By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
“My opponent’s getting a little more vocal lately and doing a lot of talking,” state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) told an audience of almost 40 at a canvassing event last Saturday at his campaign headquarters, 900 E. 47th St. “This race is about more than just rhetoric. This race is about how we actually deliver on the promises we make.”
Where Jay Travis is relying on the Chicago Teachers Union’s endorsement and the promise of shaking up Springfield to win the upcoming primary, incumbent Mitchell is banking on past accomplishments to instill confidence in his leadership.
Touting his work on mandating background checks for private handgun sales, expanding Medicaid and his distinction as the first Black co-sponsor of marriage equality legislation in Illinois, Mitchell added, “My point here is about rhetoric versus results.”
The 27-year-old legislator, who joined the General Assembly in 2013 as its youngest member, is already winning over key influencers. On the wall of his campaign office hang two posters listing his individual and organizational endorsements, a group that includes state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Equality Illinois, The People’s Lobby and of course, longtime friend and fellow U. of C. alum Ald. Will Burns (4th).
But Travis’ criticism of Mitchell has been sustained and focused, especially with regard to education. Just a week after her first press conference, where a CTU representative compared Mitchell to Republican gubernatorial front-runner Bruce Rauner, Travis told supporters in front of Woodlawn’s now-closed Fiske Elementary School, 6145 S. Ingleside Ave., that Mitchell supported an elected school board only after she did.
In a Saturday afternoon interview with the Herald, Mitchell cautioned against viewing elected school boards as a “panacea” and shrugged off Travis’ accusations that he was unresponsive to constituent needs. Although he did not co-sponsor a bill from last year that would have placed a moratorium on new closures — HB 3283 — he emphasized that it was sent to the House Rules Committee and pointed to a current pledged moratorium on CPS closures.
Instead, Mitchell — like Travis —emphasized the importance of more equitable school funding. “Rejiggering the way we do our state education funding formula in a way to make sure our kids get their fair share of resources and that your ZIP code doesn’t determine your shot [at] education — that’s how you reform the system, writ large.
Mitchell is skeptical of Travis’ desire to overturn SB1 — Springfield’s pension reform legislation passed last December — and rely on revenue generation to pay for benefits.
“We’re talking in the hundreds of billions of dollars. So that’s not something that you can handle entirely with revenues and there’s no credible source that says that’s possible. Once again, this is an example of rhetoric versus reality,” Mitchell said.
Looking forward, Mitchell emphasized safety, education and criminal justice reform.
“We have a budgetary crisis in the State of Illinois, for a lot of reasons,” Mitchell said. “But in part because we have this massive prison system that effectively houses drug offenders and the mentally ill.”
With around a month left until the Illinois primary, Travis’ CTU and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees endorsements are giving Mitchell a run for his money, but he still boasts support from the AFL-CIO.
“The idea that I hate the public sector, considering my grandfather was a union steelworker and without that job there was no way my mother goes to college, there’s certainly no way I’m sitting here in front of you as a state rep — it’s ridiculous,” Mitchell said.