When Paula Basta kicked off her campaign for 14th Dist. State Rep., Chicago's LGBT community was given an unprecedented choice between two out lesbians for the seat.
Basta, a native of Ohio, stands at the helm of the city's busiest senior center, the Northeast ( Levy ) Regional Senior Center. She served on the board of Equality Illinois for seven years and has been active in the city's LGBT community for years.
While some have said that Basta could have added to the ranks of openly gay politicians by choosing another office to pursue, others say that Basta's run against freshman incumbent Kelly Cassidy may also present a new day in LGBT politics, where sexual orientation is neither a qualification nor deterrent to office.
Windy City Times caught up with Basta and asked her about what sets her apart in the race and why she decided to run against another lesbian.
Windy City Times: For those who don't know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Paula Basta: Currently, I run the busiest senior center in the city of Chicago, the Northeast Levy Senior Center. We see over 200-300 people a day. Over 5,000 people a month come through our doors, and basically the senior center is a community center.
WCT: And most of your experience has been in activism and advocacy.
Paula Basta: I have lived in Chicago over 30 years. ... I started out as a social worker. As I was working full-time, I was always involved in various non-profits, and that continues to this day. I was on the board of Equality Illinois from the year 2002 to 2009, president of the board … for a year. But I'm also currently on the board for TPAN, Test Positive Aware Network. I'm also on the Lesbian and Gay Task Force for Anita Alvarez, the state's attorney's office [ and was ] a Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame inductee in 2009.
WCT: Why the switch to politics now?
Paula Basta: Every day, I see the faces and hear the voices of people that are impacted by the legislation and policy. Everything that's going on in Springfield, many times is directly affecting the people's lives that come to me and come to our office. So, there's no better thing for us to realize how to connect the two between policy and service than to see that on a daily basis.
WCT: What are your top legislative priorities?
Paula Basta: I know senior issues the best because I worked so long in that, but also with working families, we see a lot of folks come through our doors who are really struggling, and struggling because as we all know, the economy has been struggling too, but also because we see that people are underemployed. Also, we see a lot of our small businesses, especially in the 14th District … we have seen, unfortunately, over 30 businesses that have left the community, and I think this is a real concern to people in the neighborhood.
WCT: What do you see as the most important issues facing LGBT people?
Paula Basta: Well, obviously we need legislation around marriage equality. That's key, and that's coming as we have seen. Discrimination is also key. Jobs, where you live, all the things that you want to make sure are going to be on an equal footing and an equal basis, you have to continue to struggle for. That's the kind of stuff that I look at and say we have to work hard at.
The third thing would be LGBT aging. The LGBT aging issue is interesting and important on two levelsone is for those who are seniors now and those who will be seniors in the next 10 to 20 years. This is the fastest-growing population in the country… not so much LGBT seniors but seniors in general.
WCT: The 48th Ward Democratic Committee held an endorsement session. You didn't attend, and the endorsement went to Cassidy. Why didn't you go?
Paula Basta: We have done just about every endorsement session that we've been invited to, and we have actually been doing all our endorsement questionnaires, so we're very much working on trying to get the message out about our campaign. The 48th Ward endorsement session, I personally was never asked to go. It came through our campaign chair, Marty Rogo, and we had a month out scheduledwhich is very importanta meet-and-greet out in the community.
WCT: But they did invite you?
Paula Basta: They invited us through Marty Rogo.
WCT: The suggestion from your campaign seemed to be that you have not been supported by the party. Your campaign staffers have said this is a strength of your candidacy.
Paula Basta: The work that I do presently … is to provide all the public officials with everything they need around senior services … so a lot of the public officials, I know. I've known them through my work with Equality Illinois. I'm very friendly to everyone, and basically everyone knows my work. So, this has been for me, going the next step running for public office. I've been able to garner a lot of positive feedback about my work and the history of all that I've accomplished.
WCT: You have been billed by your campaign as the independent candidate. What sets you apart from your opponent?
Paula Basta: What I've always said is that I can talk about me. I have been working in the field for over 30 years. I think that what I find in my work every day is when you talk about quality of life issues, people are really wanting somebody who is going to be a strong advocate for them, an independent advocate for them, and not thinking about who do you owe or who do you have to please? It's got to be about the people.
WCT: There are people who have lamented that are running against another out lesbian. How do you respond to that?
Paula Basta: Well, I basically think that this is a race that is about choice. It should be able to give people choices, and the choices are clear. It's not just about being a lesbian. We're, hopefully, bigger than that. I would like to open the question or maybe broaden our vision about what we would like to see in good candidates, and to make sure that good candidates come forward no matter their sexual orientation.
WCT: What is the single most important thing for voters to know about you?
Paula Basta: That I am an independent candidate who will work tirelessly for the people of the 14th District.
See www.PaulaBasta.org .
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