A former NFL linebacker said he wants to represent Illinois in Washington, D.C. as its next U.S. Senator even if it means splitting the black vote as some political pundits said it would.
State Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-IL), whose 15th District includes south suburban Harvey, Markham, Dolton, Calumet City, Riverdale, and South Holland, announced his candidacy Tuesday at Thornton Township High School where he is an alumnus.
“Illinois needs a senator that can articulate the needs of all its communities, and I am willing and able to make sure that change happens,” Harris said. “I’ve worked my life to dedicate it to make sure that others have the opportunities that I was never afforded.”
After playing at Northwestern University Harris played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders during his seven year NFL career.
The 36-year-old Flossmoor resident was first elected to the Illinois Senate in 2012 and replaced the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of the 20,000-member Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, who decided not to seek re-election.
The best candidate for the senate seat, said Harris, needs to be someone who can create job opportunities hand help bring more money to school districts.
“We need to properly fund education. We need to stop the attacks on teachers. We need to get back to the basics of teaching and make sure that our children are properly educated,” Harris said. “We always say we want our kids to be the best educated but we don’t do anything to fund them.”
And while more candidates are expected to join the race, Harris’ biggest opponents for the March 2016 primary election is expected to be Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth and former Chicago Urban League CEO and President Andrea Zopp. The winner will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in the November general election.
Zopp, who is black, said she welcomes Harris into the race.
“Although his entry into the Democratic primary is extremely late, I welcome State Senator Harris to this important conversation about the future of our state and country,” said Zopp. “I’m running for U.S. Senate because I believe voters are looking for bold, new leadership to bring change to Washington. [And unlike Harris and Duckworth] I’m not a politician. I’m a former prosecutor and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.”
Harris said he doubt if the black vote would be split between him and Zopp because his support goes beyond black voters.
“I never look at it as splitting the vote. It’s more for me because I have a base. As you can see, I have a group of men who have a base and are supporting me,” added Harris.
State Senate President John Cullerton (D-IL) is among his non-black supporters in Springfield.
“He’s [Harris] a celebrity with a business background and someone who did actually run for office and get elected,” Cullerton said.
But regardless who supports Harris, Zopp said she is running her campaign on principles and not race.
“I’m proud of our support, with over 100 endorsements from elected officials and faith, community, and civic leaders, who believe I can provide that effective leadership,” explained Zopp. “I believe that Illinois deserves an effective leader who can deliver real results on job creation, criminal justice reform, economic development, and standing up for women and children. [And that’s why] I’m committed to being an advocate for Illinois and protecting the middle class.”