By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
“She’s not a talker, she’s a doer,” Kenwood Oakland Community Organization Education Organizer Jitu Brown told an energetic group of around 40 supporters shortly before Jay Travis’ first press conference last Tuesday. Quoting the late comedian Robin Harris, he then led his audience into chanting that Travis’ opponent, state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26), has “gotta go.”
A former director of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization and activist of two decades, Travis is hoping to unseat Mitchell, who was elected in 2012 with backing from Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and Ald. Will Burns (4th).
The mood was fiery at Travis’ small two-room campaign office at 4531 S. Cottage Grove Ave., when field director Shannon Bennett held court to formally kick off the press conference with several endorsements. One of them came from Brandon Johnson, deputy political director for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) — whose House of Delegates voted last year to endorse Travis.
“We have schools in this district that do not have libraries,” Johnson said. “The current leadership has not spoken to that. We have schools across this district that do not have computer labs, world language, the basic necessities like art and libraries.”
Johnson added that “the current leadership — so called leadership — in this district, would much rather align themselves with a gubernatorial candidate that not only hates public education, but hates the very workers that make up the public sector,” in a reference to Republican front-runner Bruce Rauner.
Travis is betting that union support and aggressive rhetoric will boost her bid in the March Democratic primary election for 26th District Representative. So far, she has received $20,000 from the CTU Political Action Committee — her top donor — and $10,000 from the AFSCME Illinois Council 31. The public service worker union, which filed suit in January to overturn the state’s newly-passed pension reform bill, announced its endorsement of Travis on Monday.
At Tuesday’s event, Travis highlighted her support for school funding reform, the creation of an elected school board and a moratorium on school closings.
“We’ve had it with unelected school boards passing down policies, ignoring the voices of the people,” Travis said. “Representative Mitchell didn’t have the courage to stand with the people and turned a deaf ear when they came to tell him that the school closings had destabilized our neighborhood schools and we demanded an end to it.”
Travis also addressed her opposition to Senate Bill 1, the pension reform plan developed last year with help from state Sen. Kwame Raoul’s (D-16) Pension Reform Conference Committee. The legislation is unconstitutional, according to her.
The bill, which Mitchell and many other Democrats voted for, raised retirement ages for public employees by as much as five years and tied benefits to inflation instead of a flat 3 percent rate. At the same time, it reduced by 1 percent the amount in required contributions from employees’ salaries to their retirement.
“Elderly retirees, many of whom worked in public sector jobs as their pathway into the middle class, that paid their fair share into their pension fund, should not have had their pension cut,” Travis said, calling for revenue generation to pay for benefits.
Travis made the case that as a longtime organizer, she is equipped to tackle unemployment.
“I am the only candidate in this race with a track record of creating jobs,” she said, in a reference to her campaign to pass the Community Youth Investment Act, which Gov. Quinn signed in 2010 and Travis claims created more than 8,500 summer jobs.
“If we’re going to discuss violence prevention, we have to discuss employment,” she added.
Travis is a graduate of Kenwood Academy High School and of Columbia College Chicago, and has received a master’s degree from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. In August, efore embarking on her campaign, she resigned from her position as a program officer at the Woods Fund of Chicago.