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ELECTIONS Cook Co. Court candidate Ed Underhill, out attorney talks LGBT judges
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2018-03-14

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If nothing else, Ed Underhill is about longevity.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Underhill is a trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience, and has been a Bucktown homeowner for the past 17 years. He has been with his husband, Liam, for several years. Now, he hopes to continue the next phase of his career and life as a judge. His Democratic primary opponents include Charles Beach and Andrea Webber.

Windy City Times: This is your second time running for judge. What did you learn last time that you can apply this time?

Ed Underhill: I learned that you have to build relationships within all the political organizations. You can't ignore any of them—political organizations, ward organizations. And you still have to know the neighborhoods as well, you still have canvass them. Those two things are probably the most important.

WCT: You didn't canvass last time?

EU: I did, but what I want to stress is that there are about 10 to 12 wards in each of these subcircuits. It would be easier to run simultaneously for alderman in four wards tham to campaign effectively in a subcircuit. Knocking on every door is not feasible, but it helps to go to neighborhoods and meet people and see what their concerns are. But you have to work with the political organizations as well, because they have the people who can get your message out to the street. The trick is to get them to support you.

WCT: The last time you ran, you told Windy City Times it was "fun." Is it fun this time?

EU: It is fun. [Smiles] In fact, it's even more fun—but it's more exhausting. Now I've been invited to more events, and I've become more deeply involved in the communities in the subcircuit. There's hardly a day that goes by that there's something I don't attend.

I've always been interested in running for office, and the learning curve was so great the last time I ran that it makes it more fun this time around. In some ways, it's less stressful; I know what to expect. On the other hand, once you becone part of a ward organization, you have to attend those events as well as your own. It's a great opportunity.

Last year might've been the busiest year I've had as a lawyer. Coming off of that has been a challenge—but this isn't an opportunity a lot of people get. Out of 25,000 attorneys in Cook County, only about 500 at any given time are eligible to run.

WCT: So what are your biggest advantages and disadvantages in this race?

EU: The biggest advantage is that I'm endorsed by the majority of our committeemen and committeewomen in our subcircuit. For example, the last time I ran I got the endorsement of my alderman, Scott Waguespack. This time, I have the endorsement of several committeemen and aldermen, including Scott Waguespack, Proco Joe Moreno ( who's with the 1st Ward ), Brian Hopkins ( 2nd Ward ), Walter Burnett Jr. ( who's in the 27th Ward ); in the western part of the subcircuit, I have the Arroyo family, including state Rep. Luis Arroyo, and others. That's a bigger difference; they're helping me, including providing amazing amounts of wisdom.

The last time I ran, a goal was to run as openly gay, married candidate and see what resistance I got from doing that. This time around, I find I don't have to highlight that as much; they remember me and my husband. I don't think it's as big an issue as it once was. Stephanie Miller has been appointed; she's a married lesbian with two kids. Sometimes, we go canvass together.

The biggest challenge is certainly time management. I'm spending a lot of time in those different wards, and it's difficult to juggle that time and see everyone. I love hanging around seniors, though; you learn so much from them.

WCT: By the way, it seems that relatively few people, when they vote, select judges.

EU: It's distressing—but understandable. Few people know the judicial candidates. However, I do give millennials credit; they read up on candidates and look up [online] to see who progressive organizations support. Older voters tend to take the judicial evaluation ratings into the polling places with them.

WCT: Why is it important to have LGBT judges?

EU: It's important to have those because the community has expanded to include [transgender individuals]. In 2014, President Obama appointed progressive, liberal federal-court judges who would protect the rights of minorities.

It's 2018, I'm running, again—and the reverse is true. We have a president who's racist, homophobic and anti-immigrant, and he's appointing judges who are either incompetent or who share his racist/prejudiced views. Now, more than ever, we need a state judiciary that will protect our rights. I don't think we can count on the federal judiciary as much right now. For most of my life, I hadn't heard the term "sanctuary city"—but I'm glad I live in one.

WCT: I do want to discuss something in your background. Could you talk about Northern Star [a newspaper at Northern Illinois University, where Underhill attended]? You're still involved with it, correct?

EU: Yes. For more than 30 years, I've been the informal legal advisor to Northern Star. I've advised generations of editors about constitutional and legal issues they've faced.

In the early 1990s, the Northern Star attacked some policies of the university president. As a result of that, he tried to restrict the freedom of the newspaper by removing the faculty advisor, among other things. Some alumni, including myself, fought that and formed Alumni for a Free Press. We protested at various graduations and met with the governing board of the university. Soon afterward, we were able to effectively stop the attacks on the newspaper and the advisor was restored to his position. Shortly afterward, the president resigned.

I've understood that there's a natural tension between the student press and a university so I've tried to bridge that over the years. But joining that paper in undergrad taught me so much; learning to write 250 words in three hours is an essential skill.

WCT: Is there anything you wanted to add about yourself or your campaign?

EU: I'd like to encourage more lawyers to [run for judgeships], and to do it earlier in their careers. You learn an awful lot about yourself. It's a challenging experience—and I feel much better about Chicago politics, having done this. The ward committeemen—whether they're supporting me or not—work very hard. I know that they do a lot.

See edunderhillforjudge.com/ .


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