UC Dems Host Candidates for Election Opportunity Fair

Law School alum Ken Thomas called the incumbent 13th district state senator part of Chicago’s political machine

By Avi Waldman

Representatives from several state and national Democratic campaigns made their pitch to students in Reynolds Club on Monday evening at the University of Chicago Democrats’ (UC Dems) Election Opportunity Fair. The fair provided an opportunity for students to ask candidates and their representatives questions in an informal setting.

Incumbent Illinois State Senator Robert Peters and his primary opponent Ken Thomas, J.D. ’16, both attended, along with staffers and volunteers for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, state’s attorney candidate Bill Conway, congressional candidate Marie Newman, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Peters and Thomas both described themselves as progressive candidates for Illinois’s 13th state senate seat. Thomas emphasized his record defending tenants in eviction cases and his commitment to an affordable housing policy in Woodlawn, which includes rent-to-buy homeownership initiatives that allow renters to pay part of their monthly bill toward the purchase price of a home. Thomas framed Peters, who was appointed last January by a committee of Democratic aldermen and county officials, as part of the Chicago “Democratic machine.”

“[The incumbent] was picked behind closed doors, and I think that folks are looking for a progressive candidate…who’s not taking money from corporations and [who’s] really going out and fighting against the Democratic machine,” Thomas said.

Peters portrayed his campaign as the product of years of grassroots organizing. In conversations with students, he touted his record of sponsoring 13 successful bills since being appointed, and his plan to connect improved mental health services with criminal justice reform. Peters linked his policy priorities to UChicago student activism about policing and mental health.

“You have CareNotCops on campus, you have a bunch of community members doing organizing,” Peters said. “If you can get folks together in a room, we can have a constructive conversation around making sure that we have some real police accountability.”

Peters referred to the shooting last April of Charles Thomas by UCPD and the later shooting of Myles Fraizer  by Chicago police as examples of how his policies would address the gaps between policing and mental health care by ensuring people in crisis receive a first response from trained mental health workers.

“Looking at mental health and how we respond to crisis…the idea is that if you do a wellness check, that should be [done by] somebody who works in the wellness field,” Peters said.

Student organizers with UChicago for Bernie and UChicago for Warren shared a table next to the state senate candidates at the fair. Both groups have been ramping up phone-banking efforts and canvassing trips to Iowa in preparation for the February 3 caucuses. When asked why she thinks college students should support Sanders’s presidential bid, third-year Alexandra Hohenlohe cited Sanders’s support for a Green New Deal.

“I can’t point to a specific poll on this, but I get the sense that [climate change] is overwhelmingly the number one issue for young people just in terms of the fact that we’re going to be the ones who will have to deal with [the consequences],” Hohenlohe said. “[Bernie’s] sponsorship of the Green New Deal signifies that he is willing to put climate as one of his top issues and really fight to get carbon emissions down.”

According to second-year Isabella Hurtado, working for the Warren campaign this past summer cemented her support for the candidate.

“I see her as the most intersectional candidate,” Hurtado said. “I’m really excited about her platforms and her plans that sort of tie in women of color. She has a whole plan for the maternal mortality rate for Black women, she has campaign cochairs that are important, impactful women of color.”

For third-year Lucy Ritzmann, volunteering for Marie Newman’s campaign in Illinois’s third congressional district was a way to connect with Chicago and its local politics in a way she had not done before.

“I really wanted to get more engaged with the city,” Ritzmann said. “I feel like my time at the University has been awesome, but I don’t know how much exploring and engaging I’ve done with a greater community, and this has been such a cool opportunity to do so.”