more attainable. I characterize it this way. I'm 53, to put it in context. I think that the generation ahead of me—this is obviously very general—but I think in general, the generation ahead of me is opposed to it. I think that my generation is ambivalent about it. My kids don't care. I have four kids, and they don't care. It's not an issue for them. I think we are moving towards that very quickly.
WCT: Do you support federal hate-crimes legislation?
MP: I do.
WCT: When it comes to healthcare, what do you propose to do to tackle the HIV crisis?
MP: I don't pretend to be an expert on the HIV crisis, but I would obviously support any effort to fund the research that is necessary to find a cure and for prevention purposes, to make sure the treatment is available to those folks who have contracted it. That has to be funded.
WCT: Do you support universal healthcare? What is your stance?
MP: I do think we need to move towards universal healthcare. I call them the big boys and girls that are ahead of me on the ticket—Barack [ Obama ] and Hillary [ Clinton ] , for instance—who have proposed very comprehensive plans. I am very hopeful that I'll be with them.
WCT: What are some other issues that are a concern to you?
MP: We touched on three of the main ones that people are worried about. I think the economy is going to become more and more of an issue as we go forward.
WCT: How do you think your background has paved the way for you to be able to become a congressman?
MP: Let me back up. I get asked many times, unsolicited by folks, 'Your father can't get you a job as a congressman?' I do. My answer is that the only job my dad got me was a job in a steel mill. I graduated from high school early in January 1973, and I was out in the mills. I worked in the steel mills a year and a half after high school, and summers through college and law school. That obviously has had a great impact on my life in terms of how I view things. I've been married 25 years to the same woman. Some of the big boys on the Republican side can't say that! With four kids. Obviously, being married for that period of time and having four kids changes ones perspective on things. I've been at the State's Attorney's Office the past 10 years in a variety of capacities.
I'm president of the board of education at Lyons Township High School, a huge high school in suburban Cook County. I've done a lot of things in the community. I think all of these things have helped me have a good perspective on life. It helped me to be able to evaluate politically so I can act in the best interest of the folks who will be sending me to Washington.