THE BLOG
03/11/2015 01:11 pm ET Updated May 11, 2015

Two Campaigns That Are Game Changers

I'm signing on to two exciting campaigns that would both build the diversity of the Democratic Party's leadership and add to progressive strength in this country: Donna Edwards for U.S. Senate from my home state of Maryland, and Chuy Garcia in the upcoming Chicago mayoral election. They are very different races with completely different dynamics, but they both are incredibly important in terms of the future of the Democratic Party.

The Chicago mayoral election is coming right up, only four weeks away as of Tuesday. The current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is the ultimate Democratic establishment guy: a part of Rich Daley's campaign team, a longtime aide to Bill Clinton, a U.S. House member who was on track to become Democratic Speaker of the House some day if he had stayed, Obama's chief of staff. But Rahm (who, full disclosure, I have known for over 30 years) has gone from being a moderate Democrat who could work with all wings of the Democratic Party while he was in Congress to being the quintessential big-business Democrat. While he was Obama's COS, he urged Obama to back off on pushing for healthcare reform and pushed against Elizabeth Warren's Wall Street accountability agenda. Instead of having a thoughtful, constructive negotiating plan with Chicago's teachers, Rahm turned the contract negotiations into a war. He has become the leading advocate among the country's mayors for privatization of public services. He has cut deals with big low-wage employers like Walmart. He closed 50 public schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Chuy Garcia, who surprised most political pundits by running surprisingly strong in the primary and forcing a runoff despite being outspent 12-to-1, and who is within the margin of error in multiple polls taken since the primary, is a highly regarded local political leader. He is a strong progressive on a range of issues, reminiscent of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington. If elected, he would instantly become the most powerful Hispanic elected official in the country.

This is easily the most important race for progressives in the country in 2015. Electing Garcia would send shock waves through the world of corporate Democrats and would create a media narrative that would help empower progressives in the national arena like Elizabeth Warren.

Donna Edwards would become only the second African-American woman to ever be a U.S. Senator. That alone would be one enormous reason to support her, as more diversity would be a damn good thing in a legislative body overwhelmingly made up of wealthy white guys, but Donna is also one of the most remarkable people and leaders I have ever known. She served for many years as the executive director of the Arca Foundation, where I was on the board, and she took an already great foundation with a long history of philanthropic innovation to a whole new level. When she took on corporate Democrat Al Wynn (he resigned from Congress right after losing to become a corporate lobbyist) in a primary, no one gave her a chance, but she beat him by running one of the best grassroots campaigns I've ever seen. Since being a member of Congress, she has risen through the ranks in just a few years to already be a leader for progressive causes in the House. She just announced today, and already a whole array of progressive groups and blogs are supporting her. And while the election isn't until next year, Donna needs to get off to a great fundraising start to be able to compete in this race.

The dynamics in the race for the U.S. Senate seat from Maryland are very different from those in the Chicago mayoral race, though. Maryland will likely have a bunch of different candidates, and the establishment-embraced frontrunner in Maryland, Chris Van Hollen, is actually a very good guy -- certainly more progressive than Rahm. But there are three reasons to support Edwards over Van Hollen in this race.

First is the factor I already mentioned: When you have two good candidates and one of them is a white guy and the other is an African-American woman, I believe that diversity matters a lot, and this should be a factor.

Second, Van Hollen was an enthusiastic supporter of the truly awful Simpson-Bowles "grand bargain" budget proposal, which cut Social Security benefits and made some other dreadful policy choices. Donna was not only opposed to it but is in favor of Elizabeth Warren's proposal to expand Social Security benefits. While Van Hollen is generally progressive, the fact that he was willing to support something as fundamentally bad as Simpson-Bowles is a not a good sign of him being a strong progressive leader on some really important issues.

Finally, Donna comes out of the progressive movement. Not unlike Warren, she is not a career politician but instead spent her career before running for office as a passionate and brilliant advocate for progressive policies. Chris has been a good politician throughout his career, but I'd rather have a senator who cut her teeth as a progressive-movement organizer than as a career politician.

These are two of the most important political races in this cycle. In Donna Edwards and Chuy Garcia, we have two incredibly strong and progressive leaders who are also people of color who would help change the face of politics as usual. I am very proud to sign on to both of these campaigns that will make a huge difference in both adding to the Warren wing of the party and adding to the diversity of our party's leadership.