Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Will Guzzardi on His Plans for the Recount (and After)

Will Guzzardi, the 24-year-old, Ivy League-educated former Huffington Post Chicago editor, announced Monday that he would pursue a recount in the March 20th primary for the 39th District State Representative. When I spoke to the Brown University graduate on Monday night, he was trailing by 125 votes to five-term incumbent Toni Berrios, the daughter of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Guzzardi said he plans to file…

Will Guzzardi, the 24-year-old, Ivy League-educated former Huffington Post Chicago editor, announced Monday that he would pursue a recount in the March 20th primary for the 39th District State Representative. When I spoke to the Brown University graduate on Monday night, he was trailing by 125 votes to five-term incumbent Toni Berrios, the daughter of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Guzzardi said he plans to file for the discovery recount later this week—the Board of Elections must first certify the results, which it is scheduled to do Tuesday.

The conventional wisdom was that 35-year-old Berrios—backed by Rahm Emanuel, Toni Preckwinkle, and Luis Gutiérrez, among others—was a cinch to win. What the conventional wisdom did not see was that she would win so narrowly, by 1.6 percent of the vote, in a low turnout primary—just shy of 8,000 votes cast—for the 39th District Illinois House seat (an area encompassing parts of Avondale, Belmont-Cragin, Portage Park, Logan Square, among other Northwest Side neighborhoods). Berrios, the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the Illinois House, was not available to talk this week, her press secretary Manuel Galvan told me, but he issued the following response from her to the looming recount: “I am continuing to work for the residents of the 39th District and Illinois.” Just as Guzzardi has yet to concede the race, Berrios never issued a formal victory declaration. Galvan told me that on election night, Berrios told her supporters gathered in a Mexican restaurant at Western and Armitage, “When I win, it means that we have to start again to bring more resources to the community.” Speaking for himself, Galvan added, “That’s the right of losers to ask for a recount.” He attributed the close results to “a terrible turnout city-wide, county-wide—no top-of-the-ticket race for everybody to get excited about.”

Guzzardi and I spoke by telephone Monday. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

CF: So you’re actually moving in the wrong direction. On election night, you were down by 72 votes, the next day by 111 votes. Now it’s 125.
WG:
The absentee ballots and provisional ballots were counted.

CF: Are you charging that some underhanded stuff was going on?
WG:
Throughout the day [on election day], we were in touch with volunteers; in a few precincts, there were different types of irregularities. Our credential volunteers were not allowed to see the poll lists, to name one. Almost 4,000 people cast their votes for me—an important statement for progressive, independent leaders.

CF: What’s the difference between a discovery recount and a recount?
WG:
We get to choose one quarter of the 84 precincts in the 39th District to be recounted—so that’s 21 precincts. The Illinois Supreme Court reviews results, and at that point, it decides whether to call for a full recount.

CF: Who pays?
WG:
We do. It’s $10 a precinct, so $210.

CF: You won the Chicago Tribune endorsement although editorial writers made a point of noting, “We disagree with him on many things.” But they did agree with you that Berrios is a “go-along, get-along” legislator. Would it have helped you if the Chicago Sun-Times had not instituted just before primary election day a policy of no longer issuing endorsements?
WG:
I think there’s an important place for newspaper endorsements. People want a source they can trust. I was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Education Association, the IVI-IPO, and others. [Organizations that endorsed Berrios include the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago, local affiliates of the ALF-CIO and of AFSCME, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Planned Parenthood, and the Sierra Club.]

CF: Have you spoken to Berrios since primary election day?
WG:
I called her office on election night [Guzzardi and his supporters were gathered at a banquet hall on Logan Square.] and spoke to a member of her campaign team, not to concede. I wanted to congratulate her on a strong campaign and talk about preparing for the coming post-election work.  She never returned my call.

CF: What’s next for you if the recount doesn’t go your way? Will you run for the seat again in 2014?
WG:
My plans are to continue to work in the community. I have a great base of volunteers, energized by the results. I intend to continue to organize. On running for the seat again, I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

CF: Do you plan to return to journalism?
WG:
I’d like to get back into journalism. My position at the Huffington Post was filled before I walked out the door.

CF: You have said you spent part of every day, since you entered the race in August 2011, knocking on doors. That’s a lot of doors.
WG:
13,000 doors, five hours a day and eight to nine hours on weekends.

CF: Did you get bitten by dogs, have doors slammed in your face?
WG:
I had very few negative experiences. People who have lived there for 30, 40 years have never seen a politician at their door. They invited me into their homes, and some of them became volunteers for our campaign.

CF: You’re a New York native, reared in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and educated in Providence, Rhode Island. Do you plan to remain living in Chicago and specifically in Logan Square?
WG:
Chicago is my home. I will continue to live in Logan Square. I don’t intend to leave anytime soon.

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