Leading up to the March 17 Primary, The Maroon has put together a series of explainers and candidate guides to help Hyde Park voters make informed choices. The rest of the guides can be accessed here.
Two candidates are hoping to be tapped by Democratic voters to represent the party in the 2020 general election in November. No candidate is running in the Republican primary for this race, so the winner of this primary will be the next Illinois state senator for the 13th District.
The 13th District of the Illinois State Senate covers all of Hyde Park and stretches across most of Chicago’s lake coast, from the Gold Coast neighborhood on the North Side to the Indiana border. The seat, previously occupied by former U.S. president Barack Obama, became a point of contention when the 13th Democratic Legislative District Committee appointed State Senator Robert Peters at the beginning of last year as the replacement for Kwame Raoul, who was elected Illinois attorney general. Due to requirements in Illinois law, the vacant seat was required to be filled by appointment even though some residents called for a special election to fill the seat. Incumbent Peters is now running against challenger Ken Thomas for the seat.
Recently Peters and Thomas participated in a candidates forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Chicago. Both candidates discussed specific policy positions and fielded questions from audience members.
Peters was appointed to his seat at the start of 2019 after working most recently as a political organizer at Reclaim Chicago, a progressive political advocacy firm. The Hyde Park native is running for the 13th District for the first time after a year in the legislature.
During his time in Springfield last year, Peters cosponsored 13 successful bills that went into effect earlier this year. These bills included legislation preventing the Department of Corrections from suing recently released inmates for the cost of their incarceration, a process known as “pay-to-stay,” and a bill that allows minors at least 12 years of age to receive preventative treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent.
In his campaign, Peters is focused on passing a bill to end the cash bail system. He also wants to ban for-profit detention centers and reduce mass incarceration in the state of Illinois. He supports a $15 per hour minimum wage and elected school boards. He is currently a cosponsor of the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act, an energy bill that would greatly expand clean energy throughout the state, and says he wants to “protect our people and our planet.”
Thomas is a lawyer by trade who worked as an associate in litigation and corporate restructuring for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates. Outside of his work, he has volunteered for the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, a group that advocates for tenant rights in court, and has served as a board member for Chicago Survivors, an organization that aids families of gun violence victims, and he was a member of Lawyers for Choice, an organization that advocates supporting women’s right to choose.
As a self-described political outsider, Thomas is focused on rooting out what he sees as corruption in Illinois politics. Thomas has called into question the ethics of Peters’s appointment last year, calling it a “backroom deal” and stating on his campaign website that “questions still exist as to whether the incumbent met the legal requirements to be appointed.” He is also focused on housing justice, also saying on his campaign website that he plans to create legislation that advocates for the rights of tenants in eviction court rooms and increasing affordable housing options. Thomas is also focused on criminal justice reform, advocating for the end of the cash bail system, and pledging to fight against for-profit prisons.