NORTH CENTER — Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) is looking to make the leap from City Hall to Springfield, officially tossing his hat into the 2018 Illinois governor's race on Tuesday.
He joins a field of Democratic contenders that may include J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy vying to unseat Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Initially elected to City Council in 2011, Pawar, 36, won a second term in 2015 with an overwhelming 82 percent majority.
Wooing voters across the state will likely be a different story, but he's up for the challenge, Pawar said.
"Lots of people told me not to run for alderman. They said, 'Why not get an internship first?'" he said, recalling his improbable grassroots win as a political neophyte over former Ald. Eugene Schulter's hand-picked successor.
Though his war chest pales in comparison with his opponent's, "Writing yourself a $50 million check is nothing to be proud of," Pawar said, referencing Rauner's recent contribution to his own campaign.
"On my end, having $50,000 in the bank is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn't mean I'm not supported in other ways," he said. "I'm going to run the 'Every Man' campaign."
Income inequality is precisely one of the reasons he's running for governor, said Pawar, who's building his platform on four key points:
• Equitable funding for public schools. "We're dead last," said Pawar. The dollars would come from a tax on millionaires or progressive income tax, he said.
• Universal child care.
• Criminal justice reform.
• A jobs bill paired with a capital improvements bill. "A massive capital program is in order. Our infrastructure is failing, and lots of people are looking for work," Pawar said.
"I'm making calls around the state, talking to committeemen," he said. "Give me a chance. Let me come out and sell myself. I think I have a lot to add to the conversation. Name the time and place and I'll be there."
He said he intends to tout his resume — which includes a background in emergency management and a master's degree in public administration — along with his legislative record, which includes pushing for an independent budget office to paid leave.
Pawar said he came to the decision to run over the holidays after lengthy discussions with his wife Charna Epstein, chief operating officer of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. The couple are parents to an infant daughter.
"There is no Ameya Pawar without Charna Epstein. Everything we've done, we've done together," said the alderman, who called Epstein his "compass."
"She was ultimately the one who said we should do this," he said.
Pawar, the son of Indian immigrants, has been open about his dismay over the election of Donald Trump as president, but Rauner, he said, is the "original Donald Trump."
The president-elect "might be a more bombastic and offensive politician when you look at rhetoric, but from actions" Trump and Rauner are cut from the same cloth, said Pawar.
"People like Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump like to tell us how evil government is ... how different we all are," he said.
"I'd like to remind them it's government and people together ... that sent a man to the moon," said Pawar. "Government, in my mind, is aspirational. We can achieve great things when we come together."
It's a message he said he hopes resonates with everyone from working-class to upper-middle class voters, who are all in the "exact same boat" compared with the uber-wealthy.
"Government doesn't just report to a small group of shareholders," said Pawar. "It reports to all people."