If it had not been for the encouragement of , political career may never have been.
The account of Durbin’s efforts for Garrett was just one of the stories told about the retiring state senator when she received the Ab Mikva Political Courage Award from the (Tenth Dems) last Sunday at the .
“He really mentored me,” Garrett said of her first campaign for the Illinois General Assembly in 1998.
Durbin was one of more than 250 people at the Tenth Dems annual fall event. In addition to honoring Garrett, the gathering rallied local Democrats as campaign activities for the March 20 primary and the November, 2012, general election began in earnest.
Candidates for offices from United States Congress to local races throughout the area could be seen gathering signatures for their nominating petitions to have their names placed on the ballot.
A grassroots campaigner
Before Durbin and introduced keynote speaker Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Durbin told the group about his first meeting with Garrett 14 years ago.
“I remember meeting Susan Garrett after she was recruited by the (Illinois House) Speaker (Michael Madigan (D-Chicago)) and dumped by Springfield,” Durbin said, describing Garrett’s campaign strategy in her first campaign.
Garrett had been a community activist and wanted to run a more grassroots campaign than party leaders felt was wise. She reached out to Durbin, who liked her tactics. “I think you can win doing that,” he told her.
“The next thing I knew," Durbin said Sunday, "She won.”
Garrett took that 1998 election by 1,500 votes in a district she called 70 percent Republican. She knocked on 6,000 doors to persuade enough of her neighbors she was the right candidate.
“I wanted to do it my way,” Garrett said.
Big shoes to fill
Two other people who worked tirelessly for Garrett’s election in 1998 were and state Rep. (D-Highland Park). The constituencies of Gash and Garrett comprised Link’s district. Both praised Garrett at Sunday's event.
“[Garrett] represented her district as ethically and honestly as anyone possibly could,” Link said. “These will be big shoes to fill for anybody.”
After the General Assembly drew a new map for the 2002 election, Garrett joined Link in the senate.
Gash, who left the state legislature in 2000 to run for Congress, now chairs the Tenth Dems and has continued to work for Garrett’s reelections.
“She is a stellar legislator,” Gash said. “We’re very lucky to have her in the 10th Congressional District.”
A progressive leader
Garrett received the award from Abner Mikva himself. Mikva is a former member of Congress and a retired federal appellate judge. He was also an early political and legal mentor of President Barack Obama.
“In this red region of Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, we have been a progressive leader,” Mikva said of Illinois and its legislature. “During this whole progressive period, Susan Garrett has been a leader.”
A number of Garrett’s other colleagues offered their praise as well. was one of the people who spoke before Mikva presented the award.
“I’m indeed happy and mostly sad to be here tonight as we honor Susan (Garrett),” Nekritz said. “She stood up for her own causes. She fought corruption and waste. She connected with everybody.”
has looked to Garrett as a mentor. “I like her independence, bipartisanship and leadership,” Sente said. “She is someone I always looked to for inspiration.”
After hearing about how she inspired Sente and others, Garrett said she was honored to accept her award from Mikva.
“To be associated with his legacy is the highest compliment I could receive,” she said.