Eileen Dordek 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?
Eileen Dordek: I am a mental-health provider and an active therapist. I am also a reproductive- and LGBTQ[-rights] advocate, and have been for many, many years. For more than 12 years, I served on the board of Personal PACa pro-choice political action committee working actively to elect pro-choice state and local officials and pass legislation which has expanded reproductive healthcare and abortion care access in Illinois at a time when it has been restricted across the country. I believe these two issues are completely intertwined because they both deal with bodily autonomy. If you are coming for one, you are coming for both so they both need to be protected.
I have worked directly with legislators on three pieces of legislation that has made Illinois an island in the middle of the Midwest for abortion care access.
As a legislator, I would come into this role with deep experience from my mental healthcare profession. I would be one of just a few people who are actual healthcare professionals in the legislature. As a social worker, I work directly with social service agencies and make referrals for people to get resources so as a legislator I would make sure they are funded, coordinating with state resources. The Governor has put a few things into place including specific coordinators working with six agencies. One of the jobs of the legislature is to make sure that the agencies implement the bills that are passed into law. That is something I would be very experienced with because of my profession.
WCT: Why did you decide to run for office? What makes you the best candidate for this race?
ED: I have really been engaged with my community. I have deep roots there working with a variety of different organizations from the 47th Ward Dems to Personal PAC to local schools and food pantries in my neighborhood.
When I saw that Greg was retiring I waited. I wanted to see who stepped up. There are these areas Greg has always taken care of so I never worried about things like advocating for Medicaid and insurance coverage, reproductive access and LGBTQ equality. When I saw who entered the race I did not see the areas I have focused on in my life that I always counted on Greg to cover so ultimately I decided I was the best person for this job.
My deep roots in this community make me the best candidate. I have lived in and around this district for 25 years and know it like the back of my hand. I started my career at Sarah's Circle in Uptown which is an agency that helps end homelessness for women so I got to know a lot of the social service agencies in that area.
I think my overall experience gives me a leg up on covering a lot of the issues that are really relevant to people right now. I have been knocking doors and people are devastated about the Supreme Court's draft opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade. With COVID we have had so many issues around healthcare and specifically mental healthcare emerge. Greg was directly involved in making sure that providers like myself could continue to use tele-health and get paid for it through people's insurance coverage. This is an example of something in my life that I would be able to address in the legislature.
I have worked directly with state legislators and people in government at all levelscity, county and state. I will be able to hit the ground running because I already know the players like the chair of the affordable housing community. The 13th district needs desperate help in this area and I want to work with him to make this a reality.
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?
ED: Immediately, and hopefully before the new state legislature gets seated, we need to put in protections that some other states have like Connecticut has against lawsuits from states that want to criminalize abortion and trans care. Here again is where the intersections are happening. We know Republicans are coming for medical care providers and want to criminalize treating young trans people who are trying to get the affirming care they need. There was a bill that was passed the Illinois House but not taken up in the Illinois Senate.
There was a big financial commitment toward better mental healthcare during this past session. I have spoken with the National Alliance for Mental Illness and Thresholds and they are really excited about that funding but sometimes those bills get passed but do not get fully implemented. The money does not always go where it needs to go. We know when people have intersections in marginalized communities it makes life more challenging so there might be more support that is needed. We know LGBTQ youth are struggling at even higher rates than the general population including suicide rates, mental health challenges and more homelessness so making sure we shore up resources for this community is a tremendous priority. Helping them get through their youth to become functioning adults in our society is so important and funding things like the Broadway Youth Center and other LGBTQ youth services will help with this effort.
WCT: In what ways will you ensure that the Getting to Zero Illinois 2030 initiative comes to fruition should you be elected?
ED: I was thrilled that the bill passed to decriminalize HIV and I did my part to make that happen.
Implementation is the key and that means making sure that there is proper funding. We passed the PrEP and PEP bill to help people get access to the drugs they need to prevent HIV infection but more needs to be done so people know about this access.
WCT: Do you support HB2542 (Illinois Name Change Modernization Act)? Why or why not?
ED: Yes. The Illinois Senate must pass this bill otherwise it will have to be reintroduced in the Illinois House in the next legislative session. Right now that really keeps trans people from being able to get the healthcare and other access they need.
Being on the Equality Illinois board I get to talk to and be friends with some of the amazing experts in this field, the primary trans advocates in Illinois like Reyna Ortiz who is also a social worker like me. What I have come to understand, especially talking with Reyna, is that society sometimes criminalizes being a trans person. Because you want to live your authentic life it makes things like using your chosen name that is not on official documents criminal and we should be making this name change process very simple. We know that trans people are more likely to interact with the criminal justice system and have difficulty getting a job and hopefully we can find ways to change that over time. Right now we need to get away from all the things that criminalize being LGBTQ.
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?
ED: It would have been nice to have a mask mandate really, really early but I know that there was so much we did not know at the time about this disease. I do think the Governor and certainly Dr. Ngozi Ezike did a really good job in communicating to the public about COVID. The state legislature could have shifted to online meetings and votes a little sooner to get more done in 2020. I realize why you want your legislators in Springfield so they are accessible to the people coming there to advocate for their issues but this was a special circumstance.
In Illinois, we recognize that public health is important. States health departments across the country have been drained of their resources and staff. We need consistent funding to make sure that the local and state health departments have the funding they need. This is something we can do so people have the information to make the best decisions to guide their lives. The legislature has an oversight role with these government agencies. The current administration and leadership in the state House and Senate have good communication and that needs to continue.
WCT: Which endorsements do you want to specifically highlight?
ED: I am extremely proud to be endorsed by Gov. JB Pritzker, Sen. Dick Durbin, Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Mike Quigley, The Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and Equality Illinois. I have the vast majority of endorsements.
WCT: What is your overall message to IL-13 voters?
ED: This is an overwhelming time on the federal level and it is easy to get distracted but there is so much we can do here in Illinois to protect our rights and make it a safer and healthier state for all Illinoisans and I am the best candidate to do that.
See eileendordek.org/ .
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.