At the beginning of this year, Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st District) announced that he was retiring from federal office. Almost immediately, several people announced their intentions to succeed him. (The total number is now at almost 20 individuals.)
One of those individuals is Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell, who has led the city's 3rd District since 2007. She initially planned to run for Illinois secretary of state, but has now focused her efforts on representing Illinois' 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Dowell recently talked with Windy City Times about this run, the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and self-reflection.
Windy City Times: Why did you switch from running for secretary of state to running for Congress?
Ald. Pat Dowell: I'm really proud of my track record being alderman since 2007. I was actually thinking about something else I could do to contribute. When I didn't see any African Americans step up to run for secretary of state, I decided this was an opportunity where I could still contribute. There were things in [that] office that I was still interested in: voting rights, the library system, small-business development and helping nonprofits. It was more than just driver's licenses, stickers and titles.
But I saw that I was not going to be able to get support from the Cook County Democratic Partywhich I had been involved in since 2008 as a committeeman, and where I've served on the executive board. I came in second in that race because the person who eventually was slated and who I support [Alexi Giannoulias] came in with millions of dollars, compared to the few hundreds of thousands I had raised. It appeared the window was closing for me in that race, but I was still going to run against the party.
But who knew Bobby Rush would suddenly announce that he wasn't running for another term? I thought, "Aha! This is probably a seat I'm better suited for because it deals with policy. And it's a seat where I can contribute my talents in terms of working on economic development, affordable housingall the issues I care about."
And also, it seemed like divine order. They say when the Lord closes one door, he opens another. I made a quick pivot.
WCT: It seems like there are 300 people running for this office. [Dowell smiles.] So what separates you from all the other candidates when a lot of you seem to have similar issues and goals?
PD: Well, I am one of probably two people in this race with actual legislative experience. I have a real track record you can see. I have the experience of developing consensus among different points of view. There are people in the race who are Republican, Democratic Socialists, progressives and others; I can build consensus among those viewsa skill some of the other people in this race don't have.
And I'm ready on day one to be a congresswoman; it would take some of these others a lot of time to learn to function in a legislative body. They don't have the experience of knowledge.
WCT: What do you think are your biggest advantage and disadvantage in this race?
PD: I would say name recognition and having a campaign team in place would be advantages in this race. I have campaign experience, having run in six elections. I know what it takes on the ground to get your message out. Being a budget chair, I know how to put a budget together and find hidden expenditures.
The disadvantage is that people are really cynical about government. They feel government officials don't deal with their interests or deliver on their promises. I am an action-oriented and results-driver person; I think I've proven that in the 15 years I've served as alderman. I mean what I say, and I deliver results.
WCT: Back in the day, you worked with Mayor Harold Washington, correct?
PD: Yes. I was very young in my professional career and I had an opportunity to serve in Mayor Harold Washington's office. Unfortunately, it was during his second administration [when he passed away]. I was actually one of the economic development assistants in the mayor's office during his second term. We worked on some very interesting projects. But he didn't finish his term and I ended up back in the Department of Planning of Development as a deputy commissioner.
WCT: The centennial celebration for him was in April. What was he like?
PD: He was one of the smartest men I ever met. When I had an opportunity to meet himwhen I worked under [professor of urban planning and public administration] Dr. Robert Mierhe was funny, very friendly and smart as a whip. You never knew how he would come at you with questions so it was very important to be prepared. You know how they say, "Never let 'em see you sweat?" I always went in there sweating, but able to answer the questions.
WCT: I noticed you included LGBTQ+ issues on your website. What do you think is the biggest problem the community faces?
PD: I think we're all under attack by the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. [NOTE: This interview was conducted a couple days before the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned the case.] Maybe the LGBTQ+ community isn't as aware of this, but the face is that we could go down a slippery slope from controlling a woman's body. The next thing will be controlling other things that are important to us, like the chance for people to live their lives the way they want. So many issues could be wiped away or attacked.
WCT: It's interesting looking at all of this anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
PD: Yesand we're seeing all these attacks, especially on the trans community, across the country. It's going to be very important for the various communities under attack to work together and fight back against this draconian attitude.
I think another issue that's important is the increased level of hate crimes against the community. I can see there's been an increase. I get notified of every hate crime that happens in my wardand in the last month, I was notified of three! I don't know if it's happening more or if they're being reported more, but it's a concern.
WCT: And I thought of our upcoming interview when I saw news about Brittney Griner, as you're a former college basketball player yourself. I've seen people say that if this were an NBA player like LeBron James who was being held, he'd be out by now. Do you agree?
PD: I don't know if that is the case. We're dealing with an evil dictator in Putin, and he's trying to make a statement about his leadership and Russia's goals in its war with Ukraine. And I'm not convinced that if a male ball player was being held, he'd be treated differently. If it was a famous actor or athlete, male or female, the same situation would be occurring.
WCT: And you could even make the argument that if it were someone super-famous like LeBron James, Russia would try even harder to hold on to him because he's a [bigger bargaining chip].
PD: Yes. Brittney is one of the biggest names in the WNBA, though, and has made a name for herself and the sport. Putin knows of her because of who she is.
WCT: These last two years have tested people and provided plenty of time for self-reflection. What have you learned about yourself?
PD: Interesting question... I'm an only child so, coming up, I wasn't around a lot of people in my home; I had a very solitary life. I was a bookworm and loved to cook, although I usually wasn't around the hustle and bustle of a large family.
I think during the pandemic I realized that, when [required] to be quarantined, I could actually live this way. I can be in the house and be alone while functioning at a high level. I learned that I am able to adapt.
I also learned that having the company of my dog, Toots, was very important. She's not just an animal, but a member of the family.
Also, life is really short and there are some things I have on my bucket list that I want to dosuch as going to Ghana and perhaps building a house.
WCT: Is there anything you want to add about yourself or your campaign?
PD: One thing I'd like the LGBTQ+ community to know about my campaign is that my campaign manager and a higher-up in my finance community are from the community. And I was an alderman who supported the first openly gay Black man who's a member of the Illinois General Assembly: Lamont Robinson. I thought his voice was needed.
I'm a friend of the communityand I've been one for a long time. In my years as chair of the Human Relations Committee, we passed several important pieces of legislation that were important to the community.
And on day one, I'm ready to fight for issues that are important to you and your readers.
Dowell's campaign website is www.illinoisfordowell.com .
The Illinois primary election is Tuesday, June 28.