Smile Politely

Jenny Lokshin and Elly Hanauer-Friedman are hoping to turn District 4 blue

In the October 11th Champaign County Board Committee of the Whole, members went on record to answer Resolution 1: whether Joe Biden unequivocally won the 2020 presidential election. District 4’s Jim McGuire and Brad Passalacqua, both Republicans, voted no. For elected officials to perpetuate Donald Trump’s Big Lie is to undermine democracy itself. And for those officials to hold the purse strings of the County Clerk’s office, influencing how elections run in the county, is highly problematic. Both McGuire and Passalacqua are running for re-election in District 4.

District 6’s Jenny Lokshin, a Democrat, voted yes on Resolution 1. Why does this matter? Because, thanks to last year’s redistricting [check the new map here], Lokshin will represent District 4 if she wins her seat once again on November 8th. Running alongside her and hoping to turn District 4 completely blue is first-time candidate Elly Hanauer-Friedman. Since all County Board seats are up for grabs, you can vote for two candidates in your district.

These women don’t just reject the Big Lie. They are endorsed by multiple local union organizations (Champaign County AFL-CIO, AFSCME Council 31, and the East Central Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council), Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Smile Politely Editorial Board. They are professionals, involved community members, and moms. And they have been changemakers at the local, state, and federal level for years.

Let’s learn a little more about them.

Smile Politely: Tell me about yourself and why you’re seeking to represent District 4 on the County Board.

Jenny Lokshin: I’m a mom of two kids and I’m also helping to take care of some older family members. Definitely in the sandwich generation, as are many on the board. I work at Human Kinetics, and I’ve been there in marketing for 11 plus years now. I came to activism through my involvement in Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, but I also volunteer locally with Books to Prisoners and Feeding Our Kids, and I’ve served on the Bottenfield PTA. Any free time is community involvement time. I love doing what I can to be active in Champaign County.

As much as I’ve been involved with various campaigns over the years, I swore I would never run for office. But when DeShawn Williams stepped down from his position last year to join the treasurer’s office, I had a few people reach out and say I would be a good fit for the board. Since taking on the role, I’ve realized it’s a good fit for me too. I can see things from the perspective of many different people in Champaign County. I’ve lived in Champaign for 12 years, but I grew up in a different part of the country, so I know what it feels like to be a transplant here. I’ve lived in rural areas, I’ve lived in urban areas, and I’ve lived at different levels of income throughout my life. I’m married to a townie who’s also an immigrant, and we’re caring for his elderly parents. So, a lot of that comes together to shape how I make decisions on the board. And I’ve learned that my perspective is valuable. I like being able to affect change at the county level. So I look forward to continuing to do it, representing District 4.

Elly Hanauer-Friedman: We’ve got three boys, ranging from elementary school to college, and a mother in law living with us, so I’m also in the sandwich generation. I work in the field of international education, running international programs at the U of I, where I’ve been for about 10 years. Throughout my career, I’ve worked back and forth between nonprofits and in higher ed. Where I see the biggest link in the day to day between my professional background and the work of the county board is in managing large federal grants, which I’ve done a lot of throughout my career. And kind of like it.

Like Jenny, I’ve lived here for just over a decade. I grew up in a family and in an area of the country that was very politically engaged, so I was always surrounded by political activity. But I never really saw myself running for office until I became involved with Moms Demand Action, which I joined in 2015. Gun violence prevention was an issue that I cared really deeply about, and through my volunteer work with that organization, I got a lot of experience working on legislative and election issues, at the local, state, and national levels. It was really through my experience with that organization that I started to see running for office as something I might be interested in. We’ve seen, especially since 2016, how important our elected officials are and how important local elections affect our lives. So, it was something I had been thinking about, but wasn’t sure where to start. When redistricting happened and all the seats were open for the County Board, a couple of current board members encouraged me to run and it just felt like the right time to take the plunge.

SP: What is it about County Board specifically that makes you want to throw your hat in the ring?

Lokshin: Not a lot of people understand what the County Board does, but we’re dealing with the budget for the entire county, including facilities like the jail and the sheriff’s office, as well as elections and other critical countywide services. We have a hand in ensuring our elections are fair and accessible by looking at county clerk proposals and making sure he has the staff and equipment he needs. Same thing with the Circuit Clerk. We’re making sure people have equitable access to court documents and services. And right now, we have this American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, which is not something we probably will ever have again. It’s an opportunity to make Champaign County better for all the residents of the county, whether they’re rural, urban, incarcerated, or anyone else.

