Little known outside his Northwest Side ward and with little money in his campaign fund, Ald. Ameya Pawar on Tuesday mounted a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018 with a low-key announcement.
Pawar, 36, in his second term representing the 47th Ward, said he's going to run on a progressive platform that includes enacting a graduated income tax or imposing a higher income tax on millionaires, in large part to increase state revenue and expand education funding without gutting other social programs.
In speaking to the Tribune, Pawar indicated his plan was to cater to progressives in the fallout of the November election results, which he said showed a deep split among Democrats nationwide between the party's liberal and establishment wings.
At the same time, Pawar acknowledged he lacks the self-funding capability that some Democrats are seeking in a candidate to take on first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy former equity investor. Rauner pumped $50 million of his own money into his campaign fund Dec. 20 as a warning to prospective challengers.
"I'm happy that there are a lot of Democrats looking at running or floating their names," Pawar said, citing the potential candidacies of wealthy businessmen J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy.
"I think J.B. and Chris are good people. I have nothing against any of my fellow Democrats. But I do believe there has to be a progressive voice and a progressive platform, and I'm going to go out there and talk about a progressive vision for Illinois," he said.
But with a lack of major funding, Pawar faces a major test in trying to increase his name recognition statewide as he attempts to largely conduct a retail-based campaign.
"I'm going to go out and raise money, but I don't run in the circles where you can take in huge checks," Pawar said. "I know that. That's OK. But I look at Bruce Rauner's $50 million contribution to himself, and people use that to tell me that what I'm trying to do is ridiculous. But writing yourself a $50 million check when you have no record — in fact a destructive record — is nothing to be proud of."
Pawar said he has $50,000 in his campaign fund, money that mostly came from small donations.
"I'll go out and raise money and try to get around the state and go talk to as many people as I can and talk about a progressive vision," Pawar said. "And let's see what happens. I can't compete with big money. I can't. I know that. But like 99.9 percent of people in this state, I'm not wealthy, I can't self-fund and I don't run in elite circles. Does that mean I shouldn't run?"
Even though he's not well-known or well-funded, the state Republican Party — heavily funded by Rauner — launched an attack on Pawar within hours of his announcement, noting his support for higher taxes and using its well-established model of trying to link him to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, the party's longtime leader.
"Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar is the very definition of an out-of-touch, tax-hiking politician just like Mike Madigan," state GOP spokesman Steven Yaffe said in a written statement. "While job-crushing tax increases without reform has caused an exodus from Illinois, Pawar doubled down on the Madigan Chicago agenda, supporting higher income taxes (and) higher property taxes."
Also eyeing a potential bid for governor is Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, of Moline, though as she began her third term Tuesday she is serving in a House minority leadership post in the new Congress.
Pawar tweeted Tuesday morning his intention to run. "With the blessing of my wife and best friend, I'm in. I'm running for Governor," he wrote. He has retained the services of 47th Ward resident Sam Hobert as his campaign manager.