New district representative, Evanston resident accepts seat

Emilia Barrosse

Evanston resident Robyn Gabel will head to Springfield early, since the Democratic party elected her Sunday to replace Julie Hamos as 18th District state representative.

Gabel, an Evanston resident who won the Democratic primary for Hamos’ seat in February, hopes to collaborate with her predecessor to implement health care reform. She will also vote on contentious legislative issues, like a proposed state income tax hike, while running against independent Steve Funk, a Libertarian, to keep her new seat come November.

After the governor appointed Hamos to be the director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services earlier this month, Democratic committeemen offered Gabel the seat, which Hamos has held since 1999.

“I swallowed hard and said, ‘Well, if you’re ready to leave, I’m ready to take over,'” Gabel said.

Gabel said she is looking forward to collaborating with Hamos in their new roles, particularly on health care, which Gabel has described as her passion.

“I’m thrilled that she’s taking that position,” Gabel said. “I’ve been working on Medicaid issues for a long time, and I’m excited to work with her. … We could really help implement health care reform in Illinois.”

Gabel served as executive director of the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition for 20 years. She won the five-way Democratic primary race for Hamos’ seat in February by a thin margin, garnering 27.15 percent of the vote.

Hamos did not run for re-election. Instead, she ran in the Democratic primary for U.S. Representative of the 10th Congressional District, which includes Evanston, in February, but lost to Dan Seals.

Now, Gabel will run against Funk to keep her new seat after the election in November. Her appointment to Hamos’s seat won’t affect her campaign plans, but running as an incumbent will give her an advantage, she said.

“There are votes I’ll be able to make and bills I’ll be able to sponsor and co-sponsor,” Gabel said. “I think I’ll be able to have some kind of record to run on, which is good.”

Among those bills will likely be a controversial state income tax hike. Gabel on Friday assured Evanston schools and nonprofits thirsty for state funding that she would support the hike­. The maneuver drew criticism from Funk.

“I have spoken to countless voters in our district who are interested in alternative solutions to our state’s budgetary issues beyond the tax increase plan Ms. Gabel recently pledged to vote for,” Funk said.

Joshua Kilroy, a former campaign manager for Gabel, said she will be ready for Springfield.

“She already knows the key players,” Kilroy said. “She already knows how to write a bill and knows how to get it through the committee and on the floor for a vote. She should be able to be effective from day one.”

Gabel will head to Springfield on Tuesday to receive advice and instruction from state officials. She does not know yet what committees she will serve on, she said. Hamos served on several, including the Environment & Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Prison Reform committees and chaired the Mass Transit committee.

Despite the contentious issues waiting for her, Gabel said she is looking forward to Springfield.

“I am ready,” she said. “My bags are packed, and I’m ready to go.”[email protected]