Greg Harris Endorses Heather Steans Over Gay Rights Activist Jim Madigan in State Senate Race

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), one of two openly gay and lesbian lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly, just endorsed freshman State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) for reelection in the upcoming Democratic primary over gay rights activist Jim Madigan.

Responding to an inquiry from your Huffington Post blogger, Harris said, "She has been a strong advocate for lesbian, gay and trans[gender] issues in Springfield, worked hard behind the scenes in the last few months to preserve funding for HIV/AIDS services in Illinois and is well thought of in the district as well."

Steans, 46, whose Chicago-lakefront senate district overlaps Harris' house district, provided the following statement on Harris' endorsement:

"Greg has been a true mentor and guiding force for me in Springfield. He is a voice for progressive policy change, most notably in human rights and health care reform. And I look forward to our continued fight for marriage equality."

Madigan, 35, a University of Chicago-trained lawyer, is the former interim executive director of Equality Illinois, a statewide gay rights political organization based in Chicago.

In response to the Harris endorsement, Madigan stated, "While I appreciate Rep. Harris' opinions on this race, I would think he, more than many, would realize how vital it is for all communities to be directly represented."

"For the record, I did not ask for or in any way seek the endorsement of Greg Harris," Madigan added. "I look forward to working hard during this election and winning the endorsement of the people of the 7th district."

In addition to Harris, your Huffington Post blogger contacted freshman State Representative Deb Mell (D-Chicago), an openly lesbian legislator, regarding her endorsement intentions in the Steans-Madigan race. Mell did not immediately respond for comment.

An ally of Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Steans will also undoubtedly have Cullerton's backing, too.

Steans, appointed to the 7th District senate seat in February 2008, following the retirement of long-time State Sen. Carol Ronen, defeated activist Suzanne Elder nearly two-to one in the February 5, 2008, Democratic primary in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

In addition to endorsements, another key political barometer in the race will be campaign cash.

Madigan -- no relation to Attorney General Lisa Madigan or her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan -- filed his first campaign contributions report last week with the Illinois State Board of Elections and reported raising $845 and having $445 cash-on-hand.

Steans, who assumed office in February 2008, reported raising $67,458 and having $78,897 cash-on-hand.

Madigan, who semi-officially kicked-off his campaign on June 28 at Chicago's Gay Parade, wrote the following about his campaign finances:

"I completed my tenure at Equality Illinois on June 26, 2009. I pledged that I would not solicit contributions until I completed my service to that 501(c)(3) organization and to the LGBT community. I fulfilled that promise."

Madigan also took the opportunity to poke at Steans and her campaign cash stash.

"It is true that I am behind Senator Steans in funds available, but my family and I cannot match the $97,178 that Steans' family has poured into her campaign in just one year," Madigan said. "I will continue to raise money from private citizens who share my beliefs, not my family tree."

Steans responded, "I have always voluntarily limited contribution amounts to my campaign ... equal to the federal campaign contribution limits (currently $2,400). Over 500 people have contributed to my campaign with amounts ranging from $20 to the federal limit."

The freshmen senator, unwilling to cede any group to Madigan, also stated, "People from every walk of life support my progressive, reform approach to Illinois politics."

Money aside, the Harris endorsement is a huge plus for the freshman senator whose north lakefront district includes a heavy concentration of gay and lesbian voters. Harris is a popular and well-respected lawmaker in the gay, lesbian and transgendered community.

Madigan's climb to the state senate just got a little steeper. Not unwinnable, but steeper.

Candidates will begin circulating primary nominating petitions on August 4 for the February 2, 2010 Democratic primary.