South Shore businessman Josef Michael Carr is running to unseat Rep. Curtis J. Tarver II in the Democratic primary for the 25th Illinois House of Representatives district. In challenging the two-time incumbent, Carr says Tarver’s legislative abilities, district presence and positions on key issues should have voters considering an alternative.
In an interview with the Herald, Carr delved into his own platform he would take to Springfield if voters choose him this month and in the November general election.
Carr, who said he’s running to Tarver’s left, supports (among other things) increased funding for social welfare policies, a single-payer health care system, universal basic income and legalizing rent control in Illinois.
Both men are vocal about Illinois' marijuana policy. Tarver has been an inveterate critic of the rollout of the "equity" components of the state's marijuana legalization plan, meant to give communities of color disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs a share of the new legal economy, since voting to legalize cannabis in 2019.
Carr said Black Illinoisans feel that legalization has been a "farce." "Nobody in our community has been impacted, who's been incarcerated, has gotten any business licenses or been able to participate in the business economy," he said.
He thinks more business licenses are within the realm of possibility, alongside educating would-be entrepreneurs how to start a business up and run it.
"That's what I want to see for the district," Carr said. "Not just for cannabis — but in South Shore, in the Chicago East Side, (more) opportunities for people to organically start their own businesses."
Carr is an accountant, with experience assisting nonprofits handle their money. He founded and was executive director of Fathers for the Future, a nonprofit that, among other things, teaches financial literacy.
He proposes to establish a public bank, one that would give secondary financing for commercial operations, with lower thresholds for certain business-owners to get licenses.
Carr thinks there needs to be more investment in health care, to the extent that he thinks Illinois should have a single-payer health care system. He added that a single-payer system would give people access to better mental health care, reducing crime.
"Over in South Shore, where I live, there are bullets flying and guns going off almost every night," he said, and described an incident when bullets flew by his daughter’s bedroom window.
"I believe that whatever type of violence is a symptom. To get at the root cause, nine out of 10 times you'll find some kind of mental illness," he said. "The gentleman who killed the 19 children and the two teachers (in Uvalde, Texas), clearly he was not stable. The gentleman that lit the homeless man (Joseph Kromelis, aka Chicago’s "Walking Man") on fire, clearly this man is not stable. Gangbangers, drug-dealers who are killing people on the street — they are not stable either.”
"I want to put a mental health clinic in South Shore because of the trauma that we experience from gun violence and poverty.”
Carr also criticized Tarver’s position on rent control. In 2018 Tarver voiced support for rent control during his primary campaign, but in 2019 (after being elected) voted against a bill that would allow municipalities to enact these controls.
"I am a lift-the-ban person. I am a renter," Carr said, referring to the popular slogan to lift Illinois’ statewide prohibition on rent control.
Carr, a cancer survivor, described the serious financial hardships his family faced during his years of recovery, frequenting eviction court and food banks.
"I think that the incumbent is not listening to what the district wants," Carr said. "The only thing that we're talking about is having a conversation. We're not saying that we're going to design what rent control or rent stabilization looks like. We're allowing municipalities in the state of Illinois to make that decision. There will be a mayor and a city council who will decide what they want to do."
Carr said people's incomes are the root cause behind a lack of affordable housing. He expects a recession to happen in the next six to 12 months.
Come what may, Carr said he wants to bring economic equity to the diverse 25th district, which spans from North Kenwood down the lakefront to the Indiana state line. "Yes, you can pass laws, but when you come down to it, those laws still impact your budget, and how your budget looks is a moral document," he said.
Tarver is proud of the attention he pays to the eroding lakefront, but Carr said more money in the state budget should have gone to the issue.
"I don't know what he does up here in Hyde Park and Kenwood, but I know that the rest of the district suffers," Carr said. "So I want to make sure that the rest of the district has the same amenities that Hyde Park has."
"You don't get to choose what part of the job you like, and that's the message I want to get across to people. I'm here — and you can actually see me around the community. It's not like I'm just showing up now," said Carr.
"I believe that Curtis is a no-show in the district and he's a no-show to his colleagues down in Springfield," he said. "He doesn't have a lot of name recognition here in the 25th, especially when you go past 63rd Street."
"He hasn't really done a lot for working families, and his record indicates that," Carr said.
Tarver did, as Carr noted, miss all three votes that House took, in April and October of last year, on the bill that rescinds the requirement that Illinois minors notify their parents before getting an abortion.
"If you are a pro-choice Democrat like I am, and you know that the effects of what's happening in Washington can happen in the rest of the country and how it would impact Illinois, you wouldn't miss that vote," Carr said.
"If you want to see real change, if you really want to see the city, the state and the country move in a different direction, you're going to have to take a chance on people who see politics as a way to help people and not themselves."
"I think the biggest way to contrast me and the incumbent is I'm a progressive who is concerned about people," he said. "I'm not concerned about the tax breaks that a corporation takes, because those tax breaks, those subsidies that they get — there should be a commission that looks at that. If you give someone $13 million to move to your city and then they decide that they're going to leave, you just spent $13 million for nothing."
"I'm in this because I want to affect people's lives, because I know personally how my life has been affected by some of these challenges," Carr said. He recalled his cancer-related fall from a corner office to penury. "Right now, most people are living in that spectrum. Whether you admit it or not, because of the reality that we're living in,” he said.
"I think Mr. Tarver is a conservative Democrat, and there's not going to be much of a choice between him and the Republican in the general election," said Carr.
The candidate that wins the Democratic primary on June 28 will face off against Republican Lori Yokoyama, the party’s 4th Ward committeewoman.
Capitol News Illinois contributed. CNI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.