The Illinois primary elections are set for March 18, and the race for Illinois’ 39th district state representative seat will be a race to watch.
The 39th district covers parts of the Logan Square and Belmont Cragin neighborhoods, and independent democrat Will Guzzardi (@WillGuzzardi) announced a challenge, for the second time, against Representative Toni Berrios (@RepBerrios), who has held the seat since 2003. Berrios was elected in 2002 and is the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the Illinois house. Prior to running for state representative, she served as secretary for the Young Democrats of Cook County and volunteered with Alderman Ray Suarez’s office.
Berrios’ father, Joe Berrios, serves as Cook County Assessor and is a Democratic Party Chairman.
Guzzardi and Progressive Politics
While covering Chicago news for the Huffington Post, the North Carolina native says he observed community organizations in the city unable to carry out their work because the state was unable to pay its bills.
Guzzardi says other successful progressive campaigns got him believing it was possible for a grassroots progressive campaign to take on the Chicago “political machine” and the apparent disconnect between voters and lawmakers.
In 2012, Guzzardi challenged Berrios for her seat, but lost by a margin of 125 votes.
A Race the Second Time Around
Guzzardi is challenging Berrios again. This time, he says he has a larger volunteer base, better name recognition and a strong group of supporters who remember the last election.
“I think we have proven that this is a winnable race with the results of last election, and now we just have to win it,” says Guzzardi, whose campaign recently conducted a district-wide poll to learn toward which candidate voters currently lean.
The 12-minute phone survey polled 400 voters in the district. It first asked if the individual planned on voting either for Berrios or Guzzardi. Initial responses showed Guzzardi winning by a small percentage, with many voters unsure, according to Guzzardi.
Then, the survey simulated the effects of a complete campaign season by listing positive and critical statements about both candidates. Afterward, the survey asked how the individual would vote, upon hearing statements about each candidate, if the election were today. Guzzardi said the survey showed his campaign gaining ground, mostly from previously undecided voters.
“So what that really tells us clearly is that if voters hear both sides in this election, if they hear our story, they hear the things that we’re trying to fight for and if they hear my opponent’s side as well, they tend to prefer ours by a wide margin,” Guzzardi says. “So we will win this race as long as we can get our message out to every voter in this district.”
Northside Democracy for America, Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward) and John Arena (45th Ward) have endorsed Guzzardi.
“I think Will will be an independent, thoughtful leader for our community in Springfield,” Waguespack says. “Illinois and our city require new people in elected office who will take a different approach to the problems facing taxpayers and citizens.”
Berrios’ Priority: Be a Strong Voice for Residents
While Guzzardi is focusing on a grassroots campaign, Berrios says she believes she has a strong record as state representative of Illinois’ 39th district and is faithful in her campaign.
“We live in a democracy. People are allowed to run for office,” she says. “My record speaks for itself. I represent my district to the fullest extent and will continue to walk door-to-door to listen to people’s concerns and ideas for new legislation.”
Berrios currently holds the endorsement of the Democratic Party in the 39th district, and she says she hopes to continue working to gain support of other local elected officials. Aldermen Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward), Ray Suarez (31st Ward) and Timothy Cullerton (38th Ward) have also endorsed Berrios.
“My priority has always been to be a strong voice for the people I represent and fight for their needs and concerns,” says Berrios in an email interview. “From going door-to-door and listening to my constituents, I know that the issues important to the community are education, keeping our families safe and senior issues.”
Logan Square resident Jennifer Hyman supports Berrios. Hyman says she sees no reason she shouldn’t be re-elected.
“I don’t know anything about Guzzardi. I’ve never met him. I see Toni out and about, and she says ‘hi.’ We talk,” Hyman says. “At this time, I can say I would vote for her again because I don’t know a compelling reason why I shouldn’t.”