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Jacob Meister: Gay man enters Senate race

by Andrew Davis
Monday Sep 21, 2009
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Jacob Meister is a Democratic candidate for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat that will open in 2010.

Meister is an openly gay man who has practiced law in Chicago for nearly 20 years and has had government experience at the federal, state county and municipal levels.

"I’m in the race because it’s time to take back Illinois politics from career politicians and others associated with the city and state political machines," Meister said in the release. "It’s time to send someone with a progressive vision and real-world experience to Washington to work for the people of Illinois."

Windy City Times talked with Meister and his campaign manager, Lowell Jaffe.

Windy City Times: Could you talk about your background a bit?

Jacob Meister: Sure. I worked at Capitol Hill for a number of years in the ’80s, and then went to law school. I made the decision that I could do a lot more good practicing law than staying in politics. For the past 20 years, I’ve been practicing commercial/business law, in areas like banking, communications and transportation. I also had a very healthy pro bono practice. So now I come back to politics with a tremendous amount of experience.

WCT: I see-but why now?

Jacob Meister: Honestly, I feel almost compelled to jump into this race. There are a number of good people who could have run; unfortunately, they didn’t. And we had a very poor field of candidates that’s not representative of our party-who I don’t think will help Illinois’ situation. There’s a dark cloud over this seat, and we need to bring in someone from outside the system.

WCT: You said there were some good people who aren’t running. You don’t have to name those people, but what qualities do they have?

Jacob Meister: I think progressives who do not have a cloud hanging over them [ concerning ] questionable character and who would’ve acted in the best interest of Illinois voters [ would be good ] . One of my campaign slogans is "A voice for Illinois"-and I really think that is what I bring. I don’t have any associations with machines on the city or state level.

WCT: So you’re not saying that if someone else enters the race who [ has ] those qualities, that you’re going to drop out?

Jacob Meister: No. I’ve decided that I’m going to be in this race because I feel very strongly about it. I’ve made the commitment to be in this race, and it’s already September. I really don’t see anyone jumping in, but I’m in it for the long haul.

WCT: Sexual orientation is not the defining issue for you, but it is an important part of you. I understand that you’re working with several LGBT leaders and the Victory Fund.

Jacob Meister: I’ve always felt that gay and lesbian issues are very important, and I’ve been involved with the community; I’ve done a fair amount of pro bono work with Lambda Legal, and have worked with other minority groups [ regarding ] racial and religious discrimination. I am in the application process with the Victory Fund.

WCT: Have you read the LGBT platform of one of your competitors, Alexi Giannoulias?

Jacob Meister: I absolutely have. It’s no coincidence that he announced his position when he did. He’s known that I was getting into the race-and that enough about what I feel his motivation is; it’s kind of a preemptive strike. He ultimately did the right thing, but he should have done it for genuine reasons, not political purposes.

WCT: This race is going to be particularly intense.

Jacob Meister: Yes; it’s going to be a very interesting race, and it comes at a particular time for Illinois because of the cloud that’s hanging over this position. It’s being carried widely, which is good.

Illinois has become somewhat of a laughingstock. It’s one of reasons that I feel motivated to jump into this race. We need to bring someone from outside the existing machines to clear up the reputation of Illinois in Washington.

WCT: What will be the biggest obstacle for you in this race, Jacob? Name recognition? Dealing with the machine?

Jacob Meister: I’ve gotten a surprising amount of support from people within the political establishment, but I think name recognition is going to be very interesting. You have candidates who haven’t held elected office before; then, you have Alexi Giannoulias, who has very high negatives. It’s going to be a very interesting race from that perspective.

Certainly, it’s an expensive race; I’m doing well out of the starting race, but Senate seats are notoriously expensive so I’ll be looking for support from all quarters. I feel very strongly about the organization I’m putting together; we’re doing it right. So I have to get my name out there and make sure I have the resources to do it.

WCT: Your Web site doesn’t mention LGBT issues. Why is that?

Lowell Jaffe The Web site that is up right now is basically a [ temporary ] folder. We’re launching a different Web site that should be up this week. This [ current ] site was supposed to just have his announcement letter and a short overview of issues, but a more comprehensive Web site should be up [ soon ] .

WCT: It just seemed strange that, even with the preliminary site, LGBTs are not included in the issue page.

Lowell Jaffe When the official Web site, it will certainly be on there. [ Note: The temporary Web site has been updated to include LGBT issues, according to a voicemail Jaffe left Windy City Times Sept. 14. ]

WCT: Jacob, is there anything else you want to add?

Jacob Meister: I’m not one who takes pride in getting negative about my opponents, but I think once people learn about their backgrounds-particularly David Hoffman’s, and the work he did for William Rehnquist and [ Dennis ] Jacobs on the 2nd Circuit. I’ve always known him to be a neoconservative, and he’s certainly worked for people who’ve handed down some discriminatory and racist decisions, including [ those involving ] anti-sodomy laws. I think people will realize that [ Hoffman ] is trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

Others vying for the seat currently held by Roland Burris include State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and former city Inspector General David Hoffman, both Democrats, and Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk. The primary election will be held Feb. 2. See www.MeisterForSenate.com .

Copyright Windy City Times. For more articles from Chicago's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.windycitymediagroup.com

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