Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Chicago Free Press Editorial - A proud choice

Chicago Free Press Editorial - A proud choice
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press
September 6, 2006.

When state Rep. Larry McKeon (D), the state’s only openly gay elected representative in Springfield, announced he would not seek reelection in November, it fell to the 13th legislative district’s Democratic committeemen to choose a replacement. Committeemen Patrick O’Connor, Gene Schulter, Mike Volini and Tom Sharpe could have made that decision a backroom affair guided by their personal political interests rather than the best interests of the voters. That’s the way it’s usually done in Illinois.

Instead, they opened up the process and invited prospective candidates to present their qualifications before a public forum, so that everyone would have a fair hearing and the community would have the chance to provide input. Based on what they saw and heard, the committeemen selected openly gay 48th Ward aldermanic chief of staff Greg Harris to run unopposed on the November ballot.

fair and as democratic as possible under the circumstances. Best of all, they resulted in an excellent choice. The people of the 13th district, which includes parts of Andersonville, Uptown, Ravenswood, Lincoln Sqaure, Albany Park and Edgewater, owe their committeemen a thank you.

So do the GLBT citizens of Illinois. The committeemen took to heart arguments by Art Johnston and Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois that it was vital for the legislative seat to remain occupied by a gay or lesbian representative. With the selection of Harris, GLBT people throughout the state will benefit from having one of Chicago’s most seasoned, committed and level-headed gay leaders watching over their interests in the General Assembly.

Like McKeon, Harris is also living with HIV and promises to be a stalwart leader in maintaining sensible AIDS policies and programs to assist people with HIV/AIDS. In addition, Harris is committed to addressing the serious gaps in the provision of healthcare to the people of Illinois. An open and active member of the recovery community, Harris has insights into the problems of alcoholism and addiction and plans to make that neglected but important issue a legislative priority.

Overall, Harris’ resume for the job is incomparable. Before entering public life, he had an extensive background in business, including 10 years in senior management for one of the nation’s largest retail trade associations. Far too few political leaders in Illinois have the in-depth understanding Harris possesses of economic development and the effects of regulation, tax policy and legislation on the business community.

For more than a decade, Harris has coordinated constituent services for residents of the 48th Ward. He knows the issues on the minds of area residents and he knows how to make government work for them. He already has relationships with the 13th district’s political leaders, block clubs, community groups, chambers of commerce and non-profit agencies. When he says he’ll “hit the ground running” as a state representative, he has the experience to back up that promise.

Harris is an ethical and uncommonly straight-forward man—a consensus builder who prides himself on his ability to bring together people of differing viewpoints to work out solutions. He’s managed to steer clear of cliques and factions, always putting principles above personalities. As a result, he’s won the respect and support of people community-wide.

But that’s not to say Harris doesn’t understand the political game. After more than a decade at City Hall, he has the political savvy and circumspection that the GLBT community badly needs in the ranks of its leadership.

We look forward to great things from this hardworking and talented public servant. The committeemen of the 13th district have made a choice that will make them proud.


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