Sonya Harper

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Sonya Harper

Illinois, State Representative (2015-)

Englewood community organizer, former broadcaster, and public relations specialist Sonya Harper was appointed to become 6th District State Representative following the death of Democrat Esther Golar in the fall of 2015. Harper had several challengers during that appointment process and later, during her campaign to hold the seat. That primary race turned into a proxy battle between major campaign interest groups: Democratic Majority and IllinoisGO, and between Harper’s Englewood bonafides and progressive backing for her main challenger, Genita Robinson.

The 6th District is located within the City of Chicago and includes the neighborhoods of Armour Square, Bridgeport, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Gage Park, McKinley Park, New City and West Englewood.

Harper was appointed to the seat by local Democratic committeemen:

The selection process was initially overshadowed: one of the wards with the biggest votes–the 16th–hadn’t had a Democratic ward committeeman since the death of the late Ald. JoAnn Thompson eight months before. Local Ald. Toni Foulkes was ultimately appointed to the position after threatening to sue and run her own candidate for Golar’s seat.

Despite ten rumored candidates jockeying for the spot, including Robinson and former 16th Ward Ald. Shirley Coleman’s daughter, Stephanie Coleman, Harper was appointed by committeemen with unanimous support in October 2015.

One of Golar’s last living acts was to travel to Springfield against doctors orders to vote on a number of closely divided issues–service cuts, child care reductions, and a bill on strike limitations. Harper fit Golar’s mold as a community organizer. One of Harper’s first acts was signing the “Esther Golar Pledge” upon her appointment, vowing to “reverse the dangerous cuts to the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program.” The move also aligned Harper immediately with SEIU Healthcare, who was making a major play in the primaries.

Harper waited until the last minute to file for the March 2016 primary, and had three other challengers: Genita Robinson, Kenyatta Nicole Vaughn and Darryl Smith. The primary was one of the most mail-heavy of the cycle in the Chicago area. Robinson played up her experience as a lawyer and former CPS senior staffer, and the support of former Education Secretary Arne Duncan. She won the endorsements of both the Tribune and the Sun-Times, who said she “understands the issues in Springfield, especially education.” She also had supportive mailers sent from the controversial interest group IllinoisGO (Illinoisans for Growth and Opportunity).

Harper, meanwhile, played up ties to one of the city’s best-known faith figures: Saint Sabina Catholic Church’s Michael Pfleger. Harper had attended the church since she was a teenager. Robinson was hammered for moving away from the neighborhood to the suburbs as a child. In addition to the support of SEIU and area aldermen like Pat Dowell, Harper won significant funding from Democratic Majority, SEIU Healthcare, AFSCME, and House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s campaign committees.

She won the four way primary with just over 32% of the vote, with community activist Darryl Smith following behind.

Harper’s most prominent legislative effort has been to require serial numbers for ammunition sold in Illinois. The proposal generated headlines, but didn’t move anywhere.

Before her time in politics, Harper was the Executive Director of Grow Greater Englewood (a neighborhood urban agriculture coalition), the president of Sharper PR Communications, and was involved in several other Englewood community groups. In 2012, she was an organizer for Pres. Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. She was a news producer for TV and radio throughout the midwest, including at KOPN and KOMU in Missouri. She lives in West Englewood with her young daughter.

Important Political Events

  • 2015, Appointed State Representative by Democratic Committeemen, replacing Esther Golar, who died in office
  • 2016, Elected State Representative unopposed