The Statehouse dome Credit: Andrew Adams via Unsplash

This year’s primary election takes place during a legislative session filled with bills on a variety of issues ranging from allowing mobile driver’s licenses to overhauling the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education. Governor J.B. Pritzker seeks to pass his sixth budget in office, including increased education funding and state funding for newly arrived migrants.

Incumbents running unopposed in the March 19 primary are Aaron M. Ortiz (1st), Curtis J. Tarver II (25th), Kam Buckner (26th), Marcus C. Evans, Jr. (33rd), and Nicholas K. Smith (34th) Here are the contested races in South Side districts: 

5th District: du Buclet vs. Smith

Kimberly du Buclet has less than a year’s worth of experience representing Illinois’ General Assembly’s 5th District, which includes the Loop and South Shore. She was appointed in May 2023 to replace Lamont Robinson following his election to City Council in the 4th Ward. Du Buclet’s background includes a stint as state Representative for Illinois’ 26th District from 2011 to 2013. Most recently, she served as vice president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District from 2018 to 2023. Du Buclet emphasized her work on Senate Bill 3349, a 2012 piece of sentencing reform that reduced the required minimum length of supervised release, or parole, for certain felonies. She has introduced legislation in the General Assembly to create accountability for corporate emissions and introduced a state holiday honoring Emmett Till.

Andre Smith has run four times for 20th Ward Alderman. Smith’s “We the people FIRST” campaign for the 5th District is notably tough on crime and outspokenly anti-Brandon Johnson. “The mayor allowed the illegal migrants to invade our city, to invade Chicago,” Smith said on Fox News in January. A former campaign worker for Paul Vallas’s mayoral bid, Smith also appeared on Fox and Friends in a Naperville diner to bash the new mayor the morning of Johnson’s inauguration. He wants a referendum on Chicago’s Sanctuary City status and limiting funding for migrants. The Tribune sympathized with Smith’s frustrations, but did not view his approach towards migrants as practical or humanitarian, and endorsed du Buclet instead.

6th District: Harper vs. Williams

Sonya Harper has served nearly a decade in the General Assembly. The 6th District includes Bridgeport, Englewood and McKinley Park. Harper, the youngest Joint Caucus Chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and the first Black Chair of the Agricultural Committee, has contributed to the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, created the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus and served in a host of advisory roles. The Tribune endorsed Harper for reelection.

Joseph Williams, who was elected last year to the Englewood (7th) Police District Council is challenging Harper. A father of six, Williams founded the Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club, a nonprofit focused on cultivating social-emotional learning in Chicago youth. He has worked with CeaseFire, now known as Cure Violence, and in 2023 he was awarded The Destiny Foundation’s Leadership Excellence Award for his community engagement. Williams told Block Club that, if elected, he would focus on three points: “Affordable health care, youth empowerment and support for working families that would include child care assistance and wraparound services for parents looking to prepare for careers.” Specifically, Williams seeks to reopen shuttered 6th District mental health clinics, fund senior state health insurance programs and increase youth and returning citizen job opportunities. 

22nd District: Guerrero-Cuellar vs. Hernandez

Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar has served the 22nd District since 2021, representing much of the city’s Southwest Side including Archer Heights, Garfield Ridge and West Lawn. Filling the seat once held by indicted former Democratic Leader Michael Madigan, Guerrero-Cuellar holds many House committee positions including Police and Fire, Health Care Availability and Access, and multiple transportation committees. In its endorsement of her campaign, the Tribune described Guerrero-Cuellar as a moderate who’s supportive of reinstating the Invest in Kids tax credits and favors a fully elected Chicago Board of Education. She also backs an increased police presence in her district.

Joshua Hernandez and John Topps, both Garfield Ridge natives, are challenging Guerrero-Cuellar. Hernandez seeks to increase police presence, attract more businesses to the area and end Illnois’ status as a sanctuary state. Few specifics are provided for any of these points. John Topps’ campaign Facebook page describes his more than six years of service with the Chicago Park District, CTA, and Streets and Sanitation.

23rd District: Gonzalez vs. Mercado

Edgar Gonzalez, Jr. has represented the 23rd District since 2020, when he was appointed to replace Celina Villanueva and make history by becoming the youngest Illinois state Representative at twenty-three years old. The Harvard-educated Chicago native represents North and South Lawndale, Brighton Park, and the suburb of Cicero. Gonzales sits on multiple committees including Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, and IT Committee; Ethics & Elections; and Housing. The Tribune endorsed Gonzalez.

Joseph Mercado is challenging Gonzalez and, at twenty-two, seeks to also take his title as the youngest Illinois state Representative. Though young, this is not Mercado’s first rodeo having run for 12th Ward Alderperson before being removed from the ballot for filing the wrong forms as a candidate. In conversations with both the Sun-Times and Tribune, Mercado cited violence prevention as his number-one focus. A blank page dedicated to issues on his campaign website provides no specifics to his “Born to Lead. Ready to Serve!” platform. 

24th District: Mah vs. Ng

Theresa Mah has served the 24th District since last year’s redistricting created it. The 24th District represents Chinatown, Pilsen and McKinley Park. Previously she represented the 2nd District since 2017, succeeding Edward Acevedo. The first Asian-American elected to the Illinois General Assembly, Mah co-chairs the House’s Progressive Caucus.

Lai Ching Ng is a Cook County Board of Review analyst challenging Mah. A resident of the area since 1989, she spoke with the Sun-Times about her dedication to the community, which she said she has shown by organizing job fairs and promoting Chinese businesses and development in Chinatown. Ng seeks to focus on addressing “skyrocketing” property taxes, public safety and “common-sense solutions” in response to newly arrived migrants in the city. The Tribune criticized Ng’s push to repeal the SAFE-T Act which ended cash bail, and endorsed Mah.

