“If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu": an interview with Adrienne Irmer

 /  Feb. 28, 2018, 5:24 p.m.


Adrienne Irmer is a candidate for the 25th Illinois House District, which encompasses Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. With both a biology degree from MIT and a Masters in Public Administration from CUNY, Irmer has experience in a variety of disciplines, most recently serving on the Cook County legislative staff. Irmer was recently named a 2018 Chicago Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leader. She discussed her campaign and the issues facing the 25th District with the Gate.

The Gate: Why are you running for the Illinois House?

Adrienne Irmer: I have wanted to earn the opportunity to be a policymaker for almost a decade now. As a South Side native, I have seen what disparity and disinvestment has done to our communities—especially low-income communities—which, in the city, are largely communities of color. I consider such disparity and disinvestment to be acts of war against these communities. And while that might sound harsh, I know this to be true: it has created war zones in these communities.

The wars these communities fight are around addiction, community or gang violence, and hopelessness. Failures in public policy have caused these problems and it will be a matter of progressive, intentional, intersectional, and innovative public policy to fix them. The war zones that faulty public policies have created hurt our children and hurt our families—it has hurt my family. The day I buried my younger cousin, Paul, a victim of gang violence on the South Side, my determination to address the root causes of what hurts our communities was galvanized. I want to fight for solutions through public policy, and since those solutions are mostly state and federal policies, here I am.

Gate: What are the issues that you plan to prioritize if elected?

Irmer: Access to affordable and efficient mass transit is a big deal. I want to work with my state legislative colleagues, Aldermen, and County officials to ensure that our transit authorities do their very best to increase access to mass transit, especially for those that cannot afford the increasing fares. It is critical that residents in the 25th District have an affordable way to get to good jobs in reasonable amounts of time. A recent study showed that low-income Black and Latinx folks spend eighty to ninety minutes more per week in transit to jobs, but on the South East Side more time is spent—we can do better.

Illinois also needs to reinvest in communities that have been ignored for too long. This means fully funding our public schools and investing in our crumbling infrastructure.

This reinvestment also takes the form of environmental protections: protecting our environment is a big issue in the district, especially air and water quality. In the 10th Ward, we had battles that were won concerning manganese and petcoke [pollution], but without proper monitoring of the air quality, it is increasingly difficult to hold these polluters accountable. The state will have to do more to fill in where the EPA won’t be helping us, so we will need to better fund the Illinois EPA and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in order to ensure our air, water, and other natural resources are safe.

And one last thing: due to all of the recent focus on the 25th district because of the Obama Presidential Center and the potential redevelopment of our public golf courses, there will be an increased need for economic development in the areas surrounding these major attractions. Economic development is closely tied to the infrastructure that makes a community look like a place where businesses want to be and a place where banks want to invest in small businesses. Investing in our infrastructure creates thousands of jobs, too.

Gate: Of these, which is your biggest priority? What policies would you like to see on this issue?

Irmer: In order to address all of these issues, Illinois will need new revenue streams. When elected, I would like to immediately organize to help pass two key pieces of legislation: first, a progressive income tax through a binding referendum to allow the change to the Illinois constitution, and second, the legalization of marijuana for adult recreational usage. Both of these will create substantial revenues for the state of Illinois and allow us to start fully funding the programs that desperately need to be funded.

Gate: You’re running as a Democrat for the Illinois General Assembly, a legislature dominated by Democrats. Where do you see common ground to work with Republicans?

Irmer: I believe that Democrats and Republicans have more common ground than most people think; it is all about framing the narrative. Urban, suburban, and rural areas all want safe communities, good public schools, and opportunities for prosperity. Successful legislating is about inclusion, not exclusion, and I have seen Democrats in Illinois work cooperatively across the aisle on criminal justice reform and education funding: it is possible.

Gate: If elected, you would be filling the seat of Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie. As a member of the leadership, she has played a tremendous role in the Illinois House of Representatives. What do you bring to the table that you believe would make you the best candidate to fill the position after Currie?

Irmer: I am a progressive Democrat who has done actual work in the progressive community and for progressive candidates and causes, so I think I am uniquely qualified to follow Leader Currie to continue to build the progressive voice in Springfield. I also have legislative experience and relationships in both the Illinois House and Senate that will be very valuable. I have a background in community organizing that I believe will be an additional value in this seat. In critical times, such as these, we cannot afford to send someone to Springfield who isn't equipped with the very necessary skills and relationships to be productive in their first term.

Gate: For the students reading this article, what advice do you have for those looking to get involved with politics?

Irmer: Hurry up and get involved! Is there an issue you care about deeply? Google it with "Chicago" in the search and find a candidate or an organization doing that work and go volunteer. Bring friends! Is there a service you want to see in your community? Call your Alderman's office and get time to meet with their staff to discuss it and again, bring friends. Attend local school council meetings and town halls hosted by your elected officials. Dig in deep into your civic engagement. If we are not at the table, being heard, then we are on the menu.

Gate: Any last comments?

Irmer: In the Illinois General Assembly there are thirty-seven open seats, most of whom are women leaving Springfield. Right now women make up about 25 percent of the General Assembly. We must get more women in Springfield; we make up 50 percent of this state, after all. What's more is that we have a lot of lawyers in Springfield. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it means we have other perspectives that are missing from the discussions and decision-making that happens. I believe that my scientific background will bring a unique perspective to the table, especially as it relates to discussions around health care, public health, and our natural resources.

Scientific voices are the kind of advocacy we desperately need to address the broad scope of issues facing both Illinois and the 25th District into the future. I hope that my neighbors see my experience, perspective, and credentials as the strongest to advocate on behalf of everything the District needs.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity. Views expressed in this article may not represent those of the Gate. Image licensed under Creative Commons; the original may be found here.

Claire Cappaert

Claire Cappaert is a 4th year from Des Moines, Iowa majoring in Public Policy and Russian & East European Studies. This is her third year as the interviews editor for The Gate. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the lake, drinking coffee, and watching the Chicago Bears.


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