Democratic candidate for Attorney General
Responses to our questions
Please explain how you would hit the ground running. On Day 1, what would your primary focus for the office be? How would you reorganize, if at all, the direction of the attorneys who report to you?
The people of Illinois deserve a strong, independent, principled advocate. As a candidate for Attorney General, I bring a lifetime of advocacy and a record of producing real results. As a two-term Mayor and mother of four sons, I know how to get things done. During my first term as Mayor, I shook up City Hall with a major reform of city government that resulted in increased transparency, accountability, collaboration, and ethics. I emphasized creating a culture at City Hall that regained the trust of our residents and employees.
It is crucial to continue the legacy of Lisa Madigan in the areas of consumer protection, environmental protection, immigration rights, crime victim advocacy, and standing up for labor and working families. It is also critical to recognize the institutional knowledge and contributions of those who have served the office, and to commit to seeking and understanding their perspectives.
Now, more than ever, we need to explore expanding the role of the office. Resources need to be provided to effectively address criminal justice reform, gun violence, public corruption, and the opioid crisis. Legislation is also needed to strengthen the office's role in fighting sexual harassment.
As the top law enforcement official in the State of Illinois, I will be a fierce advocate calling for necessary changes to protect survivors and end a cycle of abuse. These actions will include a push for Springfield to amend the Human Rights Act to apply to all employers, regardless of size. On behalf of the people of our State, I will sue to enforce the laws to stop repeated discrimination and harassment, and seek the maximum penalties possible.
In light of the direction of the current President and his administration, the Attorney General's Office will also need to continue to expand its collaborative efforts with other states' Attorneys General in stopping his attempts to diminish human and civil rights.
Please explain in detail your legal experience and/or any areas of legal or policy expertise.
As an attorney, I practiced health care law with McDermott Will & Emery. My practice focused on compliance, regulation, licensing, Medicare fraud and abuse, anti-kickback laws, corporate transactions affecting hospitals and physician practice groups, tax exemption matters, real estate and related environmental matters, as well as general counsel services. Clients served included academic medical centers, for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals, physician practice groups, and ambulatory and residential treatment centers.
As a two-term Mayor, I am responsible for ensuring due process for residents in connection with meetings and Council actions, as well as compliance with the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act. I have prioritized accessibility and accountability, implemented improved ethics guidelines for elected and appointed officials, and have been a champion for improved transparency at City Hall and among other government bodies. I have represented resident interests and advocated on their behalf. I led the fights against powerful special interests such as the NRA and local utilities.
In addition, I am the founder and acting chair of a local legal aid clinic that specializes in immigration, domestic violence, and housing, ensuring access to justice in emergent situations. Prior to my tenure as mayor, as a member of my city's Environmental Commission, I created an environmental advocacy training program for public school students, including ten curricular tracks. Over five years, thousands of K-8 students were taught environmental advocacy and many now continue that work as high school and college students.
I bring an undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford and an MBA from Northwestern. I worked in finance before attending the University of Chicago Law School.
Have you ever tried a case? Civil or criminal? If so, how many?
No. My legal experience includes extensive experience as a health care attorney with one of the nation's top law firms and pro bono work on behalf of families with chronically ill children. In addition, I have decades of advocacy experience in support of access to health care and reproductive choice, environmental protection, gender equality and LGBTQ rights. As a Mayor, I have taken on fights against powerful special interests such as the NRA and big corporations and improved government transparency and ethics. Recognizing the need to provide for the most vulnerable, I founded a legal aid clinic that provides access to justice in the areas of immigration, housing and domestic violence matters.
I fully appreciate the critical roles that civil and criminal litigation play in the Attorney General's Office and the tremendously experienced and skilled staff who fill those roles. However, the Attorney General also needs to be someone who can hit the ground running with experience in managing a large staff, office, and budget. This leader needs to be strategic and creative, able to quickly prioritize, and deeply understand the power of the office. As a two-term Mayor, I have done all of that successfully.
How would you prioritize the resources of the office?
As a Mayor, I have seven years of experience defining priorities, setting the agenda, and getting things done for constituents. The Attorney General is responsible for serving as Illinois' top law official, ensuring that laws are followed and enforced, while also coordinating with other states' Attorneys General to defend the nation from federal efforts to roll back civil and human rights, environmental protections, and other detrimental initiatives of the current administration. The people of Illinois need an independent, fierce, principled leader to dedicate resources to defending their rights and interests via lawsuits, fighting special interests and corporations who do not share our values by harming the environment and defrauding consumers, and using the tools of the office to expose and eliminate corruption.
