Krishnamoorthi touts business experience, community connections

Krishnamoorthi touts business experience, community connections

  • Raja Krishnamoorthi

    Raja Krishnamoorthi

and Projects Writer
Posted3/12/2012 5:30 AM

In early June, Raja Krishnamoorthi's wife, Priya, and his two young sons were away on their first Disney vacation.

But the Hoffman Estates Democrat was sitting at a Panera Bread in Schaumburg, working away on his laptop late into the evening.


It was early in the primary election campaign, but the 8th District congressional hopeful was already pressing hard.

In just weeks, he had raised $400,000 and locked up the endorsements of most of the 8th District's Democratic committeemen and some big names, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Congressman Danny Davis of Chicago.

There was a reason for Krishnamoorthi's urgency.

He needed a head start on his opponent, who came late to the party after leaving the administration of President Barack Obama but had a well-known name and connections among what Krishnamoorthi would describe as "Democratic Party elders."

Tammy Duckworth, who left her post as assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs to pursue a congressional run, narrowly lost an election six years ago in the old 6th Congressional District, more than half of which is now in the new 8th District's territory in the Northwest suburbs.

That, coupled with Duckworth's political connections stemming from her state and federal administrative appointments, was reason enough for some to initially dismiss Krishnamoorthi's own bid for office.

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"I like Raja a lot -- he's a friend of mine," Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod remarked last summer outside a private fundraiser for Duckworth in Chicago. But, he continued, "I have told him I don't think it's the right decision for him. I think he's made a mistake by getting into this race, but sometimes you have to make your mistakes and learn from your mistakes."

Yet, over the next six months, Krishnamoorthi would press on, countering Duckworth's Washington, D.C., connections with a grass-roots campaign proclaiming he had the small-business experience to really help residents of the new 8th District. The winner of the primary will square off in the November general election against Congressman Joe Walsh, the Tea Party Republican firebrand from McHenry, in a race guaranteed to be one of the most closely watched in the nation.

"I humbly submit to you that the economy is the No. 1 issue of this campaign," Krishnamoorthi, in a brown pinstriped suit, said to a group of Palatine Township Democrats during an endorsement interview Feb. 18, punching his right forefinger into the air and bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Krishnamoorthi joked that he often is asked on the campaign trail what his name means -- telling voters it translates to "next Congressman of the 8th District" -- before launching into his pitch about how his small-business experience has put him on the "front lines of the economic crisis."


His comprehensive 24-page economic plan outlines a series of solutions, from investing in infrastructure, to maintaining and extending unemployment benefits, to extending and enlarging the payroll tax cut, to better addressing the housing crisis.

Duckworth had spoken to the Palatine group moments before, in jeans and a blazer, noting that as a disabled Iraq War veteran she could speak with authority about how to cut defense spending, and that from a childhood experience on food stamps, she could connect with struggling families in the district.

The group of two dozen party officials ultimately chose to endorse no candidate in the race, though Krishnamoorthi technically won by one vote.

No endorsement was made, Democratic Committeeman Sue Walton explained, because candidates needed to win by 10 percent or more, a rule that relieved several members.

While Duckworth has advertised her Washington connections, Krishnamoorthi highlights his strong ties to members of the local Indian and Pakistani communities, who after decades of supporting and fundraising for fellow Democrats "are ready to have a seat at the table," he says.

"I think that the fact that we have tremendous local community support signifies that, while certain other folks may believe differently, the people in my community are ultimately going to decide this race," Krishnamoorthi said. The 8th District, according to census figures, contains about 12 to 13 percent Asian residents, about one-fourth of them South Asians.

The new congressional district, drawn by Democratic cartographers to reflect 2010 census figures, is a coveted one, without a sitting Congressman (Walsh technically resides outside the 8th District boundaries) and containing some of the most independent voting portions of Northwest Cook and DuPage counties. The district is centered in Schaumburg and stretches from Addison to Elgin, including parts of Addison, Bloomingdale, Dundee, Elgin, Barrington, Elk Grove, Hanover, Schaumburg, and Wheeling townships.

Krishnamoorthi has worked for the support of local state legislators -- including Democratic state reps. Michelle Mussman, of Schaumburg, and Fred Crespo, of Hoffman Estates, as well as state Sen. Michael Noland, of Elgin.

"I've gotten a chance to know Raja over the last couple of years," Noland said. "I've known Tammy for a number of years as well."

While Noland cites both candidates as "excellent," he says Krishnamoorthi's "breadth of experience shows me he has a broader understanding of the issues. His accessibility and his willingness to engage on difficult questions make him a better candidate."

One of the things that impressed him about Krishnamoorthi, Noland said, was that "he called me early on in the whole process. I never did really hear from Tammy."

As of Friday, Krishnamoorthi had raised $1.15 million for his campaign, compared to $1.28 million for Duckworth, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Krishnamoorthi, 38, was born in New Delhi, India, and moved with his family to the United States before he was a year old. From age 7 on, he spent his childhood in Peoria, graduating as valedictorian from Richwoods High School. After receiving a mechanical engineering degree from Princeton and a law degree from Harvard, he was hired at prominent Chicago firm Kirkland and Ellis, a position he left to work as deputy Illinois treasurer under Alexi Giannoulias.

Kirkland and Ellis attorney Jack Levin said he became familiar with Krishnamoorthi through work at the firm as well as through their volunteer efforts on Obama's campaign.

Krishnamoorthi was an early supporter of Obama, serving as issues director for his 2004 Senate campaign and as an adviser to his 2008 presidential campaign.

He recalls, that June evening at the Schaumburg Panera, visiting Obama at his former law office after Obama's first, failed 2000 congressional bid.

Obama seemed defeated, Krishnamoorthi said, but not ready to give up, a lesson Krishnamoorthi seems to bring to his current bid for office following his loss in a primary election bid for Illinois comptroller in 2010, when he came within 1 percent of capturing the Democratic nomination.

Levin, of Winnetka, who has since contributed monetarily and helped direct contributors to Krishnamoorthi's campaign war chest, describes his former colleague as "a dynamo, someone who is committed to spending all of his free time trying to make it a better world."

Even a decade ago, Levin said, Krishnamoorthi's political aspirations were clear. "He is one of those people who is high energy, who see the goal their whole lives and are (constantly) driving toward that."

Krishnamoorthi is now president of a high-tech company, Sivananthan Laboratories, which makes night-vision goggles and solar cells, with roughly a dozen part and full-time employees. Krishnamoorthi says he, like small-business owners across the area, has struggled to make payroll. He hopes to extend federal research grants to help companies like his own.

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