Josef Michael Carr, a South Shore businessman and former state chair of the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization, has filed to run in the June 28 Democratic primary election in the 25th Illinois House of Representatives district against two-term incumbent Curtis J. Tarver II.
"I decided that this race was for me, and I want to see funding for early childhood education, 21st-century jobs and also financial literacy to complete the full circle that I've done with Fathers for the Future," he said in an interview, referring to a financial literacy nonprofit he founded in 2005.
"I also want to expand and create safety net programs to help economically challenged families. And then finally, as a two-time cancer survivor, I know the cost of health care can be very expensive, and I really want to make sure that health care is available to everyone. So I felt like this would be the right place to start."
Carr said he is a progressive; in addition to more funding for the aforementioned social welfare policies on top of affordable housing and universal basic income, he noted support for legalizing rent control in Illinois and said he would be running to Tarver's left.
He declined, however, to discuss political or ideological differences with the incumbent in-depth, saying those issues will come out as the campaign progresses.
"I was very happy to knock doors over the past couple of months. My team gathered over 1,200 signatures, and we went down (to Springfield) on Monday with my election attorney, and we submitted them," he said. "So I'm very confident I'll be on the ballot. But I do want to take it slow and see how the campaign evolves."
(Tarver, in the midst of the legislative session, had no comment.)
Carr said voters throughout the district, which continues after redistricting to span down the lakefront from North Kenwood to the East Side, are concerned about crime and safety, education and, especially up north, property taxes.
While those issues can be addressed at a local level — the City Council and mayor have the most to do with the Chicago Police Department and local law enforcement, the Chicago Board of Education will begin to be elected in 2024 and local government bodies set property taxes — Carr said he could do much to affect policy around them as a state representative.
"I had dabbled with the idea of running for alderman before and decided that the time was not right for me, and I decided to enter into this race because I thought I could make more of a difference at the state level than at the city level," he said. "I won't say that crime and safety is a city issue or a state issue, because it's happening all over the country right now. We have to work together to find ways to really bring some policies that are going to help people improve their lives, because it's really a quality-of-life issue.
"There's really no better way to solve poverty than with jobs," he said. He noted links between mental health issues and crime and said increasing mental health care access should be a top priority for the state government.
In regards to constituents' expressed concerns about their property tax burdens, Carr said a state representative can put forward a vision of what property taxes as well as crime and safety net programs should look like. He declined to go into further specificity "at this time."
Carr said he has raised around $10,000 for the bid. He was IVI-IPO state chair for two years after serving as treasurer for two years. He said he is running as an independent Democrat; he said he has gotten some endorsements in his primary campaign but declined to name them. Carr met former Northwest Side Ald. John Arena (45th) through IVI-IPO, and he is serving as his campaign manager.
Carr has been an accountant for 31 years; in 2017, he started his own accounting and bookkeeping practice, focusing on doing audits for nonprofits, and said his understanding of budgets would be an asset in state government. He has worked, variously, in banking and accounting.
"One of the problems in the public sphere is when you have an abundance of anyone; whether they're all the same race or profession, you need to mix it up a little bit, and I think that accountants do well in the political world, because they can assist with complicated governmental budgeting," he said.
Carr, 51, was born in Chatham, raised in Woodlawn and attended boarding school at the then-named Marmion Military Academy in Aurora. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration from Roosevelt University. He has a wife, two sons and a daughter.
During his experience with testicular cancer, he was in a coma for nine days, paralyzed for two-and-a-half months and learned to walk over a year-and-a-half. The financial difficulty his family experienced led them to turn to their church, St. Paul & the Redeemer, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave., for food assistance. The ordeal led him to found Fathers for the Future, which specifically works with Black fathers between the ages of 16 and 30, with a special focus on incarcerated men and boys, and connects them with jobs and bank accounts.