The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Pawar Weighing Run For Illinois Governor: Time To Push Progressive Platform

By Patty Wetli | November 29, 2016 3:01pm
 Ald. Ameya Pawar is considering a run for Illinois governor.
Ald. Ameya Pawar is considering a run for Illinois governor.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Ted Cox

NORTH CENTER — Often tipped as a potential mayoral candidate, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) is eyeing a different political office — Illinois governor.

Politico broke the news Tuesday, which Pawar confirmed in an interview with DNAinfo Chicago.

The leap from City Council to Springfield would be a "tall order," Pawar conceded, "but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try."

After all, few would have predicted his improbable victory as alderman in 2011, in which the first-time candidate toppled the ward's machine.

To be clear, Pawar hasn't officially declared his candidacy for governor, or any other office. The 36-year-old still has three years left in his second (and self-imposed final) term as alderman and Gov. Bruce Rauner isn't up for reelection until 2018.

Pawar and his wife Charna Epstein are also the parents of an infant daughter, which would factor heavily into any decision he makes.

"It would have to be right for me and Charna and the baby," he said. "I have to be present in their lives."

That he's considering a run at the governorship has as much to do with Donald Trump as any personal political ambition.

"A lot changed with the national election," Pawar said.

The practice of pitting factions of the electorate against each other — rural versus urban, white collar versus blue collar, etc. — has dominated Illinois politics, and now it's "won out nationally," he said. 

"You create 'the other' and everyone is divided. We fight over scraps instead of looking at the top," he said. "That's the perfect strategy for maintaining the status quo."

It's a trend he finds disturbing, and one he would like to change.

"Whether this is a campaign or not, this is the start of a rational conversation," Pawar said. "My end goal here is, whether it's me or someone else, we have to run a progressive campaign. It's time. Otherwise we have another four years of divide and conquer."

The next governor, whoever that may be, has to be part of a broader effort to level the playing field for all Illinois residents, Pawar said.

Equity is a word that Pawar turns to time and again. Among the issues he would bring to the forefront: increasing education funding and implementing a graduated income tax — or at least building the political will toward that end.

Instead of fighting over how to divide the pie, "we should be talking about growing the pie," Pawar said.

"The thing is, my end goal is not to just stay in office. It's to not stay silent on issues," he said. "I think there are a lot of progressive voices in the [Democratic] party. We should be pushing the whole party to make sure we have a progressive platform."

Pawar would also like to reverse the combative tone of political rhetoric.

"There has to be more statesmanship, there has to be more about how people are alike ... we all have way more in common," he said.

Is a relatively little-known city council member from Chicago the guy to unite the state?

Minimally it would be an uphill battle based on campaign financing alone.

As Politico pointed out, Pawar has $58,000 in his campaign coffers versus Rauner's reported income of $188 million, in 2015 alone.

"I'm not a billionaire, I'm not a millionaire, I'm not a hundred-thousand-aire," Pawar said. "I get what people are going to say — it's a big jump."

But he does have a record as a legislator, fighting for consumer protections, labor policies and civil rights.

Consider this Pawar's exploratory phase, testing the waters to see how his ideas might play with voters.

"In the near term, I'm going to go out and talk to people," he said. "I feel like I have a voice to lend to the broader conversation."

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here.