Courtesy of Marie Newman.

Meet the Challengers: Marie Newman

The Weekly sits down with the nonprofit executive running for Congress in the 3rd District

In 2018, Marie Newman challenged incumbent U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski to represent Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District—which includes Bridgeport, parts of Beverly and Mount Greenwood, and several southwest suburbs—and narrowly lost. Lipinski, who succeeded his father (who held it from 1983 to 2005) in the seat following complex legal maneuvering that allowed him to avoid a contested primary, is one of the most conservative Democrats currently in office, having opposed the Affordable Care Act, voted against the DREAM Act, and taken a stance as one of the few anti-abortion Democrats in Congress. Newman, who is again challenging Lipinski in the March 17 primary, is a former small-business owner and nonprofit executive who has taken a progressive stance on issues ranging from Medicare For All to providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and has been endorsed by a swath of progressive and moderate Democrats. The Weekly recently spoke to Newman about her latest bid to unseat Lipinski. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

I was born in Beverly at Little Company of Mary Hospital, and when I was in first grade, we moved to Palos Park. I live in La Grange now with my two kids—they’re nineteen and twenty-one—and my husband. I started my career in marketing and advertising, worked my way up to partner, then started my own small business. I also developed a national coalition nonprofit called Team Up to Stop Bullying with my partner Sears. I wrote a book called When Your Child is Being Bullied: Real Solutions. And I’ve been a spokesperson for Moms Demand Action Illinois, so I have a strong background of advocacy and legislative advocacy. I’ve advocated for school reform, health care rights, economic rights, gun safety rights, and on and on.

How did those various paths lead you to decide to run for office?

In a lot of ways, it was kind of natural. I’ve been volunteering for campaigns for twenty years now. I think the Gore campaign was one of my first. Because I’ve done a lot of legislative advocacy work, as well as working and having lived experiences, I’ve been on all sides of these things. I worked my way up; I worked my way through college, and lived paycheck to paycheck for a good chunk of my twenties and part of my thirties. I went without health care from time to time. I know how it feels to struggle. Much of the nation lives paycheck to paycheck, and we still haven’t done anything about it. So, income inequality is really important to me. And I think that [on] that issue we have to have a paradigm shift legislatively. The economic indicators we use right now are the stock market and unemployment, and that’s not a complete picture. Many people are working two and three jobs just to make ends meet and still can’t pay for health care. [My] lived experiences really led me to believe that I can change hearts and minds via advocacy, and keep doing that no matter what, but also can use my power as someone who has had those lived experiences and bring those solutions to a political position.    

Why do you support Medicare For All versus something like Medicare For All Who Want It?

When I look at all those [other] plans, no one has been able to tell me how it’s different from what we have now. There’s no difference. And rates are skyrocketing and people are dying. In the last two years the average mortality rate has changed dramatically. We now have people living shorter lives, rather than longer lives, for the first time in our history. [Ed note: U.S. life expectancy declined from 2015 to 2018, the longest sustained decline in average life expectancy since 1915-18. That decline has been attributed to World War I and the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.] If we keep going the way we are, which is effectively what Medicare For All Who Want It is, I don’t understand how we’re going to make things better. With Medicare For All, it’s tried and true. It is not only the best program, because it will actually contain costs and bring costs down, what I like best about it is that we don’t have to keep being restrictive. [Other plans] still have this highly restrictive network and you’re still going to be charged unpredictable deductibles and out-of-pocket; pharmaceuticals will continue to skyrocket. Medicare For All will bring down costs and provide choice of doctor. It’s the only practical solution.

What issues do you think are most important to voters in the 3rd District?

Income inequality is a big issue; we are incredibly stagnant. People can’t pay for childcare, so we need to get universal childcare [and] paid leave passed. We obviously have to go to health care for all. Other issues that are really important are around immigration. My opponent, Dan Lipinski, doesn’t think that immigration is much of a problem right now. I believe that we have to stop separating families first and foremost, and start treating immigrants with respect and dignity. We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants built this nation. We have to respect, see, recognize, and embrace each other. And if we leverage libraries, post offices, and community centers to start offering a path to citizenship that is well-known, transparent, and documented, folks can go there and get a path to citizenship, understand access to affordable housing, jobs, and affordable health care. Again, let’s use what we have and make it better.

What is different now from 2018 that makes you think you can win this time?

A few things are going our way this time. First and foremost, the district is that much more frustrated with Dan and his do-nothing ways. In fifteen years, he has not written a district plan. I have a district plan and I have plans for all of the major economic topics and issues in the district. He’s never written a plan once; we have no idea what his proposals are. He refuses to share any ideas or vision, or proposals, objectives, or strategy. So if you’re that rudderless for fifteen years, whether I’m an employer or voter, I’m going to put scrutiny on his job performance and it’s pretty bad. So, I think people in the last two years really looked at his job performance and realized he’s not with us. He’s out of alignment on health care; he’s out of alignment on immigration; he’s out of alignment on economic proposals. And in terms of campaign mechanics, last time I didn’t have a strong enough field. Our field is three to four times the size it was last time. And we got out there starting June first [2019]. And what we’re seeing now is amazing, amazing numbers. So, the work has paid off.

Planned Parenthood and NARAL have endorsed you. Do you think abortion is an important issue to voters in the district?

About seventy-one percent of the district is pro-choice, and there are people in the district who are not pro-choice. I think you have to make that bridge between both of them the best that you can. If you are a single-issue voter, and your issue is female health care rights, you may not choose me because that’s the only thing you are concerned with. Ninety percent of the district has multiple issues they are worried about: every day they’re worried about healthcare, their wages, [and] their kids’ education. They’re worried about a lot more than just a woman’s right to choose. It is among the top ten issues for sure, but I wouldn’t say it’s the number one issue.

You have also been endorsed by U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, and U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Do you plan to work with the rising progressive wing of the Democratic Party?

What’s most important to me is that I’m aligned with the district. We have knocked on [doors] and called literally tens of thousands of voters in the last several months, and it is clear that my proposals are in alignment with the district. It is crystal clear, quantitatively and qualitatively, that the electorate in the district is in alignment with our proposals. Whether D.C. is moving one way or another kind of makes no difference to me; my job is to be in alignment with my district. I have endorsements from every perspective in the party, and what that tells me is that I have real solutions that everybody can get their arms around and feel good about. 

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Jim Daley is the Weekly’s politics editor. He last covered public mental health in the city.

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