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Guzzardi ’09 wins Chicago primary over incumbent

With no Republican candidate in race, Guzzardi expected to win General Assembly seat

Will Guzzardi ’09 paved the way to becoming one of the youngest Brown alums in elected office with his victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. As he faces no Republican opponent in the November general election, Guzzardi has all but assured his entrance to the legislature by securing his party’s nomination.

Guzzardi, a former Herald opinions columnist, defeated six-term incumbent Rep. Maria “Toni” Berrios, District 39, garnering the support of about 60 percent of the electorate. The primary’s result, some analysts have suggested, represents a defeat for Chicago’s political establishment.

Guzzardi said he moved to Chicago to work for the Huffington Post after graduating from the University with a degree in comparative literature. In 2012, he waged an unsuccessful primary battle against Berrios, losing by 125 votes. Berrios, the daughter of the chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, had the backing of much of her party’s fundraising and organizational apparatus.

A 26-year-old North Carolina native, Guzzardi spent several years promoting progressive causes in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, said Erica Sagrans ’05, his campaign manager. Working as a community organizer, the candidate fought a school closure and advocated for a ballot measure that would have established an elected school board, Sagrans added.

Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote in an email to The Herald that Guzzardi’s victory is “one of the bright spots for progressive politics in Illinois.”

Though Illinois continues to feature conflict between entrenched “machine” politicians and reformers, Guzzardi “won with a participatory grassroots campaign (that) will be an example for other young, new, progressive candidates,” Simpson wrote.

“The machine has a chink in its armor now,” Guzzardi told The Herald, adding that grassroots campaigns like his connect people to government in a way that has been missing in urban life since the days of mass political patronage and machine campaigning.

“We’re really good at hitting doors and talking to people,” he said. “And no one else is out there doing that right now.”

A heavy focus on online organizing and data analysis — implemented by a staff that included several Obama campaign veterans — separated Guzzardi’s approach from those used in typical Chicago races, Sagrans said.

“We showed that a strong grassroots operation with passionate supporters really can rise up against machine candidates,” she added.

Guzzardi’s writings from his time at Brown emerged as a contested issue in the race.

Voters received mail pieces suggesting Guzzardi would favor more lenient registration requirements for sexual predators, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The mailings were produced by the Democratic Majority, a political fund run by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a supporter of Berrios. Guzzardi said the charges were false and based on a mischaracterization of a Herald opinions piece he wrote in 2006 in which he criticized the stigmatization of former inmates.

In his victory speech Tuesday, he credited the win to a wave of support from within the district.

“The result we saw here tonight is the result of a movement,” he told supporters, the blog Progress Illinois reported.  “A movement that is striving for basic values of justice and fairness, right? And this is a powerful movement in Chicago.”

Paul Green, a Chicago radio commentator and director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago, said Guzzardi’s win has more to do with demographics than with his political message.

“I wouldn’t call it a movement,” he said, adding that Guzzardi capitalized on votes from his district’s burgeoning pool of young, politically active voters. “What you have there is a changing electorate in certain areas.”

Though some may conclude Guzzardi’s victory is a victory for reformers, Green said the Brown alum’s win may be an “isolated” event, pointing to the Chicago political establishment’s continued strength.

“When it comes to votes in the City Council, Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel still wins 42-7 or 45-5,” he added.



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