She Runs Illinois 2020! — Cynthia Cunningham candidate for IL House Rep, District 104

She Votes Illinois is pleased to feature Cynthia Cunningham, running for IL House of Representatives, District 104. Follow our series, She Runs Illinois 2020!, leading up to election day as we showcase and uplift the voices of Illinois women running for public office in the upcoming election.

Cynthia Cunningham, candidate for IL House of Representatives, District 104 (photo credit: Jessie Starkey)

Tell us about yourself

Cindy Cunningham has been interested and involved in public service all of her life. Growing up as one of two daughters of a union plumber taught her the value of hard work and the need for people to work together to achieve our goals. Her dad worked on some of Chicago’s most iconic buildings — the Hancock building, the First National Bank of America (now Chase), and the new Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Stadium). Her mother worked in a piano hammer factory and managed the family home.

While growing up, Cindy learned the value of helping others by volunteering in the special education classroom in her school, reading to fellow students after her class work was done. This exposure to being able to help people with special needs early on eventually led her to a degree in recreation therapy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a lifelong home in Champaign County.

Cindy’s professional career has been focused on service to others. She has worked with senior citizens, disabled veterans, and disabled kids. While a student at the U of I, Cindy spent her summers at a residential camp for disabled kids, teaching swimming lessons, helping them with personal care needs, and helping them have a good time. Her college internship was at the Danville VA, focusing on using recreation as a treatment intervention for veterans in the Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Unit and the Psychiatric care unit. Since graduation, her focus has been on helping seniors. She has worked in nursing homes and in adult day services programs, and for the University of Illinois’s College of Nursing on a special project, and finally created her own company, Cobalt Creek Consulting, to assist others in the creation and running of businesses that provide home and community-based services to seniors.

Working for the University of Illinois, Cindy participated in a literature review on ways to improve functioning of persons with early stage dementia, without the use of prescription drugs, a project contracted by the Alzheimer’s Association. She co-authored a paper with professors from around the country on the topic.

Cindy’s passion for compassionate care for seniors led to her involvement in professional associations, statewide. She was the Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition on Aging, serves as the President of the Illinois Adult Day Services Association and as the Legislative Chair for the Illinois Association of Community Care Program Home Care Providers. She is an appointed member of Illinois’s Older Adult Services Advisory Committee. She has spoken at numerous state, local, and national conferences on aging care, including for Leading Age Illinois, the National Adult Day Services Association, and the Governor’s Conference on Aging.

In her free time, Cindy enjoys spending time with her family — husband Keith a farmer and retired Lieutenant with the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, daughters Katie and Andrea, and son Ben. But she also believes in contributing to the well being of her community, and served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT-B with the Ogden-Royal Fire Department and has taught Sunday School at St. John Lutheran Church in Royal since 2008. She was a Girl Scout leader for several years and she served on St. John’s church council.

The last two years of Illinois’s failure to enact a budget led Cindy to the decision to run for state representative. During the course of the budget impasse, Cindy advocated for emergency Medicaid payments for providers to enable them to continue serving seniors, she pushed for the inclusion of Community Care Providers in the Medicaid court orders for payment, appeared at numerous state hearings on the effect of the budget impasse and has been a powerful advocate for the fair treatment of seniors and the people who care for them. She served on the steering committee for Pay Now Illinois, a group of human services providers who were not being paid for the services that the state contracted with them to provide, that sued the state of Illinois, seeking fair treatment.

Tell us about the women in your life

Women get things done. My mother, Joan Miller, was the hardest working person I ever knew and anyone who knew her and worked with her would agree with me. My grandmother, Mildred Miller, was the most free spirited and adventurous person I ever knew. They never waited for anyone to tell them what to do, they forged ahead with both what needed to be done and especially in my grandmother’s case, with what she wanted to do. It only rarely occurred to me that being a woman would be an impediment to my goals because of the examples they set. Although, I did grow up aware as a young girl, that my mother could not get a credit card unless my father was a cosigner, and that my grandmother remembered a time when women could not vote.

