Pride PAC formed to support candidates at municipal level

Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison (D-15th), the first openly gay commissioner elected to Cook County Council, speaks during a protest in July outside the Arlington Heights Village Hall, decrying a vote that stopped the Pride flag from flying outside City Hall. (Tom Robb/Newspaper photo)

During Pride Month in June, Arlington Heights administrators, by split vote, enacted an ordinance effectively prohibiting the village from flying the Gay Pride Flag or most other non-government flags at City Hall.

Shocked by that vote, one Arlington Heights resident took action by forming a political action committee — one that could resonate in local municipal elections for years to come.

“The Arlington Heights flag ordinance broke the camel’s back,” said Austin Mejdrich, 26, of Arlington Heights. “The LGBTQ+ (lesbian gay bisexual transgender queer) community and our ever-growing number of supporters are voting, and it’s high time our elected officials remember this.”

Mejdrich said candidates supporting LGBTQ issues need to be supported locally, so he puts his money — and other people’s money — where his mouth is.

Mejdrich last month formed the Northwest Suburban Pride Action Fund, a nonpartisan political action committee, or PAC, to support LGBTQ candidates running for village, park, library and other council seats and commissions, those who support the LGBTQ community and to oppose those who are not supportive of these issues.

He filed an organizational statement and quarterly fundraising report with the Illinois State Board of Elections last month. The fund currently has $110 in cash, but Mejdrich said fundraising efforts are just beginning.

Mejdrich, who says he identifies as queer, has some political experience. His day job as a senior aide to an Illinois legislator is separate from working with the PAC, he said.

Political Action Committees are formed to support a number of specific issues and candidates in local, state, and national elections through campaign fundraising. PACs will often contribute to candidates supporting their given causes or pay for opposition advertising for those who do not.

Illinois-based PACs must file quarterly public disclosure reports detailing campaign activities, including what the campaign committee raised, who made contributions, and what was spent, including campaign expenses details and funds that have been transferred to other campaign funds.

“Real representation means following our words with actions,” said Debbie Smart, trustee of the Arlington Heights Library Board of Trustees and president of the Northwest Suburb Pride Action Fund. “As the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to public office in Arlington Heights, I know firsthand how much change we can effect when our leaders reflect the makeup and needs of our communities. I have always served with pride and encourage others to do the same.

“LGBTQ+ people live in every city and town in the northwest suburbs,” said Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison (D-15e), the first openly gay individual elected to Cook County Council. “Visibility and representation saves lives — and it’s powerful when our municipalities show solidarity with the community. Too often, forces stand in the way of progress, and we will continue to fight to ensure our local government units work with the LGBTQ+ community to advance equality for all.

Arlington Heights village administrators, like elected officials from several other communities, passed a proclamation in honor of Pride Month, but did not allow the Pride flag to be flown outside their village and their town halls.

“Proclamations are fine, but are they (the elect) following the march, or are they just paying lip service?” said Mejdrich.

Some mayors and other local elected officials, including Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, whose village council passed a Pride Month Proclamation, argued that allowing the Pride flag would open the door to the fleet of flags of other groups in the town halls of the village or the city. Other local officials, including Des Plaines Mayor Andrew Goczkowski, dismissed that argument. The Pride Flag flew in front of Des Plaines City Hall in June.

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Melissa C. Keyes