Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Candidate running his campaign in grassroots effort

To call John Nocita an underdog is an understatement.

He is running for the Democratic party’s slot for the Illinois 9th District seat in the House of Representatives, a seat that has been occupied by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky for nearly 10 years. One of the most powerful women in Congress, Schakowsky is the party’s Chief Deputy Whip, and she serves on the Steering and Policy Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

In September Schakowsky reported she had raised $600,000. Nocita was at $2,000, all his own money. Since then, Nocita estimates he’s raised $30,000 overall.

But Nocita believes Schakowsky is out of touch with the 9th District, its voters and the country at large.

“(Schakowsky) epitomizes what’s wrong in America: real divisive politics,” he said. “How does that help us? How does that help the people of this country?”

Compromise, Nocita said, is what is missing in America’s democracy.

“You don’t like meeting in the middle? You’re in the wrong government,” he said. “Here’s what we got right now: The Republicans can say (this) and the Democrats can say that. In the meantime, nothing’s getting done for the United States of America.”

Nocita and his family live in northwest Chicago, where he has practiced law for 15 years. He has helped other local political candidates run for office, but said he became disillusioned with the tenor of modern American politics and decided to run for office so he could change it from within.

The candidate said he chose to run for this seat specifically because of Schakowsky and because he is frustrated with Congress in general.

He said the Schakowsky camp is too liberal for voters in the 9th District and the country as a whole. Nocita’s policies tend to be more moderate. He opposes immediate withdrawal from Iraq, one of Schakowsky’s pet causes, instead favoring a long-term, “responsible” withdrawal without a public timetable. He said he would secure America’s borders to stem illegal immigration, but work with illegal immigrants already residing in the country.

But specifics are not as important as his willingness to reach across the aisle, he said.

“You know, forget what the plan is,” he said. “The reality is, this is going to have to be a give-and-take compromise.”

That’s not one of Schakowsky’s strong points, he said. But regardless of her ability to meet in the middle, the fact remains that she is a powerhouse in Congress.

Since committing to run last September, Nocita has knocked on doors and distributed pamphlets to get the word out.

The race has slowly built up steam, he said, to the point where other local politicians want to “jump on (his) bandwagon.” He said other local politicians and small organizations support him, but declined to name names.

Nocita is proud that most of his support is from individuals and smaller organizations instead of the big businesses that he says form Schakowsky’s base. He said that after approaching businesses and political organizations to build support, many refused on the basis that Schakowsky would retaliate. Entities that did support him had to do so “quietly,” he said. He also declined to name those organizations.

Tom Stapka, Nocita’s campaign manager, said he still thinks his candidate has a good chance at an upset on Tuesday, when 9th District Democrats have a chance to choose who will be their candidate for the House of Representatives.

“We’re very optimistic. It’s an uphill battle, but we’ve found that in our grassroots campaign, everybody wants change,” he said. “If we do very well, we’ll be back two years from now.”

Nocita said his campaign could be characterized as a typical David and Goliath battle. But that’s not his platform.

“I always think people have it backwards: They look to politicians to have their view,” he said. “A politician is there to represent your view. I’ve got to get the people’s wants and views and then I represent that to the people when we’re making these agreements, these deals, these resolutions, whatever it is … Jan, though, by virtue of her power, doesn’t have to listen to anybody.”

But Nocita said he would not be completely beholden to popular opinion.

“That’s the problem, most politicians take that role,” he said. “And then it works now, but it doesn’t work in the long term. That’s why you elect guys like me … to do the hard job, to make the unpopular decision, and then later explain why we had to go that way.

“I would be eternally happy if I were elected once, did my best, and then was thrown out of office,” he said. “Clearly the voters have control of the day, but being a man of principles, I mean, I have my principles.”

Reach Megan Crepeau at

[email protected].

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Candidate running his campaign in grassroots effort