27th District: Slaughter vs. Robinson

Justin Slaughter’s South Side district includes Auburn Gresham, Morgan Park, and Roseland, as well as many south suburbs. In office since 2017, he has led criminal justice reform through introducing legislation that gives inmates job skills, being a lead sponsor of the SAFE-T Act, and this legislative session introduced a bill to minimize minor offenses officers can stop motorists for, such as expired plates and tinted windows. Slaughter leads many committees, chiefly as  chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, and also chairing the Criminal Administration and Enforcement Subcommittee, Juvenile Justice and System-Involved Youth Subcommittee and Sentencing, and Penalties and Criminal Procedure Subcommittee.

Dr. Tawana Robinson is challenging Slaughter in the primary. A CPS special education teacher, Robinson leans on her outsider perspective. “I’m the better candidate because I have no connection to the corrupt business as usual attitude that earmarks the reign of the former Speaker Madigan, that current elected officials in Springfield still ascribe to,” Robinson told the Sun-Times. Beyond teaching, Robinson is the CEO of non-profit “It Takes a Village” dedicated to alternative education access and employment opportunities in the 27th District. Her website includes gun violence prevention, ensuring TIF funds are invested in the area, and providing resources to seniors including property tax freezes and homeowner exemptions. The Tribune described her platform as “skimpy,” and endorsed Slaughter.

28th District: Rita vs. Walker Thomas

Robert “Bob” Rita has represented the 28th District since 2003, succeeding Tom Dart in serving the area that includes Chicago’s 9th and 34th Wards. A member of several House committees, Rita chairs the Executive Committee and the Sales, Amusements, and Other Taxes Subcommittee. Development within the district, education and healthcare have been some of Rita’s top priorities. Rita’s lengthy tenure has not been without controversy. He served as a witness during the highly-publicized trials of Michael Madigan and his aide Tim Mapes. Last fall, Rita was indicted on felony intimidation charges following accusations of assaulting Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady.

Paris Walker-Thomas is challenging Rita as a write-in candidate. Per her Ballotpedia profile, which she shared on her social media, the Blue Island resident has experience as a paralegal, sales marketing manager, and internet manager. There is no visible platform for her campaign.

29th District: Jones vs. Gloria White

Thaddeus Jones is both state Representative for Illinois’ 29th District and mayor of Calumet City. Representing an area that includes parts of Chicago, Dolton, Glenwood, Crete, and Calumet City, Jones has served since 2011 and became mayor of Calumet City in 2021 following a controversial election. As a representative, Jones chairs the Insurance Committee and the Special Issues Subcommittee. In 2022, the Tribune reported federal investigators were looking into tax violations involving Jones’ campaign funds.

Gloria White is a financial advisor and retired FedEx payroll specialist. She is involved in Calumet City as a trustee for Thornton Fractional Schools and secretary at the Southland Northeast Chamber of Commerce. She has spoken out on residents in the district fearing Jones, with the Tribune reporting that White said, “We have to come together to say enough of this foolishness.” White’s campaign website describes a platform that includes defending women’s rights, combating gun violence and prioritizing youth and education. The Tribune endorsed White to unseat Jones, writing, “It’s past time for a change for this district.”

31st District: Flowers vs. Crawford

Mary E. Flowers is the longest-serving Black legislator in Illinois, representing parts of Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park, and Oak Lawn since 1985. The Mississippi native is currently in her 19th term in the General Assembly, and served as House Deputy Majority Leader last year. She was removed from this position in May 2023 for allegedly using a slur to describe a colleague. Currently, Flowers has no committee assignments, but she has served on a multitude of committees in the past, including chairing the Health Care Availability and Accessibility Committee. Healthcare and child welfare have been a primary legislative focus for Flowers throughout her career.

Michael Crawford is challenging Flowers to offer “a fresh perspective” to the seat. Campus dean at The Chicago School with a PhD in higher education, Crawford’s campaign website promotes a platform founded upon education, healthcare access, public safety, and small business development. House Speaker Emanuel Welch has backed Crawford substantially, using private-sector unions to contribute to his campaign. The Tribune refrained from endorsing anyone in this race.

32nd District: Nichols vs. Davis

Cyril Nichols has represented the 32nd District since 2021, serving an area including New Auburn, Burbank, and Hickory Hills. He serves as a member of the Elementary and Secondary Education: Administration, Licensing & Charter Schools Committee. According to the State Board of Elections, Nichols withdrew from the race on February 20. The Illinoize, a state politics digital news outlet and podcast, reported on February 18 that Nichols withdrew after House Speaker Welch placed substantial campaign support behind challenger Lisa Davis. Nichols could not be reached for comment.  

Lisa Davis is a former Cook County Public Defender. In addition to Welch, she has has been endorsed by Former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Alderperson Derrick Curtis (18th Ward).

35th District: Gill vs. Dewar

Mary Gill has served the 35th District for almost a year, after being appointed on March 28, 2023 to replace  Frances Ann Hurley. Prior to this, she was the executive director of the Mount Greenwood Community and Business Association. She has introduced legislation regarding healthcare, technology, and firearm ownership. The Tribune describes Gil as having “represented law enforcement’s interests in Springfield” by acts such as introducing legislation for school councils to place officers in local schools. The Tribune endorsed Gill.

David Dewar is a financial advisor challenging Gill. Notably, he has called to file legislation to end Illinois’ status as a sanctuary state and restore cash bail, thereby reversing the SAFE-T Act.

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Michael Liptrot is a staff writer for South Side Weekly and the Hyde Park Herald.

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