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Q&A with Ameya Pawar, candidate for governor

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Joliet, Ill.
Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Joliet, Ill.

Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar became the first Democrat to announce a candidacy for governor in the 2018 election in early January. The alderman from the 47th Ward on the North Side was in Joliet last week.

Pawar, 36, has master’s degrees in threat and response management and in social service administration. He worked at Northwestern University’s Office of Emergency Management for seven years before becoming an alderman in 2011.

Okon: What brings you to Joliet

Pawar: I wanted to make some introductions and just get to know people and then start talking about the campaign. ... We started this morning at a social service agency (Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living) and then we had lunch and now we’re here.

Okon: Why did you announce for governor so soon?

Pawar: When you look at what happened in the election nationally and then you compare with what’s been happening in Illinois over the last two years, it’s the same sort of politics where you pit rural communities against urban areas, and small towns against bigger cities, and one university against the next, all in an effort to drive down wages and cut benefits. That is ignoring a whole host of issues that are keeping Illinois from realizing its full potential. For example, we’re the fifth-largest economy in the country, an economy that’s larger than most countries, and yet we’re dead last in what we’re spending on education funding.

Okon: The question is you announced very early and you’re the first Democrat to announce. Why did you decide to announce so early?

Pawar: I announced early because my sense is that there’s going to be a lot of money involved in this race. I also announced early because it’s not enough if you’re a Democrat to say we don’t like Bruce Rauner. It’s not enough to say we think he’s a bad guy. And, it’s also not enough to say we don’t like his policies. ... We need to have a progressive vision that is a counter-balance to his.

Okon: You’re a relatively unknown Chicago alderman. What chance do you have of being the next governor?

Pawar: I’m here talking to you. We’re going around the state. When I first ran in 2011, I ran against a 36-year incumbent who had a million dollars. I had zero. But I knocked on every door in my community. It’s a big state. There are 13 million people, so clearly I’m not going to be able to knock on every door. But there is value in going out and seeing people and talking to them face to face and just explaining that progressive vision and talking about a progressive vision, That’s what we’re going to go out and do.

Okon: In state government now we have a Democratic House speaker from Chicago, we have a Democratic Senate leader from Chicago, and you’d be a Democratic governor from Chicago. Wouldn’t that make Illinois maybe a little too Chicago Democrat-centered?

Pawar: I can see that’s one way to look at it. Like any state government, the key thing is statesmanship and working with people even if you disagree with them and their philosophies and their policies. ...

Okon: How would you solve the state budget problem?

Pawar: We’ve obviously got a growing deficit and a backlog of bills. Even the governor’s acknowledged that the tax rate needs to go up. The question is, are we going to go to a more progressive rate, a graduated rate, a fair rate – whichever term you want to use – and make sure we hold most people harmless and make sure most people pay their fair share, or do we stick to the flat rate? My solution has always been we need a graduated income tax, because from the upper middle class down to the working poor, those people pay more than their fair share. But it’s the folks at the very top who don’t pay their fair share. ...

Okon: What did you think of Gov. Rauner’s State of the State Address yesterday (Wednesday)?

Pawar: He had a tendency to paint a very rosy picture year after year about his accomplishments. The state has a bright future. If we make our state government and its resources more equitable and just, we have a really bright future. But he likes to paint a bright picture about his work. We have to remember that after two years and not having a budget, you have social service agencies near collapse, universities that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next four to six weeks. That kind of chaos doesn’t do anything to create new jobs. ...

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