Kwame Raoul Biography
Politician and lawyer
Kwame Raoul took office in the Illinois State Senate in 2004 when he was appointed to the seat vacated by Barack Obama, who had been elected to the U.S. Senate. The son of Haitian immigrants, Raoul vowed that his top priorities would include affordable health care, equitable funding for public education, and increased funding for Chicago's mass transit system.
Kwame Raoul was born on September 30, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois. One of three children, Raoul grew up in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood and attended prestigious schools. But as a boy, he often locked horns with his authoritarian father, Dr. Janin Raoul, who practiced internal medicine in the city's Woodlawn area. The young Raoul resented his father's stern rules, and confided to Hyde Park Herald writer Jeremy Adragna that their relationship was difficult. "I wish it was closer, warmer as a child," he added, "instead of having to constantly learn life's lessons." Even so, the boy absorbed the influence of "the boss," who provided medical care for low-income patients in Chicago's South Side during a career that spanned nearly 30 years. When Raoul later began campaigning in downtrodden parts of the city, he could see for himself the importance of his father's commitment to making health care affordable for everyone who needed it.
Raoul received his early education at the Ancona School and later attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, which focused on a rigorous academic curriculum. After earning an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University, he enrolled in the Chicago-Kent College of Law, graduating in 1993. During his college years he became a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, a historically black fraternity emphasizing public service and achievement.
Raoul opened a private practice in 1993, covering a range of legal matters and frequently representing indigent clients. He also served as a prosecutor in the Cook County State's Attorney's office, which enforces criminal laws and provides legal services to the second-largest county and the largest unified court system in the United States. In a subsequent position at the City Colleges of Chicago, he focused on labor law. Among his achievements at this job was the negotiation of a settlement that ended a three-week strike involving full-time faculty.
While establishing his career as a lawyer, Raoul also became active in city politics. He twice ran for alderman of Chicago's 4th Ward, but failed to generate sufficient votes. In 1996 he launched a bid to capture the 12th District state Senate seat. Though he won the endorsement of the city's daily newspapers, his campaign failed against an incumbent candidate. "After [these] losses I definitely got the sense that [my father] thought I was spinning my wheels," he recalled to Adragna. Despite his father's wish that he abandon his political ambitions, however, Raoul remained committed to public service. His unflagging contributions to ward-organization work—including the organization of volunteer legal clinics in each ward—were later cited as a major factor in his appointment to his current seat.
By late 2003 Raoul's aspirations for political success finally looked within reach. State Senator Barack Obama had launched a high-energy campaign for the U.S. Senate, and all indications suggested he would succeed. This would make his 13th District Senate seat available, and Raoul decided to jump at the chance to be named to fill it. At the same time, however, he was dealing with his father's terminal battle with cancer. During these months Raoul frequently visited his parents, who had retired to Florida, and began to grow closer to the once-distant parent whose emotional support had so often been withheld. "I started spending a lot of time with him and shared with him my passions," the politician explained to Adragna. These conversations led to Dr. Raoul's growing respect for his son's decision to run for office. With only months left to live, he organized friends and associates—including a formidable network of Haitian doctors—to contribute to the campaign. "He did what a father should do," said Raoul.
With a new state election not scheduled until 2006, the open Senate position was filled by appointment by an 11-member committee. Though Raoul did not win Obama's endorsement, he secured significant financial backing, raising some $60,000 in 2004 between August and November. He also won the support of every committee member except one. In choosing Raoul, the committee described him as a candidate who could win in the 2006 election. "We were trying to find the most electable candidate, as well as the candidate who we felt would best represent the district," said Chicago Alderman Toni Preckwinkle in a statement reported in the Chicago Tribune. Added Alderman Leslie Hairston, who chaired the committee, "Mr. Raoul's commitment and service to the citizens of Chicago and his ward-organization work was something that was high and above the other candidates."
Raoul was sworn in as state Senator for the 13th District on November 6, 2004. Choking back tears and lamenting that his father had not lived to see this triumph, he stated in remarks quoted in the Chicago Tribune that "I look forward to rolling up my sleeves, [and] starting immediately" on an agenda to serve the needs of his constituents, who live in a district that includes some of Chicago's most affluent and most impoverished neighborhoods. He also began actively seeking support for his 2006 campaign to keep the Senate seat to which he was appointed.
Married and the father of a son and a daughter, Raoul has long been active in community service. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Cook County Bar Association and the Cook County Bar Foundation, and has served on the Community Enrichment Committee of the Quad Community Development Corporation. In addition, he has established the Janin and Marie Raoul Foundation, in honor of his parents, which advocates for health care as a basic human right. Raoul has also served on the Ariel Foundation as an advisory board member and mentor, and has volunteered as a youth basketball and youth soccer coach. Committed to voter rights, he has served on voter registration campaigns and has volunteered as an Election Day lawyer. He and his family are members of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.
Chicago Tribune, November 7, 2004, p. 1.
Hyde Park (Illinois) Herald, December 3, 2004.
"Cook County State's Attorney's Office Mission Statement," Cook County State's Attorney's Office, www.statesattorney.org/default.htm (September 1, 2005).
"Kwame Raoul," Illinois State Senate Democrats, www.senatedem.state.il.us/raoul/ (September 1, 2005).
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