Abdelnasser Rashid made history on Nov. 8. The 33-year-old Democrat from Justice will, in January, become the first Palestinian American to serve in the Illinois General Assembly after he easily defeated 27-year-old Brookfield Republican Matthew Schultz in the race to be the state representative in the 21st District.
Rashid defeated Schultz by a margin of nearly 2-to-1, capturing 65.2 percent of the vote in a district that runs from Cicero to Justice and includes Riverside north of the Burlington Northern Railroad-Santa Fe Railroad tracks and significant portions of southern Brookfield.
He’ll have to share the honor of being the first Muslim member of the Illinois General Assembly with Nabella Syed, an Indian American who defeated Republican incumbent Chris Bos in a state House race in the northern suburbs.
Rashid’s victory was a moment of great pride for him and the wider Palestinian American community in the Chicago area. Rashid held his victory party at the Palestinian American-owned Krave restaurant in Bridgeview, a town that is home to a large mosque and is a center of the Palestinian American community in the southwest suburbs.
“We did it,” said Rashid, opening his five-and-a-half minute victory speech delivered to a jubilant crowd of a couple hundred mostly Palestinian-American supporters. “You did.”
The son of Palestinian immigrants who moved to Chicago 52 years ago, Rashid graduated from Harvard University.
“Their sacrifices gave me the best education a son could hope for and they taught me the importance of giving back, the importance of fighting for those who’ve been left behind, and the importance of never giving up,” Rashid said.
Rashid, who had lost two previous runs for public office before defeating incumbent Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) in the June Democratic primary, embraced his ethnic heritage and refused to take the advice of those who thought his name and religion could hurt him politically.
“I was advised not to use photos of my family, because my wife wears hijab, but for me and for us, a win at the expense of erasure is a loss,” Rashid said. “We never gave up and today we win. We win with the strength of our diversity and our authenticity.”
Rashid is the youngest child of 11 in a closeknit politically conscious family. One of his sisters, Miryam, spent all of election day in front of Riverside Village Hall handing out literature and asking voters, to, as she put it, “Vote for my brother.”
Other siblings also helped out on election day and during the campaign, and Rashid’s win was moment of jubilation and pride for his supporters at the victory party.
“To me it’s a very good sign of progress in our community and in the Brown side of things, if you want to put color codes,” said Ahmad Elwan of Burr Ridge. “And Mr. Rashid is a good man. He’s got a good foundation of ethics, and from good education and I hope and pray that he goes upwards from this point. I hope he doesn’t get spoiled in that environment of politics.”
Elwan said that he hopes Rashid will be become an important symbol and role model for young Palestinian Americans.
“It is important to inspire other young people to see that it is doable, and it is important to get in the room and make a difference and to contribute to the American life,” Elwan said.
Rashid, who was born in and mostly grew up in Chicago, has an extensive background in progressive politics. He began his career working as an organizer for Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.
He then went on to work in Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 2015 Chicago mayoral campaign, and Bernie Sanders’s 2106 presidential campaign. He has also worked for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and former Cook County Clerk David Orr. In his victory speech Tuesday night Rashid described Orr as a mentor.
“When I graduated from Harvard, I had to make a choice: Go work for big corporations or come back home and fight for people who’ve been left behind,” Rashid said. “I chose to come home.”
Not all of those involved in Rashid’s campaign by any stretch are Palestinian. Rashid’s principal strategist and close advisor is former state representative and longtime progressive activist Clem Balanoff, who is Jewish.
Tol Foster, of Riverside, was one of a smattering of non-Palestinian Americans at Rashid’s victory party. Foster, the director of the Native American Support Program at University of Illinois at Chicago and a citizen of the Mvskoke Creek Nation of Oklahoma, said he was drawn to Rashid’s progressive politics and his status as an outsider.
“He has a strong history of progressive politics that goes back to working with Chuy and Bernie Sanders,” Foster said. “And also as a Palestinian American he really cares about people who are left out of our society. That really resonates with me.”
Schultz did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.
Dems breeze past GOP in other local races
In other local races, Democrat Mike Porfirio easily defeated Republican Thomas “Mac” McGill, wining 65.3 percent of the vote, in the race to succeed retiring State Sen. Steve Landek (D-Bridgeview).
Incumbent Cook County Commissioner Frank Aguilar (D-Cicero) clobbered Brookfield Republican Kimberly Jagielski, winning 67.2 9 percent of the vote in 16th District.
Meanwhile, incumbent Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough (D- Maywood) clobbered Riverside Republican Tony Peraica, winning just over 70 percent of the vote to just 27.4 percent for Peraica to remain in the clerk’s post.
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November 9, 2022 at 01:40PM