The deadline to file in order to run in the next primary election ( Feb. 5, 2008 ) has passed, creating both historical and celebratory news, as well as controversy, for the local LGBT community.
As of Nov. 5, the deadline to file, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, will run unopposed in the Democratic primary, while activist Deb Mell is set to become the first open lesbian to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. No Republicans or Democrats have filed in either Harris's 13th or Mell's 40th House district races, both on Chicago's Northwest Side, and the incumbent in Mell's race ( Richard Bradley ) has decided to not seek re-election.
Harris is excited to continue his work, he told Windy City Times. In addition to continuing to push his civil-union bill, he wants to work on the problem of homeless youth, create more protections for those in nursing homes, tackle transit and more.
Greg Harris at one of his recent fundraisers. Photo by Andrew Davis
As far running unopposed, Harris takes that as a good sign. 'It makes me feel good people in this district think I'm pushing their same agendas,' Harris said.
Deb Mell, a same-sex marriage activist from a very political family ( her father is political powerhouse Alderman Dick Mell and her brother-in-law is Gov. Rod Blagojevich ) is expected to represent the 40th District and make history by becoming the first out lesbian in the Illinois General Assembly.
'We're thrilled with Greg; we're thrilled with Mell,' Equality Illinois' Rick Garcia said. He told Windy City Times that he hopes next time around there will be even more openly gay and lesbian people running for office.
Meanwhile, as the community celebrates the victories, some in the community have been criticizing the amount of warning state Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, provided when she announced via e-mail Oct. 22 that she would retire from her seat Jan. 7, 2008, after 15 years in the General Assembly.
Ronen has been a significant ally for the local LGBT community, having sponsored the 2005 discrimination law banning sexual orientation discrimination in housing, public accommodations and jobs.
Democrats Heather Steans and Suzanne Elder have filed to run for Ronen's open seat in the progressive 7th District. Despite the small window of time to collect the required 1,000 signatures, Steans, a Democratic fundraiser from a prominent philanthropic family, was able to file on Nov. 1. Ronen endorsed Steans, one of the largest Democratic contributors in her area. Steans has contributed to both Ronen and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who also voiced her support of the candidate. Her husband, Leo Smith, is also a large contributor.
Steans worked in the financial department for a number of non-profits and government agencies, and has been involved with the Donor's Forum, the Erikson Institute and more. Her husband is involved in Birth to Five Illinois, a political action committee that lobbied and supported Illinois state legislators on the importance of the first five years of life.
Steans father, Harrison Steans, as well as her mother, are heavy contributors to the Republican Party, although both have recently given to Sen. Barack Obama.
Many have voiced their disappointment in Ronen. 'As far as the tactics of manipulating access to the ballot, Senator Ronen's actions are as unfair to Ms. Steans as to any other citizen of the 7th district,' Chris Lawrence wrote on the Chicago Reader's Clout City blog. Lawrence was bumped off the ballot when he tried to run against Alderman Mary Ann Smith ( 48th Ward ) . 'Ms. Steans and her husband, Leo Smith, will have to convince voters that the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have contributed toward politicians of both parties ( more than $150,000 to Gov. Blagojevich alone ) , is not more than just the appearance of the pay-to-play politics that is ruining this state and nation.'
Ben Joravsky wrote on the Reader blog, 'Ronen's move left local independents seething,' adding that the 48th Ward has a long history of hand-picking successors. He mentioned that some 'suspect that Ronen tipped off Steans, a large contributor to her campaign.'
Elder, an Edgewater school activist, filed on Nov. 5. She is currently leading the effort to advance The Care of Students with Diabetes Act in the General Assembly. She has worked with the Institute for Public Policy Research, and is focused on state health policies and public safety for children. She has lived in the district for over 25 years.
Garcia called both Steans and Elder 'strong candidates,' saying Steans is 'right on issues' while Elder is a 'great representative for the community.'
'This is the world of politics,' he said regarding varying opinions on Ronen's notice. 'Sometimes there is time; sometimes there isn't. I'm confident they will continue [ Ronen's ] legacy.'
According to Garcia, there were strong efforts to draft Harris for the seat, and he feels Harris made a 'wise decision' to stay in the House.
In other news, a gay Democratic candidate has filed to run for Cook County Board of Review ( Tax Appeals ) . Jay Paul Deratany is a human-rights advocate, and was named one of Chicago's 'Superlawyers' in 2006 and 2007. Although only 4,000 signatures were required to enter the race, Deratany collected over 13,000.
Schakowsky, Cook County Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley, and Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan all support Deratany.
Ronen responds to criticism
BY AMY WOOTEN
State Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, does not understand the criticism that she did not provide enough time for people to file to run for her open 7th District seat.
'I could have allowed the committeemen to do it behind closed doors,' Ronen said, adding that she handled it in such a way to allow people a chance to file to run in the progressive lakefront district. After all, the required number of signatures Ƒ,000), she said, is quite low, so she felt she provided enough time.
Some have been criticizing Ronen after her Oct. 22 announcement of her impending January retirement for not providing what they call an adequate amount of time.
However, two women filed by the deadline, Democrats Heather Steans and Suzanne Elder. Steans is a Democratic fundraiser from a prominent philanthropic family who has contributed to Ronen, She was endorsed by the senator. Elder is an Edgewater school activist focused on state health issues and public safety for children.
According to Ronen, 'There were at least three others who got enough signatures and decided not to file.'