Why Jonathan Swain is running for Congress | Politics
The race to succeed U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-1st) got a Hyde Parker earlier this month, as local businessman and nonprofit leader Jonathan Swain entered the race. He argues that his background in business, South Side life, and unelected local government will pay dividends for the District of Washington.
There was a significant shift in local politics even before Rush announced he would not run again. In 2018-19, there was a total shift in Hyde Park-Kenwood state’s legislative delegation, as House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie retired, Christian Mitchell became deputy Governor and Kwame Raoul took office as Attorney General. At the county level, Bill Lowry (D-3rd) succeeded longtime incumbent Jerry Butler as local county commissioner when Butler retired.
He was asked why he didn’t enter the crowded primary from which State Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25) emerged or demanded the nominations that Rep. Kam Buckner (D-26e) or Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) got — and was instead seeking to be elected to a very high office for the first time — Swain said the time has come.
“When these other seats came I was doing a good solid job that I really wanted to continue. When it happened that this seat opened up I was in one place with my family and the job I was doing I could make the transition,” he said. His two oldest children are in college and the youngest has just started college.
Congress is, of course, a step up from a state legislature. (Rush, for what it’s worth, was elected to Congress by the city council.) Swain said his entire background gives him more experience than his main competitors.
“I have significant government pedigree, both having spent time working in two aldermen’s offices, working for Mayor Daley, working as deputy planning commissioner, chairing the Zoning Board of Appeals , and then to also be a commissioner of the Board of Elections,” he said. “I’m no stranger to government and government processes at all, and it’s been, fundamentally, part of my entire professional career.
“What I think makes me different is that I bring more than just government experience. I understand what it’s like to run a nonprofit and work with young people. I understand what what it’s like to run a chamber of commerce. I think that gives me a different focus than anyone else in the race and allows me to bring different impressions and perspectives to the conversation.”
Democratic strategists are debating how best to move forward in what will be a very difficult midterm election environment as President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda continues to stagnate, with one camp saying left-wing rhetoric focused on the social justice of the past two years spins out of core constituencies and alternative voters. Eric Adams, Mayor of New York notably won his primary election last year as a moderate Democratfocused on crime, public safety and economic issues.
Swain, for his part, recalled shooting death of 15-year-old Michael Brown earlier this month in Bronzeville. County prosecutors say a 16-year-old was electronically monitored and attended a court hearing for his pending case on Feb. 8 before hijacking a Lyft driver on the west side, driving to the south side and to shoot Brown 10 times as he walked. home from school at 33rd Street and Prairie Avenue. The teenager is charged with first degree murder and hijacking; a 15-year-old who was arrested with him while driving the car is charged with criminal possession of a stolen vehicle.
“They were 15 and 16,” Swain said. “The investments, or lack thereof, that we made in these young people when they were 10, 11, 9, 8, impacted the decisions they made when they were 15 and 16. We have to reflect how we make investments today that prepare us for the future, and that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Swain called himself a South Side son: Born in the South Shore, raised in Hyde Park but “raised, in many ways, in other parts of the South Side, because my father had businesses all over the South Side. I went to school in Chatham I lived in Auburn Gresham for almost a decade I worked in Auburn Gresham so I know that part of the community well because my dad had business there So , although I am a resident of Hyde Park, I call the entire South Side my home, and that makes me who I am.”
The prospect of helping businesses grow – and thus create more jobs – from a federal position, with more resources available than in a private sector role, appeals to him.
“History shows us the impact of federal politics on the lives of African Americans, on Chicago South Siders, on the people of the district. You see for better and for worse,” he said, recalling issues of affordable housing, education policy (especially access, like the GI Bill) and small business policy. “If you go back and look in history, there are times when good federal policy was not implemented appropriately and had a discriminatory impact.”
Like Barack Obama in 2000, when he lost a primary to Rush, Swain is an upper-middle-class black Hyde Parker running in a neighborhood that contains many working-class and working-class poor neighborhoods on the South Side. “I am very grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to enable me to live a better life than they had to imagine,” he said. “My parents grew up in the Jim Crow South. My dad is from Fort Myers, Florida and my mom is from Memphis, Tennessee.”
They married in 1957 and came to the South Side soon after; his father, John W. Swain Sr., opened a pharmacy in Hyde Park in 1971 before buying the Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, 1214 E. 53rd St., in 1974.
“It was hard to start a business for a black person anywhere at that time, wasn’t it? But by the way, I’m grateful for the things they allowed me to do. I am grateful to them for having the ability to allow me to be raised as I was, but my parents also instilled in me the value of understanding that whatever blessings I have had, I do not shouldn’t view them as something that puts me in a different position than anyone else,” he said.
“We paint this picture of Hyde Park being this picture of this middle class, upper middle class enclave, but there are also areas of high poverty in Hyde Park. There are areas of low income people in Hyde Park, and because of the type of business I’ve had, I’ve had to serve all types of people, and that allows me to see the diversity of what’s going on in Hyde Park.
While Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School and advised a law firm in its state and legislative elections, Swain is a businessman. “If you’re in business and you have customers, especially companies that do business with consumers, you need to be able to connect with people,” he said.
Rush will leave Washington next January after 30 years, his House Democratic Caucus having had a majority with Senate Democrats and a Democratic president for only six of those years. Swain, if elected, pledged a presence in the district and said he would move the district forward and prepare it for what is to come over the next 15 to 25 years.
“It’s the investments we make today that impact our lives,” he said.
The race to replace Rush is exceptionally crowded. Swain said the party’s successful nominating strategy is to connect with voters across the district, from the South Side to Kankakee County, on a new vision for the next 25 years. He said he would fundraise to get that message and story across. He loves his campaign team and has hired a manager, Desmon Yancy.