Christian Mitchell edges out win in 26th District race
At 25, candidate will be youngest member of Illinois general assembly
03/21/2012 8:43 AM
Christian Mitchell stood at arm’s length from his former boss, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, as a circle of friends and campaign supporters closed in around the pair, eager for a victory speech. Mitchell’s election night party, held at a hot dog joint in the city’s Grand Boulevard neighborhood, was going on its fourth hour.
Preckwinkle, who had recently celebrated her 65th birthday, took the mic first.
“I can’t think of a better present than a positive result tonight for Christian,” she said.
That win was in sight, and yet just out of the 25-year-old candidate’s reach. At around 10 p.m., with 95 percent of the precincts in the 26th district reporting, Mitchell had a 4 percent lead over Kenny Johnson, his opponent for the state representative seat.
“We’re not declaring victory tonight, but we’re in a very strong position,” Mitchell said to the crowd, which dispersed shortly after.
A few hours later, the Associated Press called the race: Mitchell had eked out the win with 6,627 votes — just 507 more than Johnson.
That narrow victory was a fitting end to the evenly-matched race between Mitchell, a newcomer with a short but striking political resume, and Johnson, a 41-year-old PR executive and second-time contender in the district, which spans along the city’s lakefront from the Near North Side to the South Side’s 10th Ward.
Johnson, an entrepreneur and former campaign worker for U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., ran a pro-business campaign focused on job creation through initiatives such as Jackson’s proposal to build a third airport in the city’s metro area.
With endorsements from backers like State Sen. Kwame Raoul and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), Johnson looked to be a strong returning contender for the seat, which he failed to secure in a 2008 primary race against now-Ald. Will Burns (4th).
Mitchell, a faith-based community organizer with a political policy degree from the University of Chicago, covered considerable ground early on as a campaign worker for Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Burns.
Last year, the Maywood native found himself on Preckwinkle’s staff, during the board president’s popular initiative to repeal the county sales tax increase instated by her predecessor, Todd H. Stroger.
In his run for the house seat, Mitchell campaigned in favor of easing the tax burden on working families, investing in the state’s early childhood education programs, and the reduction of spending on criminal incarceration.
Jerry Ward, a volunteer organizer with the hospitality workers union Unite Here Local 1, was among those who came out to support Mitchell on election night.
“I look forward to seeing him go to Springfield and create more jobs in our community,” said Ward, who works in concessions at Midway Airport.
Before learning of his victory, Mitchell told Chicago Journal and Skyline that his final day on the campaign trail — which he spent meeting with voters across the district—had been a moving experience.
“It’s humbling to have people say that they trust in me … and I’m honored by it,” he said.
As representative of the 26th District, Mitchell said he looked forward to convening with fellow house reps and voters alike, “to make sure that we move the ball forward on making government more transparent and more effective.”
As for short-term goals, “I’d like to try to get more than four hours of sleep,” Mitchell joked.