Editorial: Aquino, Martwick, Villanueva, Preston and Robertson are endorsed for Illinois Senate

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This is the first crop of the Tribune’s endorsements in contested primary races for the Illinois Senate.

The incumbent, Senate Majority Whip Omar Aquino, has two Democratic primary challengers, neither of whom pose a credible threat. Wilson Vazquez says he has been a “proud teamster of Local 700 for almost 25 years while working as a motor truck driver and equipment training specialist.” Wilmer A. Maldonado’s intentions remain a mystery to us.

Aquino, a staunch progressive who was elected in 2016, takes some positions with which we disagree, not the least of which is his support for an elected school board. That said, some of his initiatives — including relieving carjacking victims of having to pay red-light camera tickets or towing fees racked up on a vehicle after it’s stolen, and his support for the expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program — have been helpful to the people of his hardworking district. Aquino has served his constituents. He enjoys the respect of his colleagues and has our endorsement.

State Sen. Omar Aquino at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago on Nov. 3, 2020. (Youngrae Kim / Chicago Tribune)

Incumbent Sen. Robert Martwick, 56, is facing a Democratic primary challenge from Chicago police Detective Erin Elizabeth Jones, who is running as a Democrat despite looking very much like an elephant clothed as a donkey.

That’s a familiar strategy from Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police. Martwick represents a Northwest Side area district filled with hardworking first responders. The police union has targeted him because he was one of the senators who voted for the police and criminal justice reform bill known as the “SAFE-T Act,” 2021 legislation signed by Gov J.B. Pritzker that abolishes cash bail beginning in 2023, reforms police training, certification and use-of-force standards, expands detainee rights and requires body cameras by 2025.

We sympathize with some of the FOP’s objections to aspects of the act. But we’ve long been in support of many of its reforms.

Jones, an 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, told us she was raised in Rogers Park by a single mother, in contrast, she says, with her opponent, “a political elitist.” A dedicated public servant who says she is pro-abortion rights, she has some good ideas that will resonate with centrists and Democrats now considering voting Republican. She told us that crime is the number one issue facing the state. “We have vilified policing,” Jones told us, “we can no longer retain veteran officers or recruit new ones.”

“What good is a full tank of gas if you are carjacked when you are filling up your car?” she asks, rhetorically.

Fair point. But we don’t see her candidacy as reason to kick out Martwick, one of the senate’s most experienced experts on one of the state’s most serious problems: pensions.

Sen. Robert Martwick during a Senate Executive Committee meeting concerning crime and police funding in Springfield on April 7, 2022. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

“My district is full of hardworking, middle-class people,” Martwick told us. He also noted his history of bipartisanship and his support of the economic benefits afforded to first responders. “I represent many wonderful police officers who see society at its worse,” he said. “All they want is to get home to their families at night.”

“I know where I live and who I represent,” Martwick said, noting that he never has supported defunding the police. “These are my friends and neighbors,” he said. Martwick has the Tribune’s endorsement.

Incumbent Sen. Celina Villanueva has a serious Democratic primary challenge in the newly redrawn 12th District from Chicago Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s chief of staff, Javier Yanez.

Yanez, 38, is a smart guy from Pilsen with some strong ideas and an independent streak that will make sense for those who find Villanueva too far to the left. “I’m not going to be tied to the mainstream machine mentality that has stalled out progress,” he told us, arguing that his opponent has precisely those kinds of ties. “I don’t do deals with tainted politicians,” he said. “And nothing can be achieved without first addressing corruption.”

He also argues that he comes with a strong background in constituent service: one of his signature plans, he tells us, involves incentivizing landlords to keep rents stable by offering them property tax deductions and he promotes the expansion of TIF districts, arguing accurately that many small businesses have not enjoyed access to an incentive used too often in a way it was not intended.

Villaneuva, 37, says she is committed to ethics reform. “As a full-time legislator,” she tells us, “I value transparency and being able to make decisions without bias or self-interest — and our constituents deserve that transparency and consistency.” Indeed.

When we asked Villaneuva about the dysfunctional issues at the Department of Children and Family Services, she said: “We have to hold those accountable within the department to ensure the metrics are being met and that no child is improperly sheltered or left to fend for themselves.”

We’re impressed with Yanez and his ideas. And we think he’d be a more moderate Democratic presence in the Senate. Yanez is endorsed.

With incumbent Sen. Jacqueline Collins choosing to run for Bobby Rush’s 1st U.S. Congressional District seat instead of running for reelection, this is an open race. The Democratic primary will feature Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry’s chief of staff, Lamont Raymond Williams, and Willie Preston, who unsuccessfully ran for the 31st Senate District in 2018. These candidates both have endorsements making this an interesting contest in a diverse district that includes many economically deprived neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side.

We’re endorsing Williams, who already has been endorsed by Collins, retiring Secretary of State Jesse White and a batch of unions.

We find him an impressive 33-year-old who likely will fight hard for his struggling district. “People want to see a results-driven candidate,” he told us. Exactly.

When we asked Williams about gun violence, he said that government policy was not the main answer: “It’s not what will the government do, but what will the government do in collaboration with the stakeholders on the ground?”

Williams says he has been reaching out to unions about improving access to the young people from his district. “We have to figure out a way together to get young people training and off the streets,” he said, noting that has spent a lot of time tutoring young Black Chicagoans studying for the state bar exam. He’s a first-time candidate (by contrast with his opponent who has run in many races) but Williams strikes us as having a solid background in public service. “I believe in transparency, accountability and accessibility in government,” he tells us. When he knocks on doors, he says, he finds people are “happy to see a young man who knows exactly why he wants to go to Springfield.”

“People throughout my district are concerned about life and death issues,” Preston told us. “They are concerned about gas prices, inflation, food prices, our inability to reign in inflation. I want to see us do more to support minority businesses.”

“They know me,” Preston said of his district. “My opponent is a product of the folks in power.”

Perhaps, but we think Williams will better serve the 16th District, which needs an effective, can-do legislator. Williams is endorsed.

On the Republican side of the primary of this district in northwest suburban Cook County, Bill Robertson, a Palatine resident and former board member of Township High School District 211, is running against Joshua Alvarado, founder of Illinois Standing Against Tyranny. Alvarado was unresponsive to our inquiries and has thin campaign website that does not go beyond boilerplate positions.

Robertson, who has the backing of the state’s Republican apparatus, says his experience on the school board reveals a bipartisan capacity, and he has clearly said that Joe Biden was elected president and that those who broke the law on Jan. 6 must be held accountable. He has our endorsement in the Republican primary. The winner will face off against incumbent Ann Gillespie, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Join the discussion on Twitter @chitribopinions and on Facebook.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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June 15, 2022 at 07:28AM

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