DePaul alum makes run for contested state rep. seat


Courtesy of Jimmy Garfield

DePaul alumnus Jimmy Garfield is running to represent Chicago’s 12th district, which includes Uptown, Lakeview, the Gold Coast, Buena Park and Lincoln Park – including Boystown, Chicago’s LGBTQ neighborhood.

When he’s not waking up at 6 a.m. to canvas at bus stops for the 12th district state representative seat, DePaul alumnus Jimmy Garfield can be found playing six-hour, occasionally multiple-weekend-long board games with his friends (when he can muster up free time).

“Free time? What is free time?” Garfield said after asked what he did outside of his job as an attorney or running for office.

Garfield and his boyfriend Javier Hernandez sat down with The DePaulia on a snowy February morning after hours of walking around the 12th district handing out information to residents waiting for the bus.

This is a normal morning routine for the duo. In a district where many residents live in condominiums, where door-knocking is prohibited, this is necessary. That specific day wasn’t too bad, they said, despite several inches of snow.

“It’s chilly, and it was very wet. But, it’s not bone-freezing,” Hernandez said, remembering a morning where he couldn’t feel his hands or toes. “[Garfield] can actually go and shake people’s hands.”

This type of advocacy is critical in a race as contested as the 12th district, the district made up by a sweeping lakefront area through Uptown, Lakeview, the Gold Coast, Buena Park and Lincoln Park – including Boystown, Chicago’s LGBTQ neighborhood.

As previously reported by The DePaulia, the 12th district representative seat is vacant after being held for 24 years by Sara Feigenholtz, who was recently appointed a state senator seat after John Cullerton retired midterm.

Lightfoot-backed real estate agent Jonathan “Yoni” Pizer has held the seat since mid-February, acting as an interim representative appointed by committeeman vote in the event of a vacancy.

Garfield, alongside other candidates like Pritzker-backed deputy chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Margaret Croke, have opposed this appointment process on the grounds of it being undemocratic.

Garfield’s understanding of politics  developed early on in his life. His father, Robert Garfield, was a history professor at DePaul before retiring this past June.

“History and politics are so wildly intertwined with each other,” he said. “It’s like ‘Hey, I want to try X policy. Wait, let’s check history. That has never worked before. Great, maybe it won’t work again.’”

Garfield grew up in Evanston and graduated from DePaul in 2008, majoring in communication studies with a focus in radio, television and film. He took four years off to do field work — knocking on doors and shaking hands for progressive campaigns like the former Illinois senator Daniel Biss in 2008, former 22nd Ward Alderman Rick Muñoz in 2007 and former 45th Ward Alderman John Arena in 2010, before returning to DePaul to receive a law degree.

Garfield decided to run in late November, while he was in Hawaii (no sightseeing, just interviewing case witnesses), giving himself a little over a week to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.

“I said, you know what, I’ve had these ideas. I have solutions to these issues,” he said. “I keep complaining about it and having friends tell me to stop complaining and do something about it, so I threw myself in the ring.”

This plays into Garfield’s larger push for government reform, central to his platform. This, he says, must be achieved in order to get anything done.

“We want to expand green energy,” he said. “We want to expand healthcare. We want to expand, you know, senior services. But it’ll be hard to do that…until we have campaign finance reform to stop other people or other fellow politicians from buying elections.”

This comes in tandem with term limits. Specifically, he’s the only candidate who has publicly said he won’t vote for powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who held the position since 1983.

“He’s the spider at the center of this web,” Garfield said. “He’s been untouched for so long because he controls the money.”

Other 12th district candidates, like Croke and Pizer, have both said, while they think Madigan has been in power for too long, they will likely still vote for him as opposed to voting for a Republican.

“I would really like to see a new generation of leadership, which is why I support leadership term limits,” said Croke. “When it comes to voting for the speaker, however, you’re going to have a Republican and Democrat and I can’t vote for someone who’s anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ or anti-labor. I won’t do it.”

Eli Stone, communication director for the Pizer campaign, echoed those sentiments saying that while Pizer would consider voting for a different candidate, he wouldn’t vote for a Republican, and Madigan would likely be the other option.

Garfield feels this mindset perpetuates corruption.

“You have to stand up to it and say, ‘No, there’s a limit for how far we’ll go,’” he said. “Sure, I’m going to have less money flowing in from prospective donors. But I have to be able to look someone in the eyes and tell them what I believe. I have to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘this is what I believe in.’”

Garfield also has comprehensive and detailed policy plans for bail reform, tax reform, campaign finance reform and expanding access to education. His focus is attacking root causes – forgoing what he sees as Band-aid policy for larger issues.

Like gun control, for example. Because guns in Chicago often come  from bordering states, he said banning guns won’t accomplish much. He proposes more long term investments.

“Let’s fund afterschool programs that kids have somewhere to go to rather than be out on the corner with no parental supervision, no adult supervision and being recruited by gangs,” he said, pointing to statistics that show that afterschool programs, music programs and theater programs can help to reduce violence in the long run.

Alongside this is a plan for opening up conversation with constituents. He feels state representatives don’t get a lot of face to face feedback from their districts and imagines an app like Google Rewards to communicate with constituents.

“I think the part we have to do is get people to say, ‘Yeah, my voice does matter. Yes, I can be engaged. Yes we are going to have a new person every so often,’” he said.

Another difficulty he’s found since he announced his campaign has been general knowledge that there is an election.

“The number of times I’ve been asked ‘Wait, we have an election coming up?’” he said. “I wish I had $1 for every time, I could fund 10 campaigns.”

The final stretch before the primary on March 17 is critical. The seat has been held by Feigenholtz for so long that residents aren’t used to having someone running, he said. Until then, he hopes his campaign sparks any sort of movement towards reform

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made recently in Illinois. But I’m just so tired of our state nationwide being the butt of jokes” he said. “We just have to get the voters and be informed as to our positions and our policies. Not have armies of personnel and money dumped in here because the message is lost.”

As of publication, both Pizer and Croke’s campaigns have over $200,000 of cash on hand, largely from big donors like Lightfoot, Pritzker and 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, according to Illinois Sunshine, compared to Garfield’s $27,000.

“People have lost faith because of the corruption,” he said, “because of how long people are in office people have lost faith that their vote, their voice matters.”