Hanauer-Friedman: For me, the ARPA funding is a really exciting opportunity to make some positive change on the County Board. We have $41 million from the federal government for the county. As I mentioned, one of the things that got me going in politics was working on gun violence prevention. The board has already devoted funding specifically to our local community organizations that are working on the frontlines of public safety and gun violence prevention, and they have been severely underfunded for a long time. This is a chance to make sure we’re supporting that work in our community. As I learn more about the scope of the board and where this funding can be used, it’s pretty exciting to think about the really broad impact we can have. For example, I know some of the funding is going to support broadband internet throughout the county, which is a huge asset for rural parts of the county in particular. Serving on the board is an opportunity to make a difference through determining how those funds are used and how they go back into our community.

SP: You’ve mentioned gun violence prevention, broadband, and maintaining county services. How will you and the board affect change on environmental issues?

Lokshin: As far as the ARPA money, there are some limitations to what we can use for, but it’s a pretty broad group of categories. One of the things we authorized spending for is mapping of the Mahomet Aquifer so we can fully understand where it reaches and what parts we need to prioritize to make sure the aquifer stays safe. It’s a resource that so many people depend upon. We’re also using some of the ARPA money towards water projects throughout the county, including contributing some towards the Garden Hills drainage project, but also in rural districts. Flooding and water backup have become much greater problems in recent years with climate change, really taxing those systems. Water projects are one of the main focus areas of the ARPA funding, so that’s well within that scope.

Hanauer-Friedman: This is not ARPA related, but the County Board has a role to play in terms of environmental concerns for the county generally. For example, zoning issues were recently brought to the board that would determine whether or not the county is able to invest in or install renewable energy, specifically, wind energy throughout the county. So there’s a pretty wide range of environmental issues that come before the board.

Lokshin: Zoning for solar farms and wind projects have come up multiple times during my time on the board. We have an environment and land use committee that handles a lot of those requests and works with the Zoning Board of Appeals to get those projects approved or not, depending on what’s needed in the situation. But yes, we definitely touch on these issues on the board.

SP: How has District 4 changed with redistricting and why is it important for the district to be represented by two Democrats?

Hanauer-Friedman: District 4 includes sections of Western Champaign, pretty large chunks of subdivisions like Cherry Hills in Southwest Champaign, about half of Savoy, and then extends south beyond the airport. So it’s geographically pretty large, but the bulk of the residents we would be representing are really in those Southwest Champaign and Savoy areas.

Lokshin: It’s been a decade since there was redistricting, and the district is more compact now. The population has shifted in Champaign County since the last census, growing significantly in the more urban areas and decreasing in some of the rural areas. A lot more of the population is in South and Southwest Champaign and Savoy. Most of the district is neighborhoods and families. People’s big concern is family safety and preserving the way of life they want for themselves and their families. Democrats are the ones fighting for their concerns. We want safe neighborhoods for all of Champaign County.

Hanauer-Friedman: Democrats really understand the interconnectedness of the different parts of our community. The neighborhoods we represent may not be those most heavily impacted by violence right now, but we understand how connected that issue is across the community. Our kids go to school together; we need to support all parts of the community in order to keep everybody safe. That’s important whether we’re talking about public safety or renewable energy. I’ve heard a lot of sentiment from Republicans on the board pitting rural versus urban, saying those two interests are not aligned and they’re actually in competition with each other. I don’t see it that way. We all depend on food grown in the more rural parts of our district, and we are all connected when we think about environmental concerns.

SP: What do you say to disenchanted voters who may not be excited to turn out on November 8th?

Lokshin: I think it’s easy to feel like the system is rigged against you when you look at the federal level. You look at these big elections with millions of votes and wonder how your one vote will make a difference. But at the local level, that is so not true. A single vote really can make a difference in a local election. Look at the things the County Board is responsible for and know that your single vote can make a difference in whether a gun violence prevention group receives funding, whether we are able to close an unsafe facility that the county owns, or whether the aquifer gets mapped. Your one vote could make a difference here locally on issues that affect your life on a day to day basis. That’s why it’s so important to stay informed and go out and vote your conscience and your desires for the county. 

Find election and voting location information on the Champaign County Clerk and Recorder’s website. For candidate questionnaires from all of the candidates that will be on ballots in Champaign County, check out Champaign County Voters Alliance.

Top photo provided by Jenny Lokshin.

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