After five years in the attorney general's office, Lakeview lawyer Ann Williams set out on her own in 2010 to try her luck in the state House of Representatives.
With a sweeping 71-percent victory in the Nov. 2010 general, the independent Democrat successfully secured a seat in Illinois' 11th District, which includes West Lakeview, Roscoe Village, North Center and parts of Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square.
The freshman representative, who has advocated consumer protection and reproductive choice, recently announced plans to seek re-election in 2012. Williams sat down with Windy City Times in her Belmont office to discuss adoption, Springfield and legislative priorities.
Windy City Times: Hi Ann. You're about halfway through your first term. How's it going so far?
Ann Williams: I'm still feeling pretty new. It's been kind of a crazy adventure. As you know, Illinois is in some really tough financial times, so concern about the state budget is kind of overlaying every other issue that's taking place. That being said, there are still a lot of opportunities to some really important and great work in Springfield.
WCT: I noticed that you're on the Adoption Reform Committee.
AW: Yes. I'm actually adopted. It's interesting because Sara Feigenholtz, who's my seatmate, is also adopted. I got to know Sara years ago because of the adoption issue. She'd been working toward getting access to original birth certificates, and she finally accomplished that goal. I didn't get to vote for it though. [The vote came before Williams took office.] I would've loved to take that vote. I think it's a huge deal and a very important civil-rights issue for adoptees in Illinois to have access to their original birth certificates.
WCT: What's your take on the Catholic Charities lawsuit? [Several Catholic Charities agencies tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to deny adoption and foster care placements to same-sex parents.]
AW: As an adoptee, I truly am a believer in adoption. I believe anyone that can provide a loving, caring, stable home should be allowed to be a candidate for adopting a child. I mean, that's the most important thing. Any other considerations are simply not relevant. My parents provided a loving home at the time I was adopted, and I just hope that all children who are up for adoption get that same opportunity. There are a lot of loving parents in the LGBT community.
In terms of Springfield, I think some of the legislation out there is somewhat mean-spirited in terms of trying to limit the eligibility of LGBT couples to adopt. Obviously, it's something I don't want to see move forward. I was happy to see that the Catholic Charities withdrew. I am concerned though, that for whatever reason, there may still be legislation pending in Springfield. If there is, I'll work along with advocates and colleagues to make sure it doesn't move forward.
WCT: Besides adoption, what's on your mind this election?
AW: A couple issues that always come upunfortunately, even those it's 2011are things like [abortion] choice and civil unions. Those are a priority for a lot of us in this region. I wasn't there to take the vote for civil unions. [Voting occurred before Williams took office.] It would've been a real highlight and privilege to get to vote for that, but I hope to be around for the vote that will provide full marriage equality. I hope that comes sooner rather than later for the families in my community.
I've also focused on some consumer protection issues as they've come up. It's surprising: Some of the not-so-legitimate companies or businesses that prey on consumers always find a new way to do so or a new way to work around the law. So there's a lot to do on the consumer side.
WCT: You worked on consumer protections in Lisa Madigan's office, right?
AW: Yes. I was at the attorney general's office for five sessions, and I was the legislative director. In that role, I advanced her legislative agenda, which was quite aggressive.
WCT: Why did you decide to run for the state Assembly?
AW: I never really set out to run for office, but I got frustrated with what I felt was a lack off real advocacy on the part of some elected officials. I thought: Who are they really speaking for? When I worked for Lisa, I spoke for her office, and I advanced the role of attorney general. And the role of state representative is really to advocate for your district. I thought: Well, I could do that, and I think I could do a good job.
So when a seat in my district came open, when John Fritchey went on to county commissioner, I went for it.
WCT: Was it what you expected?
AW: There's no job description. All you have is your title, which is "representative," and I take that really seriously. We've built up in the office a real effort to communicate and be accessible to our constituents. We have 105,000 constituents, and that's a challenge. The state does not have the resources to reach out to everyone.
WCT: And as part of that outreach, you'll be hosting an LGBT breakfast, right?
AW: Yes. It'll be very informal, kind of a roundtable discussion. A lot of legislators will do advisory committees, but I really wanted a proactive approach to sit down with leaders in the LGBT community to really get a sense of what everyone's priorities are. [I want to] make sure we're on message, we're on the same team, and working toward the same goals.
Williams' breakfast is slated for Monday, Dec. 12, at 7:30 a.m. at Wishbone, 3300 N. Lincoln Ave. RSVP to email@example.com .