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Illinois' Budget Is So Screwed Up, State Rep Drives Uber To Pay Bills

By Paul Biasco | August 5, 2016 8:18am
 State Rep. Jaime Andrade is driving for Uber to make ends meet.
State Rep. Jaime Andrade
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CHICAGO — Even before Aki Colovic slipped through the sliding door of the Uber minivan outside his house Friday afternoon he thought something was up.

The 34-year-old just couldn't quite place where he had seen Jaime, his driver, before.

Then it hit him: The man behind the wheel was his local state representative, Jaime Andrade Jr.

"It's very surprising. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it," Colovic said minutes into the ride.

The two had met when Andrade had knocked on the door of Colovic's Old Irving Park home while campaigning in early 2014.

Pauol Biasco rode along with State Rep. Jaime Andrade.

Andrade, who represents the state's 40th District, has been driving Uber under the radar for more than two months.

It's not a gimmick.

The representative, whose district includes a portion of the Northwest Side, said he needs the cash to support his family as the state budget mess drags out and regular paychecks to legislators have been sporadic at best.

That means driving up to 50 hours or so a week to make sure his mortgage and bills are paid and there's food on the table for his 6-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.

Andrade already cashed in a life insurance policy that had cash value and has been taking out loans while attending graduate school at DePaul University to cover his cost of living.

Driving Uber was the last resort.

"I said 'Let me give it a shot.' My mom had this old van," he said.

Payments to state lawmakers have been delayed by state Comptroller Leslie Munger during the budget impasse.  The last time Andrade and his peers were paid was the first week in July. Those checks were the first in more than three months and were for April.

That isn't a problem for some lawmakers who have side jobs either in government or working for law firms, but the state lawmaker position was the Andrade family's sole source of income.

That was a conscious decision he made when he was appointed as a state representative in 2013 to succeed now-Ald. Deb Mell (33rd). Andrade and his colleagues make $67,836 per year, which equates to $3,581 per month in take-home pay.

Andrade racked up $571 on his most successful week of Uber to date.

"It's pretty clear it's a really bad situation," Colovic said to Andrade during his 10 minute ride to Lincoln Square Thursday before thanking his state representative for the ride.

Pass the aux cord

Andrade has spent the last two months trying to raise his Uber rating. His side job stayed under the radar until the Capitol Fax political site reported it Thursday.

When he started back in June, the silver 2001 Chevy Venture was a no-frills ride to get passengers from point A to B and Andrade saw himself as simply the driver.

The duties of the new gig finally hit him one night while driving six women to a club in the minivan.

It was well past midnight and they wanted to continue the party on their way.

"They get in the car and say 'Can you pass us your aux?'" Andrade said. "I'm like, 'My aux?'"

They wanted the auxiliary cord. Without it? No control of the music and no 5-star rating.

As of Wednesday his score was in the 4.8 range, likely due to the extreme makeover he gave the interior of the minivan into an Uber XL machine.

If that rating drops below a 4.6, according to reports, a driver could risk being kicked off the system.

State Rep Jaime Andrade Jr.'s van now includes multiple chargers and plenty of candy for passengers. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Andrade's van was a gift from his mother when he started driving in June.

There are now five phone chargers hanging from the ceiling, a bag full of candy and mints behind the driver's seat, a mirror behind the passenger seat and always a fresh supply of cold water bottles. 

Andrade heads to the store to grab ice to cool them down before he starts his driving shifts.

There's also a mini garbage can beside the driver's seat — a necessity for late-night weekend shifts.

"I got the bucket because a face fits right in there," Andrade said. "A bag might not work."

No one has used the garbage bucket yet.

Life as an Uber driver

The hustle of holding down two jobs now means waking up at 4 a.m. on weekdays.

Most mornings Andrade, whose district includes parts of Irving Park, Albany Park, Avondale and Logan Square, gets a few hours in before heading into his office in Irving Park. 

He usually gets a few more hours of driving in during the afternoons depending on his meeting schedule, but the flexibility of the new gig means Andrade can turn off the Uber app at any time if there is an issue he needs to address on his "real" job.

"I had no choice," Andrade said. "It was either that or get a full-time job, which doesn't allow me to fulfill my requirements as a state rep."

On the weekends, he drives late. Sometimes that's a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift.

State Rep Jaime Andrade Jr. said he averages between 20 and 50 hours a week driving. [DNAinfo/Paul Biasco]

Andrade has had few problems with drunk passengers so far, and he did have to convince one man that he really didn't mean to put Lake Villa into the GPS system as his final destination at 5:30 a.m.

"I woke him up. I'm like 'I know you told me yes, but I want to triple check,'" Andrade said. 

Turns out, the guy was headed a few blocks from where they already were on the Near North Side.

"The problem is I'm not 20 years old anymore, so my body requires much sleep," the 43-year-old Andrade said.

The future

Andrade sees no end in sight for his Uber driving days.

There is a rumor that state legislators could be getting a check at the end of August or September, but that will only be payments for May, Andrade said.

For the foreseeable future, the Uber gig is here to stay.

One issue that does worry him since word broke that he is driving on the side is that opponents in his next election in 2018 could use it against him in a negative campaign.

Andrade claims he's already heard rumblings that will be the case.

"Some people are like, 'Oh it's going to backfire on you,'" He said."I said, 'I have to feed my kids and I have to pay my bills.'"

His view is that it is better to work as a freelance driver than to take a full-time job in government.

One job offer was working at an aldermanic office as an assistant, which Andrade said he turned down.

"I think this is the most ethical thing," he said. "I didn't call anyone to get hired. I applied online, did a background check and got hired."

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