In August, the associate editor at Huffington Post Chicago announced in a special online post that he was kicking his news habit.
Will Guzzardi, a 24-year-old North Carolina native, resigned from the post to run for state representative of the 39th District, a giant leap for an unlikely candidate. Guzzardi, a self-identified community organizer and LGBT ally, will face off against five-time incumbent Toni Berrios, daughter of Democratic giant Joseph Berrios. The district includes parts of the Logan Square, Avondale, Belmont Cragin and Hermosa neighborhoods, where Guzzardi has spent the past few years living and volunteering with community groups.
Windy City Times caught up with Guzzardi to talk about what prompted his plunge into politics, his feelings on Occupy Chicago and why LGBT rights are an unequivocal priority for him.
Windy City Times: So you are a journalist-turned-politiciannot the jump that most people make. What prompted you to run?
Will Guzzardi: When I was working for Huffington Post, our staff was really small, and I wrote about a lot of issues facing our city. But I also wanted to make a point to write about some of the community organizations, in particular, in Logan Square but also in neighborhoods all over the city that were doing great work. I wanted to use my role in the media to sort of shine a spotlight on the work that they were doing.
After I wrote enough of these stories, they all starting sound the same- that the leaders of these organizations were saying to me "Will, we're struggling here. We're trying to provide services for the most vulnerable people in our community, and we get budget cut after budget cut year after year. We can't keep doing it…" Those leaders felt like they didn't have an advocate at the state level who was standing up for them… That's what prompted me to run.
WCT: Where do you see the misplaced priority in terms of budgeting?
WG: I think the priority is actually on the revenue side. We have a really regressive tax structure here in Illinois, one of the most regressive in the country that people who are in the bottom 25 percent of wage-earners pay three times more of their income to the state in taxes than the top 1 percent of wage earners do, which is backwards.
WCT: So, you want to tackle the flat-tax?
WG: Absolutely, yes.
WCT: People must be asking how a 24-year-old journalist is qualified to be a state representative.
WG: I think that people in the community are looking for a new kind of leadership. They're looking for leaders who will listen to their concerns, who are engaged in the community, willing to get out there, be active, listen to what's going on and then go out there and fight for folks and tell the stories about what is going on in our neighborhoods. That's what I'm offering to folks when I talk to them at their doors, and that's what gets people really excited.
WCT: What are the most pressing issues facing your district?
WG: People want to see better public schools for our kids. I've spoken with families that are struggling to pay their mortgage and at the same time, having to work overtime to try to get their kids into private schools because they simply don't have faith in their neighborhood schools, and we have to change that. Public safety is another issue you hear about all the time. People want to make sure that our communities are safe, that our families and our seniors feel comfortable in their homes. The third big one is the economy. We have to get jobs going for folks here in the state of Illinois again.
WCT: And you have worked on some of those issues as a community organizer.
WG: In terms of education, while I was a writer at the Huffington Post, I also worked teaching after school programs at schools across the city. That provided me with a real insight into the needs of the education system.
WCT: Do you support Occupy Chicago?
WG: Absolutely. I think the frustrations that we're seeing echoes the same frustrations that I see every day when I knock on doors and talk to people. It's that the wealthiest people in our society and the insider politicians are lining their own pockets, and they're passing the burden onto the rest of us.
WCT: You consider yourself an LGBT ally, correct?
WG: Absolutely. I think we need to achieve full equality for LGBT people in our community across this state and across this country as soon as we possibly can. I think it has to be a priority for our elected officials.
WCT: Have you done organizing around any LGBT causes?
WG: When I was working at Huffington Post, that was a big issue for us in our coverage, that we cover the LGBT movement, in part because my co-editors were gay.
It's an issue that speaks to me personally as well. My brother lived in New York City for many years, and he's gay. We celebrated together when New York came with its gay-marriage legislation. Our state is lagging behind many other parts of the country, and it's time for us to step up to the plate.
WCT: Has having a gay brother informed some of your support for the community?
WCT: Would you have voted for civil unions in Illinois?
WG: I would have voted for civil unions. I think that civil unions are a first step. We need full marriage equality in the state, and we need it now. Frankly, there's no equivocating on the issue as far as I'm concerned. It's a point where there is a clear distinction between myself and my opponent. … In the last election cycle, she was very equivocal. She was not willing to come out and support full marriage equality. She said that she would need to ask her constituents and see what they had to say about it. I think this is an issue where there is no middle ground. We have to have full equality, and we need it immediately.
WCT: What do you think the issues are facing LGBT people in our state?
WG: The biggest issue facing the LGBT community is the persistence of discrimination. It happens in big ways, and in small ways, in obvious ways and in subtle ways. But discrimination is still very much alive in our community and in our country.