Indian-American running for Illinois State House raises impressive campaign funding

Kevin Olickal, candidate for the Illinois State House of Representatives from District 16. (Photo: Jojo Olickal)

An Indian-American running for the Illinois State House of Representatives has raised the most money among the contenders for the campaign to win the Democratic primary.

Kevin Olickal, 26, who describes himself as a “progressive Democrat” committed to fighting for the middle class, says he has raised $117,009 in Fourth Quarter of 2019, for his bid to win his party’s nomination from District 16.

That sum, Olickal says, is more than any of his competitors who include incumbent Democrat Yehiel Kalish and another challenger, Denyse Wang Stoneback, all three competing in the primary that is just weeks away on March 17, 2020.

In an interview with News India Times/Desi Talk, Olickal said he and his team of more than 20 volunteers has been reaching out to the South Indian Malayalee community, and other South Asians in the District.

“District 16 has the highest population of South Asian of all Districts in Illinois,” Olickal said. “So my time is spent going door-to-door. Our focus is to build a grassroots movement, with no PAC money. That seems to appeal to voters here.”

For the March 17 primary, Olickal estimates he will need $200,000 to $250,000.

If he wins the primary, he will be a shoe-in on Nov. 3, as this district has no Republican contender and has been in Democratic hands for decades.

Former Illinois House Rep. Louis I. Lang, represented District 16 for 32 years before resigning in early January 2019, under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations, bribery and threats in connection with the passage of a 2013 medical marijuana bill, the news outlet reported Jan. 7, 2019. The investigation was dropped on grounds that the allegations were unfounded.

Lang quit to join a Republican lobbying firm, but as an officeholder in the Democratic Party, in the role of Niles Township Democratic Committeeman, Lang had significant say in appointing his successor, current incumbent Yehiel Kalish, to fill the remaining term. Kalish, an ordained rabbi, and Olickal’s main opponent, is therefore, technically, running for the office for the first time.

After Kalish voted ‘present’ in May 2019, in the vote for the Illinois Reproductive Rights Act, rather than rendering a ‘yes’ vote, the Democratic establishment, including Lang, was concerned about his run for the seat. A Chicago Tribune report of Aug. 20, 2019, notes that Lang transferred his allegiance to Stoneback, also a community activist like Olickal. However, with the party backing Stoneback, it makes Olickal has somewhat of an outsider status, one that makes his fundraising prowess all the more remarkable.

“This election is about challenging political institutions — I decided to do it. I felt our community would never get a chance otherwise to be at the table,” Olickal told this correspondent. If he manages to win the primary, he will end up being the second Indian-American in the Illinois General Assembly. Currently, the Illinois State Senate has one Indian-American, Ram Villivalam, also a Democrat.

Olickal announced his impressive campaign fundraising Jan. 8, in what has been a relatively short run campaign, as he launched his bid on Nov. 14, 2019.

The Indian-American says his donations come from grassroots supporters and community groups across the 16th District. “It notably does not include contributions from corporate PACs or lobbyists,” which Olickal has pledged not to accept, according to the press release.

“Families in the 16th District deserve a government that answers to the voters – not wealthy and powerful special interests,” Olickal said. “I’m running for State Representative to fight for affordable housing, quality health care, fair wages and working conditions, strong protections for reproductive rights, and common-sense gun safety laws,” he added, promising to be “a reliable progressive voice in Springfield…”

Born and brought up in Illinois, a lifelong resident of Skokie and a product of Skokie Public Schools and Niles North High School, Olickal earned his Bachelor of Science degree at The Ohio State University. His father Jojo Olickal, came to this country in 1986, and has worked at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office in the Department of Motor Vehicles for 30 years. His mother, Susan Olickal is a chemist. His younger brother Jeff Olickal is studying at Indiana University.

Olickal’s election website says he has worked on successful political campaigns in the past to support candidates who championed working families.

He was a Field Coordinator for State Representative Michelle Mussman, 56th District; a Field Director for State Representative Karina Villa, 49th District; and Campaign Manager for Niles Township D219 School Board Member Bushra Amiwala.

He is currently executive director of the Indo-American Democratic Organization and has been endorsed by IADO as well as the Asian-American Midwest Progressives, he said.




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