In retrospect, I posed the wrong question to Carlos Ramirez-Rosa about which political office he might soon seek.
I recently interviewed the 35th Ward alderman at his Logan Square office for a story about socialism’s post-election spike in popularity, especially among millennials, and why he decided to come out of the closet politically and join the Democratic Socialists of America. Ramirez-Rosa outlined his plan to build some kind of new political infrastructure capable of instituting leftist policies, including more progressive City Council members and a Chicago mayor in line with that progressive coalition. I asked him the obvious question: Will that mayor be you?
No, he said. Turns out he was prepping for a different job—lieutenant governor. Speaking in front of a couple hundred supporters gathered around the Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square yesterday evening, state senator Daniel Biss announced Ramirez-Rosa as his running mate in the campaign to bounce Bruce Rauner out of the governor’s office.
“We’re at a defining moment for our party and our state. Illinois needs a lieutenant governor who deeply believes in grassroots politics,” Biss said. “We need someone who is progressive in their core, unafraid to take on entrenched power, and unashamed to stand with the working families of Illinois. And most importantly, we need a someone who represents a new generation of Democrats, a generation ready to throw out the old playbook and set a new direction for Illinois—to fight for the rest of us.”
Of course, Ramirez-Rosa is ready to throw out much more than the party’s “playbook.” During our interview, he criticized Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as a “neoliberal on steroids” with a philosophy similar to the Trump administration when it comes to policing and public education. And on Thursday, the alderman took shots at the billionaires in the governor’s race. “Rauner and JB Pritzker both agree that universal healthcare is far too to the left,” he said, “and that’s why we need to defeat both of them.”
Just as fellow democratic socialist Bernie Sanders ran for president as a Democrat, Ramirez-Rosa—who calls himself a “Bernie bro”—has adopted a utilitarian view of the Democratic Party.
“A party is a means to an end, not an end in itself,” he told me during the interview at his office. “The best way that the left can achieve power is by turning to those who share our values that are voting within the Democratic primary right now. What we need are governing leftist majorities at the local level, at the state level, at the national level. And we need to reach that as quickly as possible and that’s going to mean that in some places you’re gonna have to run within the Democratic Party.
“If you present to most people voting Democrat an option and say ‘Hey, do you want this incumbent Democrat who has sold out to big corporations and is making decisions because they’re putting donations from corporations before the interest of their community, or do you want this local community activist to be fighting for a $15 minimum wage and is fighting to win universal health care and free college tuition?’ They’re gonna choose the latter,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “So ultimately I’m not married to any Democratic Party. I’m married to a vision and values that put people before profit.”
In other words, if it made political sense to run as an independent or a DSA candidate (which is currently a nonprofit, not a third party), he would. The question remains: Will a 28-year old queer Latinx from Logan Square make Biss’s ticket more appealing to Illinois voters?
“We had a democratic socialist get 49 percent of the [Democratic primary] vote in the great state of Illinois. His name was Bernie Sanders,” Ramirez-Rosa told me after Thursday night’s rally. “It’s not about any single label or word, it’s about people coming together to build the Illinois that we deserve.”