When I became Mayor, drawing upon my legal and business background, I created annual offsite strategic planning sessions with my City Council colleagues and senior staff. We collaboratively set policy decisions and carefully consider a multitude of factors in order to improve the quality of life in our community and best serve the residents. These policy decisions and core priorities determine how resources are allocated so that staff may most effectively manage the day to day operations and long-term plans can be defined and executed. Foremost, the resources of the Attorney General's Office need to go towards protecting the health, safety and welfare of Illinoisians.
In addition to continuing the critical work of the Attorney General's Office in the areas of consumer protection, environmental protection, immigration rights, crime victim advocacy, and standing up for labor and working families, specific initiatives I would pursue as IL Attorney General include:
- Acting as a powerful advocate by continuing my fight against the NRA to enact and enforce common sense gun violence prevention solutions.
- Fighting for criminal justice reform, restoring human rights and public safety to our impacted communities.
- Standing up against sexual harassment and working to change the laws so that survivors can come forward without fear of retaliation and serial offenders are prosecuted. As Attorney General, I will be a fierce advocate calling for necessary changes to protect survivors and end cycles of abuse.
- Pursuing action against online and off-shore pharmacies in an effort to curb access to opioids, while working to increase access to mental health and addiction recovery resources.
- Providing open and honest government via additional resources for the Public Access Counselor, as well as education and accountability for improved government ethics and transparency across all levels of government.
- Joining and expanding upon collaborative efforts with other states' Attorneys General in fighting and stopping the destructive initiatives by the current President and his administration.
Should the attorney general's grand jury authority be expanded to intensify the role of the AG in fighting corruption? Or is that a more suitable role for federal prosecutors? Please explain your answer.
The Attorney General should play a larger role in fighting corruption for several reasons. A prompt, effective, local response may stop corruption before it rises to the level that requires federal intervention. A state-based response to local corruption provides a good starting point for reviewing gaps and omissions that unintentionally provide cover for corrupt activities, and saves money while regaining the public's trust. Coordinating with the grand jury via additional evidence obtained from whistleblowers can result in quicker responses and shutting down corruptive practices before federal intervention is needed.
Unrelated to the grand jury question, but still related to the question of intensified corruption fighting, is the possibility of adopting a collaborative partnership with the comptroller as has occurred in New York. Via this partnership, the Attorney General gains increased investigative opportunities for cases related to public fund corruption, such as pensions and contracts, which can then be prosecuted.
What do you view as the top three roles of the Illinois attorney general's office?
- Advocate for and protect the interests of Illinois residents using the tools available through civil and criminal litigation, education and public advocacy, while applying the highest standards of ethics and integrity. Areas of focus by the Illinois Attorney General should continue to include consumer and environmental protections, victims rights advocacy, immigrant rights, and fair and safe labor practices. Additional priorities should include opioid use reduction, gun violence prevention, prosecuting serial sexual harassers, criminal justice reform, and fighting public corruption.
- Provide opinions and direction to state agencies, focusing on their legal actions, ensuring accurate and fair use of resources, compliance with reporting requirements, and providing and enforcing ethics guidelines for honest government operations.
- Serve as the people's advocate. The Illinois Attorney General needs to work with fellow state Attorneys General, the Illinois General Assembly, and local governments to champion new initiatives, provide direction for new laws that improve transparency, ethics, and the health, safety, and welfare of Illinois residents. In addition, the Illinois Attorney General needs to stand up to federal efforts to roll back fundamental rights and protections.
To which areas of focus would you devote the most resources?
The current Attorney General has served Illinois well in the areas of consumer and environmental protections, victim's rights and safety, and providing tools for transparent government in the form of the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. These are core priorities and Illinois residents benefit from strong advocacy because of these protections.
As Attorney General, I will expand the office, continuing my fight against the NRA to reduce gun violence. As a Mayor, I led the charge to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines, fighting the NRA all the way to the US Supreme Court, where we prevailed. Because of our city's ban and the results of the related lawsuit by the NRA, it is now constitutional to ban assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois. Unfortunately, Illinois law no longer recognizes that cities have this right, as the legislated ten-day window of opportunity to take action has passed.
Recently, I wrote a letter to every member of the Illinois General Assembly (the "ILGA") asking them to consider amending the law to remove that constraint, allowing Illinois cities to have that conversation, to consider whether they want to allow assault weapons in their cities. I received no responses. In the last legislative session, an opportunity to address illegal handguns on our streets and in our neighborhoods was supposed to come up in the form of gun dealer licensing legislation, something a majority of Illinois residents support. Some legislators said they wouldn't address it until after petitions were filed for re-election. They feared being "primaried." Again, the ILGA missed an opportunity to take action to start addressing the gun violence issue in Chicago. Clearly, too many were more concerned with saving their jobs than saving lives. I asked that question of them as well. No answer.
