Andy Peters is running in the 13th Illinois House District primary against four other Democratic candidates to replace the long-time out gay state Rep. Greg Harris, who is retiring at the end of this current term.
The new district boundaries encompass all of the Uptown, Arcadia Terrace, Bowmanville, Budlong Woods, Lincoln Square, Ravenswood neighborhoods and parts of the Andersonville, Buena Park and Lake View neighborhoods.
Windy City Times: Give the voters a little snapshot of yourself. How will your background outside of politics play into your legislative agenda?
Andy Peters: I am the owner of True North Cafe in Andersonville and Hyde Park. We are also opening in Lincoln Park in a few months. I have been a resident of Andersonville for 10 years. I grew up in Berwyn and went to the University of Chicago. After college, I worked in politics for a number of years in the mayor's office. Then I worked for various Alderman and the Illinois Restaurant Association, where I did Government Affairs and Special Branch work. Then I got out of politics to open the café's because in general, working in politics sounded fun but there is a lot of phoniness and nothing actually happens. I need action and progress which is why I opened the café's. But when the seat came open, it just seemed that this was the moment I could get back into politics.
My Andersonville cafe is very political. We have had multiple candidates come here. During the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, JB Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss and multiple mayoral candidates came [there]. We famously sold the Trumpkins spice latte in 2016 and 2020 with the tagline "Huge, orange and tax free," with all the proceeds going to ACLU, Emily's List and other non-profits.
Being a part of the local business community my main concern is crime. At the café's, I have always made an effort to hire formerly incarcerated people. I do not think that this city and state does enough to provide job training and skills to people who need them, specifically formerly incarcerated people. And public safety is a huge issue. Last winter, I started closing café at 6 p.m. because it was not safe for employees to be taking the bus after 8 p.m. since they lived in the neighborhoods most at risk for violence. The state legislature is doing contradictory things on crime. They are not addressing the root causes or really proposing anything I think is going to help. That is my number one priority in this race.
WCT: Why did you decide to run for office? What makes you the best candidate for this race?
AP: I was not even thinking of running until I saw a forum with the other candidates in this race. They were not speaking to the issues I care about the most which are crime and education. I do not think any of the other candidates have brought up crime at all in any of the forums or debates since that time. That is a shame, because I think that is what people most want to hear about and actual solutions to it. Everybody keeps talking generalities around education but not how we are going to fund it since the state is so dependent on property taxes for this revenue. The only concrete education plan I have heard at any of them talk about has been to get rid of standardized tests. I do not understand why this is their priority.
I do not condescend or patronize. I think everyone else is trying to appeal to the average voter and say things that are basic neo-liberal talking points from the late nineties Clinton era. That is not today. The pandemic has exposed what the government does well and what it does badly. We need people that are not going to just repeat the talking points. None of the other candidates are talking about how to really address the spate of car-jackings or violence on the CTA or that police officers need mental health counseling so they can do their jobs properly and not get burned out. Also, the need to hire a more diverse police force that better represents the neighborhoods they are trying to protect. Those are the solutions I am bringing to the table that I do not think any of the other candidates are talking about.
WCT: What LGBTQ, HIV/AIDS and reproductive justice legislation do you plan to work on that has not already been addressed via current state laws?
AP: I am generally in favor of doing anything it takes to be more inclusive and supportive to the LGBTQ community. With Roe v Wade set to be overturned, Illinois needs to reevaluate anything else that the Supreme Court could overturn in the future and get ahead of the curve on those issues. When it comes to those issues, though, I would follow the lead of state Rep. Kelly Cassidy and state Sen. Michael Simmons and the other great LGBTQ leaders we have.
In terms of reproductive rights, Illinois needs to make sure that patient privacy is completely upheld. I am 100 percent pro-choice. I would follow state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz's lead on this issue.
We need to make sure that HIV positive people are not discriminated against in housing and employment.
WCT: In what ways will you ensure that the Getting to Zero Illinois 2030 initiative comes to fruition should you be elected?
AP: I want to make sure that PrEP is more readily and easily available for everyone who needs to take it to stay HIV-negative. That includes getting it over the counter. More outreach regarding prevention methods needs to be done especially in communities where there are still high HIV transmission rates.
WCT: Do you support HB2542 (Illinois Name Change Modernization Act), why or why not?
AP: Yes. I am all for making it as easy, quick and more affirming. I know I have had multiple trans employees who have had gender affirming care while they were working at a café. It seems like there is obstacles at every turn from medical professionals and the government.
WCT: Looking at the state's COVID response over the past two plus years, is there anything that should have been done differently by both the governor and state legislature? Where do you see the state legislature's role going forward regarding this ongoing pandemic?
AP: A lot needed to be done differently. The number one thing that was on my mind is how difficult it is to navigate the Illinois Department of Unemployment Insurance process. That should have been dealt with at the onset of the pandemic when businesses had to start laying people off. For one thing, it is not online.
The way that the state interacts with businesses needs to be completely redone because it is inefficient. I am sure it wastes taxpayer dollars and it is hard to understand. I am a native English speaker and I cannot understand those forms. I do not know how any business owners who do not speak English as their first language can possibly navigate the system. When the pandemic happened, I immediately had all my employees at both café's file for unemployment because we shut down for about two months. It took them months to get their unemployment checks and then the pandemic unemployment insurance was a whole other hurdle.
That is why I want to go to Springfield, because I do not just want to vote in the legislature to streamline and modernize the unemployment insurance process. I also want to have a committee meeting on this to figure out how we can make it easier for employees and businesses in the state to operate. The schools should have been opened sooner than they were. I think a lot of the problems we are facing maybe have to do with the fact the schools were closed. I believe the achievement gap is going to get wider as a result of this pandemic and we let it happen. It is a shame because we let our kids down. We need to make sure that Illinois keeps creating jobs and is a good place to raise a family.
WCT: Which endorsements do you want to specifically highlight?
AP: [Chicago] Ald. Michelle Smith and the Illinois Restaurant Association.
WCT: What is your overall message to IL-13 voters?
AP: State Rep. Harris is an icon and as the chief budget negotiator he did a great job. His are big shoes to fill. He is one of the biggest reasons that Illinois has had credit upgrades the last few years. This district needs a representative who is going to go down to Springfield and do more than just vote with the Democratic Party on the issues, which I am sure I will do. We need somebody who can go down there and actually bring fresh ideas and address the issues that matter to the community, like crime and education. That is what I plan to do.
See electandypeters.com .
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.