Fernando "Sergio" Mojica 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 readers a little snapshot of yourself. How will your background outside of politics play into your legislative agenda?
Fernando "Sergio" Mojica: I have been an educator for 25 years. For the past five years I have been a principal at Chicago Public Schools Roberto Clemente High School. People often refer to me as a pragmatic radical because I believe we should take people along with us instead of being so divided. I really do not think that is healthy.
I believe my years as a high school principal play into why I want to move into this particular role. As a high school principal you do not just work with students, you also work with teachers and families to make sure they graduate and move beyond graduation. We do not let go of our kids at graduation. We hold onto them for as long as possible, up to two years or more to help them with their post-secondary success.
I have been a negotiator and have had to cut deals. We were able to get free college courses for our students. A lot of that community building working with other leaders and colleges feels very similar to many things I have been doing in preparation for this role.
As a matter of fact, it feels practically identical. Asking for campaign donations is similar to asking for school funding increases. Working on school issues is very similar to coming together and talking about some of the issues we are having on the campaign trail.
I have dealt with students and their families experiencing homelessness and hunger. A lot of issues translate from being a teacher to a high school principal to a legislator.
WCT: Why did you decide to run for office? What makes you the best candidate for this race?
SM: At first I had no plan to run for office. I have really been focused, especially during this pandemic, on my students. We have had a couple of rough years in education including the rising youth violence. No school in Chicago was immune from that violence.
Originally what brought me to the table happened when people from my community approached me to consider running due to Harris' retirement announcement in December 2021. What appealed to me after speaking to all of my mentors was the idea of being able to hold the seat that has been represented by another out gay man for many, many years. I found out later that I would be the first LGBTQ+ Latino state legislator in Illinois.
I realized that mine is a voice that is not often heard in government: A principal, an Afro-Puerto Rican, someone who struggled with addiction, the progressive gay son of a preacher, with a husband who provides abortion care. But that is exactly why I am running. I believe that the vibrant diversity of this district deserves to have a voice in Springfield.
We need more teachers and principals at the table when decisions are being made that directly impact educational environments which are the heartbeats of our communities. We are spending too much money on standardized testing. There is so much work we can do when we collaborate. A lot of things I have done in the schoolhouse need to be done in the statehouse. My goal is to go from educator to legislator.
WCT: What LGBTQ+, HIV/AIDS and reproductive justice legislation do you plan to work on that have not already been addressed via current state laws?
SM: I want to focus on legislation that will help our LGBTQ+ youth and particularly those who are in foster care. Sixty percent of teens in foster care are LGBTQ+. We need to be thinking outside of the box when it comes to this issue. Addressing the specific needs of seniors who are LGBTQ+ and/or HIV-positive including how we care for them as they continue to age. There needs to be more affordable housing for the approximately 30,000 LGBTQ+ seniors in all parts of Illinois.
We need to make sure it is easy for people who can get pregnant outside of Illinois to come here for their reproductive and abortion access needs. This includes making sure their insurance covers whatever care they receive when they come to Illinois.
Shoring up all of these protections in these and other areas is very important moving forward. This means making Illinois a citadel of blue in the midst of the red states that surround us. We also need to make sure our drawbridges are down to help people from those states.
WCT: In what ways will you ensure that the Getting to Zero Illinois 2030 initiative comes to fruition should you be elected?
SM: We can do this if the funding is available. Sadly, what we have learned is 50 percent of those who have been diagnosed with HIV get no suppression medication or treatment at all. We have to work against the stigma that people with HIV have. This includes targeting the religious community and communities of color where it is a faux pas to even discuss anything sexual, even though those groups have a large number of HIV positive cases. We have to de-stigmatize these medications so people with HIV take them and that includes PrEP. The key is to advertise, advertise, advertise and also make sure the funding is available and allocated properly.
WCT: Do you support HB2542 (Illinois Name Change Modernization Act)? Why or why not?
SM: Yes and I do not understand the hesitation in the Illinois Senate in getting this passed. People should have official documents that reflect their chosen name and gender marker if that is what they desire.
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?
SM: Yes probably, but hindsight is 20/20. With everything going on and knowing our current political landscape I think Illinois did a decent job with preventing COVID. The one area that would have been nice is having a better communication strategy. The misinformation that was coming out between the city government, Chicago Public Schools and state government sometimes did not align. As a principal, I was often caught in the middle of these three entities. I think the Governor and his staff did a great job.
I think we will be moving into an endemic stage of this pandemic where people in certain jobs and students will be required to get the COVID vaccine to work and attend school. I am all for requirements that keep people safe. If you do not want to vaccinate yourself that is fine but there are natural consequences for those choices. This all depends on what COVID turns into down the line. If it is just like a cold at some point that will not harm other people I do not know if we should mandate the vaccine. Legislators should look to the health professionals, especially those who are exclusively working on COVID, for guidance on potential bills in the future.
WCT: Which endorsements do you want to specifically highlight?
SM: The most humbling for me were the over 15 LGBTQ+ leaders who endorsed me. When I first came to Chicago, the LGBTQ community put their arms around me and for them to do it again at the Sidetrack event and a brunch at my house with other LGBTQ+ leaders is so meaningful. Illinois state Rep. Lamont Robinson was the first person to endorse me.
Equality Illinois, Victory Fund, but really it was the local people. Having Art Johnston say "good job" was really cool.
WCT: What is your overall message to IL-13 voters?
SM: We can be both pragmatic and progressive and pragmatic and radical at the same time. We are in a dangerous place when we allow ourselves to be polarized and collectively we can maintain our stronghold and build our state even stronger but it happens collectively. The lefties and the righties have to figure out something together to get along. Communication, collaboration and transparency are the way to do that.
See sergioforillinois.com .
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.