Until recently, Adrienne Irmer was on the legislative staff of the Cook County Bureau of Asset Management. She is one of a crowded field of candidates vying to replace retiring State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie in the 25th district. Irmer's challengers are William Calloway, Grace Chan McKibben, Angelique Collins, Anne Marie Miles, Flynn Rush, and Curtis Tarver II: Windy City Times was able to speak with Colllins, Chan McKibben, Miles and Tarver as well as Irmer.
Windy City Times: What are the main issues facing the 25th district?
Adrienne Irmer: That's a complex answer, because it's such a diverse district, and it has very diverse issues that need focusing on. We have very critical infrastructure issues, we have affordable access to mass transit issues, we have environmental issues— petcoke and manganese, and reeling in large corporations to do the right thing environmentally. And we have a fascist in the White House, whose EPA has defunded so many critical services at the federal level, so we have other environmental issues related to that that we're going to have to absorb as a state to ensure that our water and air quality is where it needs to be.
But we also have underfunded public schools, we also have community gang violence to deal with, as a result of failure of public policy that have created war zones in these communities. And then we have pockets of great affluence who just want to see it continue to be amazing.
I went driving through the neighborhood, through the 10th ward and the 7th Ward. I've been there on a number of occasions, door-knocking, but I took a drive along all of the commercial corridors that I know about, and I could not find a business-to-business business. There's need there. And big box stores...the closest I could find was over the border in Indiana. It needs some TLC, and it needs an advocate that's going to be very adamant about stewarding resources to the area.
WCT: How would you approach handling all the issues in such a diverse district?
AI: I'm not running as a silver bullet candidate; there's 118 representatives in Illinois, there's a lot of people lobbying for their district to have resources. I want to approach this at the caucus level, and create bridges between the Black and Latino caucuses in Springfield to say, "look, we all live in really close proximity to each other, we shouldn't be fighting for [resources] to go just to one square block." We need to think about this as a regional approach, and then if something comes to that general vicinity, it really needs to be a benefit to all of us. And how do we make that a benefit using conversations around intentional economic development and inclusive contracts. Instead of looking at a couple blocks worth of streets, looking at major thoroughfares and economic corridors as a place of focus that runs through many districts, so we have multiple voices asking for the same thing.
WCT: Let's talk about your background.
AI: I have a background in community organizing. Organizing people builds constituents and potential colleagues and is something I fully intend on doing to make sure we're focusing on the issues most critical to the folks that we represent.
I'm a public school grad. I went to Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park. Black girl from the South Side, went to MIT, got my bachelor's in biology, my masters in public administration. In between that I worked in the nonprofit and government sectors. I did work with National Able Network doing workforce development, the Red Cross doing emergency preparedness and planning in the inner cities, working with communities like Englewood and Rosewood and Lawndale. And then I moved into government, and I worked for my State Senator, and then I went to grad school, and then I jumped into the Quinn/Vallas race...and then we ended up with that guy who thinks we can cut our way to a balanced budget to the detriment of the children and families—his cuts have killed people, quite literally. Part of my job when I get to Springfield will also be repairing communities because of his disastrous agenda.
And then I worked on a whole other bunch of progressive campaigns, Chuy, Juliana Stratton, and Bernie Sanders. When this opportunity came up, it's like, well I'm from this district, and so I have a very vested interest to make sure that we get a representative that is going to treat the district like family. I grew up in Hyde Park, I've lived in South Shore for over 13 years. And I've seen what resources can do for a community. Given the diversity of the district, there is a necessity for someone to represent that kind of diversity, to be able to move in all communities, and to have conversations with stakeholders at sort of all levels of the ecosystem as it comes to policy making and advocacy, and that is rooted in the work that I've done in the distant past, but also more recent past. I was on legislative staff for President Preckwinkle—I stepped down to run for this position—and my job was to build consensus around pieces of legislation to fund the projects and the purchase of things that we needed to keep the country running. It was all building facilities and capital planning. So I have that flexibility to move and weave and build consensus and to get buy-in, and I think that is going to be a hugely critical skill set for a freshman legislator. There are going to be a lot of freshman legislators down there in 2019 after the swearing in, and they say that it's historically difficult for freshman legislators to get anything done, but given the relationships I've built, the skillsets that I have, I fully intend to be one of the most productive freshman legislators that we have in 2019.
