Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D)
Illinois 9th District
“Make no little plans,” architect Daniel Burnham once said, and he made no small plans for the Chicago lakefront. The glorious parks he designed are among America’s urban jewels, and the row of high-rise apartment buildings—some austere works of masters of the International style, some in traditional styles evocative of some other place and time, some sleek Art Deco works of the 1920s and 1930s—is a splendid accompaniment. Beyond the lakefront is all the diversity of Chicago. In sturdy brick houses, with scarcely a shoehorn’s space between them, or in stubby apartment buildings, are ethnic and racial groups of every sort, from Argentineans to Slavs, from Poles to Plains Indians. In the 1970s, the neighborhoods behind the lakefront seemed to be getting seedier and tipping downhill. But since the late 1980s, they have been gentrifying, as young couples and gays, professionals and entrepreneurs renovate old houses and open new businesses. Today, this part of Chicago has as much urban energy and lively diversity as any place in America.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The lakefront has long been the most heavily Jewish part of Chicago. The local Jewish community, prominent for more than a century, has never been as much a force as it is in New York, or connected to a glamorous industry as in Los Angeles. Yet these Jewish voters’ liberal impulses have been strong: the 19th-century impulse to resist state authority and the imposition of cultural uniformity, and the 20th-century impulse to increase state responsibility for individuals’ lives. Chicago’s North Side Jews have been a solidly Democratic voting bloc, involved with—but always keeping at arm’s length—the old Democratic machine. In city politics since the 1980s, Jewish voters and lakefront liberals of all backgrounds have been a key swing group.
The 9th Congressional District of Illinois covers most of Chicago’s lakefront, from just north of Diversey Harbor past the thriving Asian and orthodox Jewish communities in West Rogers Park and on to Evanston, founded by Methodists to promote temperance (a cause that never prospered in Chicago). The home of Northwestern University, Evanston has moved gracefully from historic Yankee Republicanism to trendy, postgraduate Democratness. From Evanston and nearby Wilmette (which is shared with the 10th), the 9th presses inland through heavily Jewish Skokie to Morton Grove and Niles and includes most of Des Plaines. These bustling inner-ring suburbs have become the center of Chicagoland’s job base. With its financial markets and the professionals that support them, the city once known as the hog butcher of the world has evolved into the hog belly trader of the world. The district extends west to once-rock-solid Republican territory—Park Ridge, with its characteristic Chicago brick houses in orderly rows, where Hillary Rodham Clinton grew up at 235 Wisner, and the cluster of office buildings and interchanges in Rosemont, next to O’Hare International Airport. This is an overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D)
Elected: 1998, 6th term.
Born: May 26, 1944, Chicago .
Education: U. of IL, B.S. 1965.
Family: Married (Robert Creamer); 3 children.
Elected office: IL House of Reps., 1990-98.
Professional Career: Founder, Natl. Consumers Unite, 1969-73; Prog. dir., IL Public Action, 1976-85; Exec. dir., IL State Cncl. of Sr. Citizens, 1985-90.
The congresswoman from the 9th District is Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat elected in 1998 and an outspoken progressive. She grew up in Rogers Park and worked for two years as a teacher. In 1969, she formed National Consumers Unite to fight for date-of-freshness labels on dairy products and other food. Later she joined Illinois Public Action, a consumer group. In 1985 she became executive director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, where she organized the pivotal 1989 protest of Democratic Rep. Dan Rostenkowski’s Medicare catastrophic health care law for seniors. Television news images of the powerful Rostenkowski fleeing an angry crowd of old people led Congress to repeal the benefit, which many said did not provide adequate coverage. In 1990, Schakowsky was elected to the state House from Evanston and Skokie, and served as Democratic floor leader. In 1998, Schakowsky was selected in the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Sidney Yates, a liberal Democrat who had represented the lakefront in Congress for 48 years. Her strategy was to run from the left—“I don’t think I can be defined as too far left in a district like this”—and to build a volunteer organization. With ads in college papers, she hired young field organizers to set about identifying Schakowsky voters. She raised $1.4 million, with help from the women’s fundraising group EMILY’s List. Her opponent was state Sen. Howard Carroll, who had the support of most Democratic ward committeemen and attacked Schakowsky for her opposition to the death penalty. Schakowsky’s 1,500 workers, 250 of them from labor unions, helped her to a 45%-34% win. She easily won the general election.
|Jan Schakowsky (D)||181,948||(75%)||($1,227,724)|
|Michael Younan (R)||53,593||(22%)||($6,686)|
|Morris Shanfield (Green)||8,140||(3%)|
|Jan Schakowsky (D)||98,374||(88%)|
|John Nocita (D)||13,485||(12%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (75%), 2004 (76%), 2002 (70%), 2000 (76%), 1998 (75%)
Schakowsky has one of the most liberal voting records in the House and regularly scores perfect ratings from liberal interest groups. She harshly criticized the 2003 enactment of prescription drug coverage for seniors, joining Democrats seeking to overhaul the Republican-drafted law, which liberals thought did not go far enough. To encourage food safety, she sponsored a bill to create a national database of school food suppliers. In 2006, she pushed a bill to require automakers to share technical information with repair shops but dropped her support after Republicans weakened the measure. When Democrats won a House majority that year, she pushed for aggressive oversight of the Bush administration. On the Energy and Commerce Committee, Schakowsky was a player in the enactment in 2008 of the child-product safety bill, which toughened regulations. An outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, she helped to win House passage in 2007 of a bill to hold military contractors in Iraq accountable for possible criminal violations.
A close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Schakowsky has worked with Democratic leaders on electoral strategy, gaining their support to expand her training program for political organizers. She was an early supporter of Pelosi for party whip, and Pelosi rewarded her with a chief deputy whip post. Her contacts with national liberal groups have helped her to become a major party fundraiser. When the McCain-Feingold law ended big soft-money contributions after the 2002 election, Schakowsky helped to assemble the House Democrats’ program to expand contributions from small donors.
Schakowsky briefly considered a run for the Senate in 2004 but decided against it. In early 2006, she sought a higher leadership post as vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, which would put her on a track to become chairman, the No. 3 leadership job. With support from Pelosi, Schakowsky was the early front-runner against New York’s Joe Crowley and Connecticut’s John Larson. But she unexpectedly was eliminated on the first ballot, finishing third behind Crowley and Larson. Schakowsky threw her support to Larson, who, like her, was an ally of Pelosi. Crowley was allied with Maryland’s Steny Hoyer, Pelosi’s archrival in leadership. With Schakowsky’s former supporters, Larson prevailed. Some Democrats speculated that Schakowsky was hurt by the timing of the leadership contest; it occurred soon after her husband, Robert Creamer, the longtime head of Illinois Public Action Fund, pleaded guilty in August 2005 to bank fraud in a check-kiting scheme. He was sentenced to a five-month prison term. Schakowsky said that her husband had “made mistakes,” but that she was unaware of his financial problems and was “proud of who Bob is…. He has been a constant crusader.”
After Democrats won House control in November 2006, Schakowsky seconded the nomination of Pelosi for speaker, calling her “my treasured friend.” She was an early backer of Barack Obama for president, giving cover to other prominent Democratic women who may have wanted to support him but felt beholden to support the first woman with a shot at the presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Schakowsky was interested in pursuing the Senate seat left vacant by Obama, but after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges in connection with an alleged scheme to sell the job to the highest bidder, she said that she would not accept an appointment from Blagojevich.