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State House: Taking on a ‘sure-thing’ Democrat in the 32nd

State Rep. Andre Thapedi is popular his South Side 32nd House District. He whis se2008 ran unopposed 2010.

State Rep. Andre Thapedi is popular in his South Side 32nd House District. He won his seat in 2008 and ran unopposed in 2010.

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Updated: February 29, 2012 12:10PM

State Rep. Andre Thapedi excels at winning elections, and he usually wins by ridiculously huge margins. He first won his seat in 2008 by handily defeating fellow Democrat Milton Patterson with nearly 100 percent of the vote. He ran unopposed in 2010. And while nothing is ever certain in politics, let’s just say it’s incredibly difficult to imagine a scenario in which Thapedi’s opponent, perennial would-be candidate Bobby Joe Johnson, presents a legitimate challenge. There is no Republican nominee for this seat.

Thapedi is enormously popular in his South Side district, which includes Englewood, Auburn Gresham and West Chatham, and he boasts an impressive pedigree and educational background. Raised on the South Side, Thapedi attended Morehouse College and the John Marshall Law School. He worked for several high-profile Chicago law firms before starting a private law practice with his mother, retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge Llwellyn Thapedi.

With a record of legislative action on curtailing gun trafficking and reforming foreclosure law, Thapedi offers solid plans on his other top campaign issues: restructuring workers’ compensation statutes and tackling the state budget deficit.

In response to other challenges, his strategies, as outlined in his Sun-Times candidate questionnaire, are less detailed. On whether to extend the 2-percentage-point increase in the state income tax, passed as a temporary measure last year, he said, “I look forward to reviewing the governor’s budget . . . and will make the appropriate informed decision at that time.”

On pension reform: “A pension panel is a step in the right direction.”

And on legislators negotiating contracts with state labor unions: “There are various facets to true negotiations.”

Asked whether he supports gay marriage, Thapedi hedged: “I am uncertain of the query.”

He supports updating and renovating Illinois’ existing gambling facilities in an effort to stem the flow of gambling dollars into neighboring states.

Thapedi’s opponent, Bobby Joe Johnson, has no political record, but he’s not a newcomer to local politics. A 2011 attempt to run for alderman in the 6th Ward was stymied, and he did not appear on the ballot. Similarly, two previous bids to defeat Thapedi, in 2008 and 2010, were derailed when the Illinois Board of Elections invalidated his petitions, citing an inadequate number of valid signatures. Johnson did not return the Chicago Sun-Times candidate questionnaire.

Johnson, who works as a building manager, has served for several years as a member of the local school council at Paul Robeson High School; he joined the council when his daughter was a student there.

Johnson’s primary interest is education. “My main focus is the kids,” he told the Sun-Times in a phone interview. He cites bureaucracy in the public schools as one of the major challenges facing Chicago students. “There’s so much red tape,” he said, “and you can’t make a great team in the schools because you don’t have the money to fund teachers.”

Johnson said he thinks Thapedi has not maintained a connection to the district and that he would do a better job translating constituent concerns into legislation. “The streets are where you’re going to change society — if you’re not out here with them and understanding what people are going through, you’re not going to make a difference. And I really feel like I can change things.”

Whether voters will agree remains to be seen. But given Thapedi’s popularity and record of overwhelming victories, an upset in the 32nd looks like a near-impossibility.

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