Much of the attention in next Tuesday's Illinois primary election focuses on the candidates trying to win the party's presidential nomination. But one Chicago community organizer and businessman on the ballot, Harish Ibrahim Patel, hopes to make history in the state.
The Illinois General Assembly’s 40th District on Chicago’s northwest side is the place Paul Sack calls home, even if he doesn't like the way he sees politics working locally.
"Supposedly, we have thousands of politicians who are representing us at the city, the county, the state level and other districts, but really there are only a few guys that are in charge," said Sack.
But a knock on the door to his apartment last year gave him new hope.
"This campaigner told me a little bit about him, and he seemed like he believed in the same things I believed in," he recalled. "And with the state and the mess that it’s in, it seemed like it was the right time for me to get involved with something."
So on March 15, Sack’s top choice for the general assembly is a Muslim American immigrant who has never before held public office.
Patel bills himself as an "independent Democrat," someone who isn’t beholden to the state party.
"My state has not respected or responded to the needs of my community. So in this district, I feel like there is a crisis of democracy," said Patel.
When the India native came to the U.S. in 1999 with his widowed mother, he didn't speak any English. But thanks to public programs, he got an education and a college degree. Now he wants to give back.
"All of this is possible because of the investment the community has made in me.... And now is sort of my time to figure out how to keep those programs so other people coming to this neighborhood, or other people who built this neighborhood, have the same access that I got," Patel said.
Chicago’s 40th is one of the most ethnically diverse in the state. It also is home to three mosques and a large population of Muslim Americans.
The primary is a two-man race between Patel and incumbent Jaime Andrade. Whoever wins is likely to win the general election in November because there is currently no Republican challenger.
If Patel wins, he would make history as the first Muslim American immigrant elected to the Illinois General Assembly. Sack hopes to witness that not just as a voter but also as a new member of Patel's campaign.
"It is great that somebody from another country, somebody who didn’t learn English until he was 14, might be my representative," said Sack.
Winning the election may be the easy part. The General Assembly next year will face many issues, including how to solve the state’s $9 billion annual budget deficit.