Palestinian American ‘outsider’ calls for empathy in Chicago election bid

CHICAGO: A Palestinian American professor is hoping to win a US Congress seat in a newly created Chicago-land area district with no incumbent.

Iymen Chehade, who teaches history at Columbia College in Chicago and is a community organizer, said that his candidacy would “bring a fresh voice and an outsider mentality” to an area that needs to be properly represented in Congress.

The new district Chehade is hoping to represent has no current incumbent and was newly drawn by state officials by taking sections out of several other congressional districts.

Commentators have said that political outsiders like Chehade have a strong chance to compete.

Chehade argues that while he considers himself a political outsider in the Chicago area political machine, where politics is a bloodsport, he has roots in the district where his immigrant parents have lived and worked since the early 1960s.

If elected, Chehade said on his campaign website that he will advocate for a “Marshall Plan” for the US. “The plan entails investing in social institutions and public infrastructure, and rehabilitating our economy by empowering working people and their children,” he added.

He said that he supports citizenship pathways for undocumented immigrants and comprehensive benefits for veterans.

Chehade said that he “knows the district very well” because of his roots there, and that he intends to open a community theater there next year in a building that belonged to his family.

He told Arab News that he is running for Congress “because we need non-career politicians in office who will put the interests of the people first, rather than their own hold on power.”

He added that his background as a historian has brought him a unique perspective on what can work for the country as a policymaker.

“We must put America first. As a congressman, I will bring empathy and I will advocate for policies that will empower the American people,” he said

The new district was created through a controversial process called gerrymandering, a political tool used redraw and manipulate existing congressional districts to shift certain population groups, often to the advantage of one party.

The redrawing of congressional districts is conducted in the state legislature and is intended to reflect an increase or decrease in local population numbers, based on a national census count.

In the case of Illinois, a democratic state with 12 Democratic members of Congress and only five Republicans, gerrymandering often reflects competition between different political wings of the Democratic Party.

But as of next year’s election, Illinois will lose one congressional seat as a result of a net population loss according to the 2020 Census.

Accordingly, the new district Chehade is running in will become the third congressional district, while the original third district — which has a sizable Arab American population — will become the sixth district.

As a result of this, Congresswoman Marie Newman, who currently represents the third district, will compete with sitting Democratic Congressman Sean Casten to represent the sixth district.

Casten and Newman will face off in the primary election next June, resulting in a net loss of one member of Congress for the state of Illinois.

Besides Chehade, several other candidates have expressed their desire to run for the new seat.

Among them is City of Chicago Alderman Gilbert Villegas.

If elected, Chehade would become the third progressive member from Illinois, in addition to Newman and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, representing a blow for the establishment wing of the Democratic Party.


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