WCT: What is your experience with the LGBTQ community?
AI: My younger sister identifies as genderqueer. My middle sister was born in 1985, and her godfather was a gay man. So my family has been an ally to the community my whole life, and at a time where it was dangerous to be a gay man, with the whole GRID/AIDS propaganda and fearmongering. That for me, at a young age, was an indication that all the diaspora of life is worthy of your humanity, and that's why I consider myself an ally.
WCT: Why do you support adding a nonbinary gender to government documents?
AI: It's the most inclusive step that we need to be taking. We need to take our language out of this very patriarchal-centric language, and allow folks to identify as however they identify and respect that, and hopefully, when people see it on a government document and that the government is now recognizing these identities of people, then maybe they should start changing their positions and minds. And it's a really good way to get people everywhere to see the progress that we're making as a governing body.
WCT: On your candidate survey it indicates that you support concealed carry measures: can you elaborate on that position?
AI: When you look at neighboring states that have similar legislation, and the fact that we didn't and we were...instead of looking at this from the possibility that people would be responsible gun owners, we wanted to put more and more penalties on folks. And it fed into this issue of mass incarceration. I do want to respect the Constitution, and respect people's rights—within very constrained measures—to be lawful gun owners. The concealed carry piece, now that it's already passed, I find it hard to believe that we'd be able to reverse it. I just don't think we have downstate Democrat support for something like that. In my mind, it's here: how do we make it safer, how do we squeeze down on regulation, how do we license these gun dealers through the state so we can create accountability around the sales of guns, mysterious disappearing guns that have been stolen and not reported, those kinds of things.
My family is a victim of gun violence and so I'm not insensitive to that at all. I want to make sure we keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people as best we can, and make sure that the people who want to own them responsibly are trained, and continue to be trained. And it's also something that would generate revenue for the state, which Illinois kind of needs right now.
WCT: In your view, how can we support LGBTQ individuals who might be in prison?
AI: We need to beef up that commisson that decides who your population is. If you identify as a woman, but you're locked up with men, that intrinsically brings more violence towards you. I want to see us do more with that commision to make sure that we're placing folks in safe spaces. More of our prisons are private than state operated, so we need to figure out what we can do in those contracts to create accountability, and whether that's a population separation of some sort, or nonviolent/violent, keep that separated...I'm not a subject matter expert but I do want to work with the folks that work in this space to come to a solution that will create safer spaces. Just because you're incarcerated doesn't mean you have to be treated like an animal and be susceptible to violence.
WCT: How would you work to help protect trans and gender nonconforming employees?
AI: We need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and then also ensure that the the LGBTQIA community is considered a protected class and that they can't be discriminated against because of their identity in employment. I think that would be a positive step towards some parity. In conversations with my friends, I'm still trying to figure out if it's it better to take [how you identify] completely off the employment application. We don't have any real evidence to one or the other [approach], other than in creating penalties for discrimination for that particular reason, and I'm for that. But I also want to figure out how to create other solutions: I'm open to dialogue with the community on that.
WCT: Any final thoughts?
AI: I'm really excited to advocate for and amplify voices in my community, and I'm really ready to get down to Springfield and shake things up. I think that if we don't have leaders down there that are willing to be vocal on issues, and by vocal it could mean on a picket line or on the House floor, to call out racism, to call it sexism, to call out patriarchy in privilege in those spaces where they are desperately needed, we're not going to move the dial all that much. And that's not to say that leaders haven't gone down there and tried, because I'm not behind those closed doors, but it never hurts to have more of us. And especially given all of the sexual harassment charges that have been coming out...and that we're losing a lot of women in this cycle. We're already underrepresented down there, and we have the potential to be even further underrepresented. So for me, making sure that we're elevating women in these seats is a big deal. Because that's the only way we address things like toxic masculinity and the privilege of being a white man in Illinois.