As President of the District 65 School Board and a member of its Finance Committee, Candance Chow helped lead last year’s grassroots effort to pass the District 65 referendum. Ms. Chow hopes to bring the same determination to tackle tough problems with her to Springfield in her bid for 17th District Illinois State Representative.
The seat was left vacant when Laura Fine, the current 17th District Representative, decided to run for the Senate seat vacated by Daniel Biss, when he began his campaign for governor. Mary Rita Luecke is also running for 17th District representative in the March 20 primary election. The RoundTable interviewed Ms. Chow on Dec. 26.
A 17-year resident of Evanston, Ms. Chow came here to attend graduate school. Graduating with a B.A. magna cum laude from American University, she went on to earn an M.B.A. with distinction in strategy and nonprofit management from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In 2013, she became a member of the District 65 school board and was elected president in 2016. In 2017, she was appointed Executive Fellow in the McCormick Foundation’s Early Childhood Leadership program at the Erikson Institute.
As a child, Ms. Chow never dreamed of these achievements. She lived in poverty, raised by a single mother in rural Pennsylvania. Ms. Chow’s mother lived in an orphanage from age 2 to 18 and never finished high school.
Said Ms. Chow, “When I think how hard it is to raise children when you have two parents in the household and when you have means, I can’t even imagine what it was like for [my mother]. She had two jobs – third shift, second shift – and we didn’t see each other for stretches of time. There wasn’t any other choice. I saw her persevere in the face of adversity, and it trained me to think the same way.”
Her mother exhorted Ms. Chow to make the most of her education.
Although Ms. Chow excelled and thrived in school, she said she never expected to attend a school like American University. She said, “I didn’t think that I could get into those kinds of schools until other people told me. That wasn’t what I saw around me. I didn’t have what even other kids around me had, so why should I think I could do something like that?”
Living through these struggles instilled a passionate interest in advocating for disadvantaged families. Ms. Chow said, “Here in Evanston, I gravitate toward families like my own.” She takes the time to drive a mother and her children to pick up food from a food pantry or to accompany a woman threatened with domestic violence to the courthouse for an Order of Protection.
Through her advocacy, Ms. Chow has become well versed in the North Shore community’s resources for mothers, children and families. She has also helped to found COPE (Caring Outreach by Parents in Evanston), served as co-chair on the Health, Safety and Wellness Committee at Evanston Cradle to Career, served on the Board of Community Partners Affordable Housing, and has volunteered at Family Promise Northshore and Connections for the Homeless.
Also rooted in personal experience is Ms. Chow’s commitment to quality public education for all. “I felt like I had the advantages of this solid public education that put me on a path that I probably wouldn’t have been on. What I worry about now is that there are so many kids that don’t have that opportunity. Education is the core of our democracy. To learn to think more broadly. For everyone to feel that they have something to give and something to offer. That’s what education did for me and I’d like to see that happen for every other child,” she said.
In 2016, as President of the District 65 School Board and Chair of the Finance Committee, Ms. Chow was steadfast in her view that the District’s structural deficit was a challenge that had to be met head on. For years the Board had worked on reducing expenses overall, and, in 2015-2016 had worked closely with teachers to reduce expense growth. The referendum was going to cost Evanston taxpayers a 5.8% increase in property taxes on average. But it was also going to balance the District’s operating budget and maintain its educational programs for the next eight years. In addition, it would pay for more innovation and technology in the classroom and $15.2 million in long overdue school capital projects.
The grassroots campaign to get the word out about the referendum grew from a small core group to hundreds of volunteers. From November 2016 through the day of the vote on April 4, 2017, they knocked on doors, distributed yard signs, made phone calls, and organized events in locations throughout the City. The vote in favor of the referendum was just over 80 percent.
Inspired by the experience of bringing the community together so resoundingly, of laying out the issues clearly and inciting the political will among so many to share the sacrifice for the greater good, Ms. Chow decided to run for State Representative.
Ms. Chow said, “The undergirding problem is our budget and this solvency issue for the State [of Illinois]. We have to make some changes. We can’t continue to kick the can down the road, so to speak. We’re paying 60 cents of the dollar toward debt or underfunded liabilities. We have to figure it out.
“There are lots of not-so-great options and we’re going to have a series of not-so-great options for groups of people, but that’s what’s necessary,” she added.
“Do I know what all those not-so-great options are? No. Do I think I can figure them out? Yes. The challenge is to get enough stakeholders to recognize that this has to be changed – and it’s going to hurt – and then look for the solution. That’s probably oversimplifying but that’s what’s got to be done.
“What I’ve seen when I’ve been out knocking on doors and talking to people is – and it comes in lots of forms – but at the core of it is fear. Fear about us not being able to have the democracy that we want, fear about the options and opportunities being threatened, fear that we can’t do anything about it at a local level, that it’s so big that there’s no way to fix it. I believe we have to replace that fear with hope.”
Next time: an interview with Mary Rita Lueke.