The women currently in my life are so inspiring. I am a member of the 2020 class of the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership Training Academy. As part of that class, I’ve met Hon. Barbara Flynn Currie, the first woman in the General Assembly in a leadership position. I was in awe of her for so many years before I got to spend time with her, it was surreal to have the opportunity to talk politics with her and listen to her carefully crafted arguments and philosophies. I also admired Nancy Rotering, the mayor of Highland Park, whose state’s attorney’s race I followed. She was bold, confident, and had an unapologetic progressive voice and outlook for the direction of Illinois. And now I get the opportunity to hear her political views. I also really admire my IWILTA class members who have already accomplished so much and are planning to do so much more.

Candidate Cynthia Cunningham engaging with residents. (Photo credit: Jessie Starkey)

What led you into politics? Why are you running for THIS office?

I went into politics because I want to do the job of state representative for the 104th district. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success in my career and don’t need the office for self-validation. I started out wanting to do this job because I wanted to do my part to make sure that government could not be weaponized against vulnerable people and the people who serve vulnerable people as was done during the Rauner administration. But then, when I canvassed the district and became friends with so many people in the district, I discovered a passion for the advancement of our local communities. Our district has landed on all of the wrong lists in the last few years — most endangered river in the country, one of the top ten worst cities to live in, one of the ten poorest districts in the state. I want to help turn that around and make sure that our citizens have a someone to advocate for their needs at the state level.

If you were currently in office, how would you use your office to address the economic harm from COVID19 in your community?

Our main priority is the health and safety of our population as we do our best to navigate how to run businesses, educate our students, care for people who are sick, and get back to growing our economy both during and after the COVID 19 pandemic. The world’s scientists are working hard to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID, so it is likely that we will be working on economic recovery following resolution of the pandemic during my first term in office. To support the recovery, we will need to continue at the federal level, to advocate for assistance for our businesses that have been harmed by the shutdowns. We need our businesses to return. We will need to continue to support individuals who need economic assistance until the business community recovers and resumes full employment. But during this process, we still need to be mindful of our other issues — school funding, health care and pharmaceutical access and affordability, and the protection of our environment.

What do you believe the greatest challenges are to creating a more racially just legal and political system?

I think the biggest challenge is the need for white people to recognize that there are systems issues that prevent people of color from getting fair treatment in our legal system and in politics. It is difficult for people to own their own culpability in perpetuating systems that really only work well for white people, because we all are the heroes of our own stories and, for the most part, most of us don’t see ourselves as racists and hate to be called that. However, once we can acknowledge the white privilege that is creating disparity in all aspects of our lives, we can begin making changes. But change will not happen without a change in attitudes and a great deal of humility.

What are the most overlooked issues from a policy perspective impacting women in your district?

Women in my district are far more socioeconomically disadvantaged than men. They earn less money than men, they carry much more of the household maintenance tasks than men do, and they carry more of the burden of childcare than men do. But it has always been this way, so I think these major issues are overlooked as a whole.

What do you wish you had known before you decided to run for office?

I wish I had known how divisive even local politics are. Of course, I had seen that on the national level, but I’d naively believed that locally, people would be different. I’ve seen people I considered friends, whose kids and grandkids I’d taught in Sunday School, who I’d served while on the fire department, whose daughters I’d had in Girl Scouts, publicly and loudly support my opponent. I faced angry men stop just short of physical violence when I knocked on their door or even walked in their neighborhood because I am a Democrat. There are truly disappointing and scary moments when campaigning publicly in these times. I would still run, had I known beforehand what I would face, but I would have prepared myself for it better if I’d known in advance.

Closing comments

My goals for office include developing a strategy for addressing the growing needs of seniors in Illinois, the fair treatment of labor unions by the state, reaffirming our commitment to education and higher education through equitable, stable funding of our schools, colleges, and universities, changing our income tax structure to be more fair, and pushing for the fair treatment of all Illinoisans, not just the elite.

I am looking forward to being an advocate for the people in the 104th district and for creating opportunities for economic development.

If you would like to learn more about Cynthia Cunningham and her platform or volunteer for her campaign, please check out her website at electcindycunningham.com. Don’t forget to follow her on Facebook at @CindyforStateRep. Reach out today and help make a difference in the upcoming 2020 election.

(The information contained in this post is provided only as general information and does not imply an endorsement by She Votes Illinois.)

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She Votes Illinois is a statewide political action committee dedicated to facilitating engagement, participation & support of women in all aspects of politics.

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She Votes Illinois

She Votes Illinois

She Votes Illinois is a statewide political action committee dedicated to facilitating engagement, participation & support of women in all aspects of politics.

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