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Amiwala encounters reality of politics as primary nears

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Bushra Amiwala is getting down in the political muck that is Chicago politics ahead of the Cook County Board of Commissioners primary. Since she announced her campaign in June, she’s encountered fiery opposition and establishment roadblocks.

But the 20-year-old DePaul student has also encountered the good in politics. She’s been treated with respect by her primary opponent, incumbent commissioner Larry Suffredin, who called her “an honorable opponent.”

“She’s been raising issues, she’s been visible throughout the district. I think she’s a good candidate,” Suffredin said.

She was even approached by members of gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker’s campaign who were offering her team help with phone banking and door-to-door canvassing. But because most of her supporters favor the more progressive Daniel Biss for governor, she turned the offer down. But Biss told her earlier in the race that Suffredin is a friend of his, so there wouldn’t be any help there (Suffredin has donated $7,250 to the Biss campaign, according to Illinois Sunshine).

She did get a much-needed win when she got her name to appear first on the ballot, which she said could provide as much as a 10 percent boost in votes just by being the first choice. Traditionally, the candidate who turns in their filing signatures first also gets the top spot, but both her and Suffredin both got to the county clerk’s office at the same time, so the top spot came down whose name got pulled out of a hat.

Amiwala and Suffredin both got thrown a curveball, which came in the form of a late-announcing firebrand of a candidate named Daniel Foster. When all three candidates were at the Democratic Party of Evanston’s office for an endorsement meeting, Foster threw the first punches in an otherwise clean campaign.

“It caught me off guard because it was the first time anyone has ever attacked me in this race,” Amiwala said. “Everyone always says, ‘Oh, politics is so dirty,’ and I’m seeing it now right here because of this random third candidate.”

Then, the day after her fundraiser on Feb. 1, Foster sent out a press release accusing her of failing to file a critical fundraising form where candidates disclose if they have accepted donations of over $1,000 – which could result in a $25,000 fine. Foster was right though; she didn’t file the form – because no one has ever donated $1,000 to her.

Amiwala was at the Women’s March encouraging voters to make their voices heard by voting in local elections.
Photo courtesy of Bushra Amiwala

Foster did not return multiple requests for comment.

“Basically, his accusation was, ‘There is no way that Bushra could have raised all this money without filing (the form),’” she said.

Amiwala expressed frustration with the hypocrisy she has encountered in Chicago politics, especially with what she’s experienced from more powerful political players.

“(Cook County board president) Toni Preckwinkle specifically referenced (the Time cover) at the Women’s March, and said, ‘We have to vote for our women candidates,’” Amiwala said. “But she is actively supporting (Suffredin). All these people want to encourage women to run, but then they don’t support them.”

She said she experienced a similar hypocrisy in Biss. Biss, whose whole gubernatorial campaign has been built around the fact that his campaign, unlike his opponents, has been funded by small donations and not by his own wealth. Almost a third of Suffredin’s expenses are covered by loans he made to his campaign, according to the most recent campaign finance information available on Illinois Sunshine.

The campaign has forced her to make some sacrifices. She’s running a campaign with volunteers and fundraisers to coordinate on top of being a full-time student, on top of having four jobs. As the campaign nears the primary election, which could be its end if Suffredin wins, she was running out of hours in the day. So, she quit one of her jobs.

“I was putting 25 hours in a week, on top of campaigning,” Amiwala said. “I’m not going to let 11 months of work go to waste because I didn’t go all in with 45 days left before the primary.”

She was feeling nervous about the primary election up until her fundraising dinner last week, which had a turnout of close to 400 people.

“When I saw everyone there I thought, ‘Wow, these are the real people I’d be serving,’” Amiwala said. “These are the teachers, small business owners and community organizers who live in my district and believe in me.”

Evanston resident and voter Sheila Jackson said she’s still going with Suffredin even though she thinks that Amiwala ran an impressive campaign.

“(Suffredin) has been in office for 20 years, he just knows how (county business) is done,” Jackson said. “People are familiar with him, and I think he does a good job. But I think that (Amiwala) would also do a good job, she’s just a little too young.”

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Amiwala encounters reality of politics as primary nears