Citing lack of money, Ald. Ameya Pawar drops out of governor's race

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 11:08:40 PM. Pawar said he was starting a political action committee to organize young people around progressive ideas.

Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) has dropped out of the governor’s race, saying he simply doesn’t have the money to compete statewide against wealthy competitors.

“We raised $828,000 from 2,600 donors. But, we don’t have enough money to meaningfully scale our campaign,” Pawar told the Chicago Sun-Times moments after announcing his decision in an email to supporters.

“I had two options: Cut staff, which is not an option or, two, take on personal debt and I’m not wealthy. I’m sorry for the people who supported me that I don’t have the wealth or connections to keep going.”

Speculation abounds that Pawar’s now-defunct populist campaign for governor could be a prelude to a 2019 race for mayor against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Politics today is very fluid. It’s unpredictable. You never know. … I’m never gonna say no. There’s always a chance. But, I literally just got off the road after 10 months. It’s been really hard on all of us. It took a lot of sacrifice by my family,” he said.

“I’m not ruling anything out. I just don’t want to talk about another office or another race today or any time in the near future. But I can tell you I’m not done in politics. I’m sure that I will run again.”

A natural alternative for supporters of Pawar’s populist campaign is progressive State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston). But Pawar said he is not prepared to endorse any of his opponents “at this time.”

Pawar knew when he got into the governor’s race that he would be up against a lot of money in the Democratic primary; billionaire J.B. Pritzker and millionaire Chris Kennedy also are seeking the Democratic nomination.

But, what he didn’t know and had to learn the hard way was just how tough it would be to raise enough money to be competitive in a statewide campaign.

In his email, Pawar noted that “the race for Illinois governor will set a record as the costliest race in American history. For democracy’s sake, I hope we see this as a troubling trend. My donors did the best they could, I’m the one who came up short, but I am not ashamed.”

Pawar, 37, said he was starting a political action committee, called One Illinois, to organize young people around progressive causes.

“I wanted to be your nominee for governor. I gave it everything I had. But I don’t have the resources to continue in a manner that I think would both be fair to the people who work with me and would set us up to win, and I require both. But I feel the same way about the inspiration I’ve acquired to make positive change as the Greek philosopher Plutarch did about education: It is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” Pawar wrote in the email.

“I hope to see the other campaigns starting to talk about mass commutations for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. I’m hoping that they start talking about a massive capital plan that focuses on the South and West Sides of Chicago, East St. Louis and Caro. Those are the issues I’m gonna be going out there and talking about. And we’ll see what happens,” he told the Sun-Times.

Young, gutsy and smart, Pawar knows city issues after two terms on the City Council. He led the drive for tax increment financing reform, mandatory sick days and a Council budget analyst. He even pushed to cut the Council in half.

Pawar can’t be underestimated. He won his first term in an upset against a candidate handpicked by retiring Ald. Eugene Schulter. Pawar then won re-election in 2015 with 83 percent of the vote.

On Thursday, Pawar said he has no intention of running for a third-term and violating his self-imposed two-term limit. His ward covers the North Center, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood neighborhoods.

Pawar in January became the first Democrat to join a now crowded field of challengers for the March primary.

In announcing his run, Pawar said he decided to run partly based on President Trump’s victory, and also what he’s seen in terms of the state’s budget crisis. And he acknowledged that he’d have to battle an onslaught of contributions from Gov. Bruce Rauner and his supporters.

“Fifty million from one man who has a very destructive record is nothing to be proud of, and I have $50,000 and I’m not ashamed of it,” Pawar said in January. “I’ve got lots of donors and lots of people who have helped me over the last five years. I’ll run a campaign to the best of my ability. I’ll raise what I can. But I’m going to go out there and talk to people.”

Evanston native Pawar, whose parents came from India in the 1970s, pulled off an upset in the 2011 aldermanic election, beating out former Ald. Eugene Schulter’s hand picked replacement. He was just 30 at the time, and ran his campaign office out of a North Side bowling alley. Pawar’s City Council successes include directing $40 million in TIF funds to libraries and schools in his ward and the towing bill of rights, among other things.

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