I would use the platform of the Attorney General to continue to exhort our elected general assembly members to work on behalf of the health, safety, and welfare of our people and enact reasonable gun violence prevention laws. Additionally, I'll fight for criminal justice reform, and work to restore human rights and public safety to our impacted communities. I will also make fighting serial sexual harassment a priority, taking a stand against intimidation and injustice, and punishing those who subject people to fear and intimidation or threaten retaliation. I'll take on unscrupulous drug makers and online and offshore pharmacies to help curb the opioid epidemic gripping our state.
I will join my Attorney General colleagues, continuing their efforts to be the bulwark against the current president and his attempts to roll back fundamental rights and protections. Our state and our nation are in crisis. Our next Attorney General needs to continue to represent our values, while protecting our rights and our interests. I am an independent advocate who has a proven record of results, with experience in assessing a situation, accessing resources, and fighting for what is right. Together, we can move forward.
What are the greatest challenges facing the next attorney general?
The single greatest challenge facing the next Attorney General will be having enough resources to continue the office's work in its core functions while also expanding to meet increased needs. The next Attorney General needs to think strategically, communicate locally, and act ethically and independently while developing comprehensive solutions. The next Attorney General will need to continue the office's strong work in consumer and environmental protection, immigrant rights, victims' rights and advocacy, along with standing up for labor and working families, and work with law enforcement to balance human rights with public safety.
In addition, there is a growing need for the Attorney General to effectively combat corruption, diminish criminal activities, and continue to join with other states' offices in successfully fighting against this president's efforts to roll back rights and protections. Strengthening the state's and local governments' commitment to rooting out corruption is an increasing challenge. While many of the necessary tools are available, some expansion of access to relevant data might be necessary given the office's limited jurisdiction, but the trust of our residents and the stability of our government processes are tied to cleaning up government across the spectrum. Increased resources for the Public Access Counselor, along with expanded outreach to advise local governments on compliance and to educate public watchdogs, are critical to achieving any kind of progress in this area.
Criminal behavior trends have shifted, including street violence, gangs, guns, human trafficking, terrorist activities, and cyber crime. Recognizing the very real impacts of trauma on generations of families and neighborhoods, a comprehensive approach to violence, criminal justice reform and reducing access to crime guns while increasing access to mental health services, re-entry programs and addressing recidivism are some of the greatest challenges facing the next Attorney General.
Continuing the collaborative work with other states' attorneys general will be a necessary defense against the attempts by the current president to roll back fundamental rights and protections. These efforts will continue to need support, creativity, and resources.
Give us some examples of when you displayed independence from your party or staked out an unpopular position.
I bring a lifetime of advocacy and decades of experience in public service. In addition to my professional background in business and law, I have 9 years of experience in elected office and a record of producing real results. I have always had the courage to stand up to special interests. I am not afraid of a challenge. I led the charge to pass one of the state's only local assault weapons bans. In 2013, Illinois cities had a ten-day window of opportunity to consider passing an assault weapon ban. I felt strongly that this ban was an important step in the effort to address the heartbreak we continue to experience in the wake of Sandy Hook and so many other mass shootings.
As a parent, with images of the Sandy Hook students fresh in my mind, I knew we had to pass that ordinance. Some expressed concern that we would get sued and we did. We did not back down and fought the NRA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with help from the Brady Campaign, and we prevailed. Because of our ban and the results of the related lawsuit by the NRA, it is now constitutional to ban assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois.
Unfortunately, Illinois law no longer recognizes that cities have this right. Recently, I wrote a letter to every member of the Illinois General Assembly asking them to consider changing the law to allow cities to have that conversation, to consider whether they want to allow assault weapons in their cities. I received no response. In the last legislative session, an opportunity to address illegal handguns on our streets and in our neighborhoods was supposed to come up in the form of gun dealer licensing legislation, something a majority of Illinois residents support. Some legislators said they wouldn't address it until after petitions were filed for re-election. They feared being "primaried." Again, the ILGA had an opportunity to start addressing the gun violence issue in Chicago. Instead, several were more concerned about saving their jobs than saving lives.
Challenging the NRA is often referred to as a fool's errand. I view it as an opportunity to bring common-sense to a situation no other civilized nation faces. Every journey begins with a single step. We should seize any opportunity to highlight the devastation of gun violence, recognize it for the public health and safety menace that it is, and find incremental solutions to reduce it.
What steps have you taken, or would you take, to maintain the independence of the office from the influence of a governor, legislative leaders or members of your political party?
