State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st) admits that having an opponent in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, March 20 will be a different path for her.
Flowers, who has been the state representative of the district since 1985, will face a challenge from Willie Preston, who is running for office for the first time. Whoever wins the primary will most likely become the state representative of the huge and diverse district, which extends as far east as Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and as far west as Palos Hills. No Republican is running in the primary.
While it has been years that Flowers, 66, has faced an opponent, the veteran lawmaker is pleased with the reception she has received while campaigning.
“Well, I’m doing fine,” Flowers said. “I have a record and constituents who believe in me. It’s good and touching because the people out here know my record better than I do. Some young people have told me they don’t know who I am. But I told them to look at Wikipedia and they get back to me. They say you have done a lot. It’s a different time. But I’m really optimistic. I don’t want take anyone for granted.”
Flowers said she has a long list of accomplishments in her 33 years as a state representative. She recalls how she introduced legislation that was passed to provide protections for pregnant mothers in the workplace. She called for Chicago police sensitivity training more than decade ago. She also believes that all Illinois residents should have access to health care and not just health insurance.
Preston, 32, said that is all well and good but added that Flowers has done nothing to encourage economic development in the district. He was an organizer for Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and stepped down to run for state rep. The organization’s mission is to assist low-income people of color on the city’s South Side.
He has attended Chicago State University and Roosevelt University. He also has worked as a carpenter and can relate to residents who are struggling to find work.
“The thing I’m hearing from people is very repetitive,” Preston said. “They want someone with political independence from Speaker Madigan and Joe Berrios (the Cook County Assessor). We need more money for schools because we are the worst state in America for education. Mary Flowers has not been responsive to the needs of the people.”
Preston said he has tried to work with Flowers in the past but said she dismissed him. Preston added that Flowers is not a visible force in the district and that he would be.
“We have had enough celebrity politicians,” Preston said. “We need to do more to bring jobs back to the district. The district is diverse. I respect all folks. The district has to have someone who will stand up for them.”
Flowers said she cares for her constituents and fights Gov. Rauner’s call for budget cuts, especially those that affect education. Flowers, who is married and has one daughter and a granddaughter, said she will continue to strive to assist the middle class and the poor. She has worked on a variety of committees that call for economic opportunity and economic justice and equity.
“The governor wanted to close child care and I fought him on that,” Flowers said. “And this young man (Preston) says I haven’t done anything, well, it’s not true. I would say to the governor, the mayor (Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel) and the president that we would have to do more. But I’ve put up legislation to recruit economic development. I have an infrastructure bill that we would build up infrastructure along roads in the district. “
Flowers said she heard that Preston has met with officials who are tied to Rauner for support, but did not know that for a fact. Preston denies any meeting has taken place and refuted published reports that he has accepted money from the governor.
“No, none whatsoever,” Preston said in reference to mailers who imply that this occurred. “They have never contacted me. My district is well aware of these low tactics. What is says is that Mary Flowers can’t run on her record.”
Preston said his focus will be on the economy, and he would like to see more African Americans employed. He said he will fight high property taxes and develop partnerships with the government to bring jobs to the district.
He admitted that he was expelled from Chicago State University in 2015 over a dispute involving the rights of students that he stood up for. He added the administration was negligent and did not listen to the needs of the students.
Ironically, it was this moment that opened his eyes and led him in the direction of public service. He believes more people need a voice in government.
He also added that he has no intention of being a Democrat with limitless terms. Preston said that he will work to bring economic development to the district in just over eight years. He would like to eventually go to back to being a carpenter and work with his wife, Brittany.
“We can’t balance the budget on poor people,” Flowers said. “I want to get back to talking about the people and not the personalities. I want to talk about the how we can educate our students and provide an education for college.”
As for Flowers, she has no intention of stepping down soon if she is re-elected.
“How do you walk away from something you love? This is my passion and this is what I do because I love what I do,” Flowers said. “As long as I’m healthy and the people of the district want me to serve, I will continue to do so.”