Abdelnasser Rashid (right) talks to Riverside resident John Filipkowski at his home on June 18. (Bob Skolnik/Contributor)

Abdelnasser Rashid defeated incumbent state representative Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) in the June 28 Democratic primary despite being outspent by a margin of nearly two to one. 

Recently filed campaign finance reports show that Zalewski’s campaign committee, Zalewski for State Representative, spent nearly $810,000 in the quarter that ended June 30 while Rashid’s campaign committee, Rashid for Illinois, spent just over $434,000. 

Both campaigns spent heavily on television advertising, direct mail and digital advertising.

Despite being outspent Rashid triumphed winning a little more than 52 percent of the vote in the district that runs from Cicero to Bridgeview and includes the portion of Riverside that is north of the BNSF railroad tracks and parts of the southwestern section of Brookfield. Rashid did especially well in the Riverside portion of the district winning nearly 60 percent of the vote there.

Rashid said he thought the door-to-door campaigning by him and his supporters more than made up for the financial disadvantage that he faced. 

“There is nothing more powerful than having real conversations with people, both to tell them what I stand for but also to hear what’s on their minds and what’s going on in their lives,” Rashid said. “And those conversations that my team and I had with people are the reason that we won and no amount of money could have drowned out the power of those conversations.”

Zalewski had strong support from labor unions, special interest groups, his fellow legislators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker whose campaign committee contributed $55,000 to Zalewski’s campaign and made a campaign stop in Riverside for Zalewski near the end of the campaign. 

Zalewski’s campaign also received $59,900 from the political action committee of the Mod caucus, a group of legislative moderates that Zalewski helped found. He also received a $20,000 contribution from the Illinois Federation of Teachers as well as five figure contributions from groups that support charter schools. He received $49,500 from the Service Employees International Union. On the local level Zalewski’s campaign received a $500 contribution from the North Riverside United Party.

Most of Rashid’s contributions came from Arab American, mostly Palestinian American, individuals or the businesses that they own. If Rashid defeats his Republican opponent, Matthew Schultz, in the November general election he will become the first Muslim and first Palestinian American member of the Illinois General Assembly, a point of considerable pride for Rashid and his supporters.

Rashid, the youngest of 11 children, was born in Chicago to Palestinian immigrants to the United States. His family moved back to his parents village near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank when he was five and didn’t move back to the United States until he was 11. When Rashid returned to the United States he attended the Universal School, a Muslim school located in Bridgeview.

Rashid, 32, went to Harvard and has worked in progressive politics ever since he graduated. After his freshman year at Harvard Rashid took a semester off from school to work on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He was a field campaign worker in Dearborn, Michigan and in southwest Detroit.

Rashid said he is not taking the general election for granted although the district heavily leans Democratic. He says the Republican Party does not offer what voters in the 21st District want.

“The Republican Party wants to take our country in the wrong direction, reversing women’s rights, allowing unfettered access to guns and denying the reality of climate change” Rashid said.