I bring to this office a proven record of promoting accountability, transparency and ethics in government. As a Mayor, I addressed conflicts of interest and appearances of impropriety with new ethics guidelines and increased transparency. My office would be first and foremost, the office of an independent elected official. I would bring to the role my record of independence. My personal history is simply that of an individual with specific professional, business, and community qualifications, who is running for office to make a contribution that will improve lives. I have not had the backing of any powerful political organizations and as an elected official, I have always been an independent and transparent office holder. As the People's Attorney, my job will be to serve the people of Illinois with the highest standards of ethics and integrity. To quote one of my mentors, the late Hon. Ab Mikva: "I'm nobody that nobody sent."
The Illinois Constitution is vague about the role of the attorney general. How proactive should the attorney general be in injecting himself or herself into issues of education, pensions, state finances, corruption or other issues that don't fall directly under the role of legal adviser?
The answer depends on whether the resources of the Attorney General are of particular benefit to the citizens of Illinois as they face any specific challenge. For example, the Attorney General has no role in administering or reforming public education and should not comment on public debates on such topics. However, when thousands of Illinois citizens are victimized by well-organized, well-funded, fraudulent for-profit high schools and colleges, the Attorney General should be at the forefront of the response. She should sue the bad actors and recover damages for local victims while recommending changes in state regulation and licensing needed to prevent this type of fraud.
If pensions are not being accurately accrued or fairly paid, there is a nexus with the Attorney General's consumer protection role. If local governments are not accurately reporting public finances, criminal litigation should be initiated by the Attorney General. As Attorney General Madigan found when Governor Rauner failed to meet Freedom of Information Act requirements, dismissing questions related to corruption, action in the form of a binding opinion is appropriate. The Attorney General serves to protect the interests of the people of Illinois. If those interests are being challenged in these broader areas, the argument can be made that within relevant constricts, action from the Attorney General's office can be appropriate.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I have always been an advocate, thanks to my parents, it is woven into the fabric of who I am. Long before I became an elected official in the City of Highland Park, I was a mom of four children who was concerned for the safety of children walking to and from school. We needed a stop sign at a busy intersection. I organized the neighborhood to march on City Hall and obtained the stop sign we needed.
Years ago, before most people talked about the need to protect our fragile planet, I recognized that our school kids weren't learning about environmental issues in the classroom. I took action and created an environmental education and advocacy program. With ten curricular tracks, more than 5,000 students participated and the program was eventually added to the K-8 public school curriculum.
As the mother of a son with Type 1 Diabetes, I deeply understand the challenges parents of children with chronic conditions can face in school. I knew that often children with Type 1 Diabetes were isolated at schools that had insufficient or no nursing resources. I stepped up and worked on state legislation to require the training of additional personnel to keep T1D kids in the classrooms with their peers. I also counseled families on their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and helped them protect their children's access to school and school programs.
During my time as Mayor, I created a human services task force, coordinating over 250 volunteers who assessed and inventoried human services needed and available. In the process, we realized that many seniors and families in our city needed access to affordable legal services. As a solution, I founded a legal aid clinic where immigrant families, people in abusive relationships, and tenants having issues with their landlords can access free legal services. With over 100 volunteer attorneys, translators and social workers, we have helped over 400 people in just two years.
What distinguishes you from your opponents?
Our state and our country are in crisis. An effective Attorney General must have proven experience in identifying opportunities for advocacy, defining solutions, pulling together resources, and taking action. I have always had the courage to stand up for what is right.
As a two-term Mayor, I have served in executive office, balancing seven budgets and maintaining a Aaa bond rating, but also passing one of the only assault weapon bans in the State of Illinois, taking on a major utility company, protecting our environment, founding a legal aid clinic to provide access to justice in immigration, housing and domestic violence matters, supporting and enacting inclusive legislation, and increasing government transparency, accountability and ethics.
As a community volunteer, I have decades of experience promoting access to health care and reproductive choice, taking action against sexual harassment, supporting mental health care, and improving access to human services. It has never been more important to have an independent, principled, and effective leader serving as Attorney General, for the sake of both our state and our nation.
I am fighter who will bring a lifetime of advocacy and a record of producing results to the Attorney General's office, unafraid to take on extremists in Washington and Springfield. An advocate for the people must know how to use the tools available: persuasiveness for new legislation, education to empower the public, and a willingness to take legal action where warranted. As a working mom of four sons and a Mayor, I understand the issues that are important to our families and our communities. After nearly nine years in elected office, I know what it takes to represent my constituents: a willing ear, a fair assessment, and honest, responsive action.