Lamont Robinsonwho runs two Chicago Allstate Insurance offices, one in Bronzeville, the other in Humboldt Parkrecently announced that he's campaigning to fill the Illinois House's 5th District post currently held by state Rep. Juliana Stratton, who is running for Lieutenant Governor alongside gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker.
Should he be elected, Robinson would be the first openly gay African-American state legislator in Illinois history.
Besides being active with his business, Robinson, who has lived in the district for 14 years, has had a great deal of involvement with the LGBT community, often through his business. He said that he'd marched in the Pride Parade through Allstate, taken part in Love Fest and spoke about entrepreneurship at Center on Halsted. Robinson recently spoke with Windy City Times about his campaign.
Windy City Times: Why are you running?
Lamont Robinson: What possessed me to run is wanting to have representation in the state at the legislative level. As a small business owner, I bring a skill set to the district. I have two Allstate Insurance Agencies, one in Bronzeville and my second location is in Humboldt park. I also am director of a non-profit that mentors high school students at Kenwood High School for a college preparedness program. So we prepare them for SAT-prep and we also send our young men overseas. I also am an adjunct professor at Harold Washington College, so when you look around my experiences in education and business, it's one of the things that makes me want to step out and run for office.
WCT: What are the most pertinent issues facing the district right now?
LR: The most pertinent issues are economics and economic developmenttrying tobring in or support small businesses like mine in the area. As a small business owner, I create jobs; that's very important to the livelihood of the neighborhood. We also drill that down to some other things, looking at violence in the district. We can equate violence to the lack of economic development and the lack of jobs. Those are the two most important pieces of the puzzle, and education is a part of thatthe lack of school funding that makes sure that our kids are getting a good, solid education. They all tie in together. We can add health to that as well. … I just don't see that we [as a state] are focusing in on those things.
The district is very diverse. It goes from South Shore to Old Town. My mission is to make sure that we have prosperity throughout the entire district. We look at the Gold Coast, Old Town, the Loop, then we come south, to areas like Bronzeville, Washington Park and Woodlawn, that have not been able to catch up, from a lack of resources. From a district standpoint, we need an even playing-field across the district.
WCT: How do you think the state representative can bring that about?
LR: The first thing is being able to build alliances from the north end of the district and the south end of the district, understanding that we are all in this together. There shouldn't be a "tale of two districts." This district should be equal across the board, being able to build relationships that are in the Loop, and to look at companies like Allstate, Boeing, Amazon. Those companies need to be able to create jobs for folks who are in South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn.
I see it coming about, as someone able to build relationships as a business owner and as someone involved in the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, by being able to build those relationships at the city, state and county level. As a state legislator, we need to bring in our other counterparts at the state and city levels to put together a plan for the south side of the district.
WCT: Business owners and executives often say that their experiences adequately prepare them for politics. How would your work history contribute to success in Springfield, where the dynamic can be considerably different?
LR: I run a business on the north end of the district and the south end of the district. Right now, I still, as a small business owner, pull in a lot of calls from different constituents, with issues regarding the community and insurance; I need to be able to filter those concerns. Even though I'm not a public official, I still filter in calls on a day-to-day basis from people across the district. That can be as simple as helping someone find a contractor or try to figure out issues in their word, connecting them to their alderman or Cook County commissioner. Some of these things I already do as a small business owner.
WCT: What do you think are the most pertinent issues for the LGBT community in Illinois right now?
LR: The piece of the puzzle that is important for our community is inclusion, and of course it's to make sure that there is support for AIDS research and HIV-testing. But we also cannot forget about our community from the standpoint of persons with disabilities as well as our trans brothers and sisters. Those are the areas I would like to focus in on.
WCT: Can you speak a bit more on the issues for persons with disabilities in the LGBT community?
LR: One of the things is that, when we think about "LGBTQ," we forget about our brothers and sisters who have disabilities. Those can varyit can be mental health, it can be some type of disability keeping them away from work. From a holistic standpoint, only one part of the community can't have prosperity. We need to make sure that we have prosperity for everyone. We need to be inclusive of everyone.
WCT: Can you speak about issues pertinent to LGBT youth in your district?
LR: I think places like Center on Halsted are doing great work, and there are organizations doing great work in the community here. But we need to make sure that we are supporting and putting funding toward our LGBTQ homeless teens. I certainly am an advocate for that. That goes back to education and programs. We need to create programs that support folks who are struggling, and make sure they know there are resources for them.
When I'm out talking to folks, I think that's one of the issues that I think, unfortunately, that we're not discussing. What are some of the core support groups? What are some of the shelters and are we supporting them? Are they widely known? Are we putting money into the organizations? Again, we can look at the state, but we have to be looking at our private companies. We can't just rely on the state. We have to be able to get private funding in as well.