Glenn Harris, a three-time candidate for 8th District state representative, died this past weekend. Mr. Harris, 47, was a Chicago resident and Republican challenger for the 8th District seat. He was set to challenge Democratic opponent LaShawn Ford in the November election.
Harris died late Saturday of an apparent heart attack, according to family and friends. He first ran for 8th District state representative in 2002 against then-incumbent Calvin Giles.
Because of a lack of funds, as well as running as a Republican in the largely Democratic 8th District, his 2002 and 2004 campaigns were unsuccessful.
“Glen Harris knew about the image problem that his party had within the black community, but he wanted to prove that his radical approach to the beliefs of the party could address issues on the West Side better than his Democratic counterparts,” said Patrick John, a spokesman for Harris’ campaign.
Mr. Harris gave an interview with the Austin Weekly News shortly before his death, and spoke about growing up on the West Side and his political prospects.
He was born and raised in Garfield Park, where he learned the importance of strong male leadership to combat the problems of crime and recidivism that were prevalent on the West Side at the time, he said.
“When I was going to school, we had officers at our school who had a first-name-basis relationship with all the students and faculty. They commanded respect, and students looked up to them as such,” he said. “There were always those who would challenge them anyway, but the students, as a whole, looked up to them because they represented real male authority, and they were not to be trifled with. We’ve gotten away from that in our schools today. Where are those strong male figures?”
Harris graduated from Westinghouse High School and later attended Triton College where he earned his degree as a certified automotive technician. He and his wife, Eula, had eight daughters and three sons. This year they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
Despite working in the field of mechanics and as a truck driver, while also balancing his time spent with his family, Harris allocated his time to involve himself with his community as precinct captain of the 29th District in the 1990s.
His passion for his community, he said, would eventually motivate him to make a radical change in his political philosophy as he officially embraced the Republican Party in 1999.
Justifying his decision, Mr. Harris said, “I look around at the West Side, at the poor conditions of the schools and a troubled police force, and at the lack of businesses in our community, and I had to ask: What have the Democratic appointees done for us? If the Republican Party is so bad, show me how [Democrats] are any better. It’s not like they haven’t had their chances.”
Harris made the decision to run for 8th District state representative in 2001 against Giles. He believed he could bring a better educational curriculum to the West Side and more school choice.
But as a black Republican, selling that message proved difficult.
“He didn’t receive much financial support from his party-not because he was black, but because many in the party felt that running in a predominantly black community as a Republican gave him little or no chance of success,” said John.
“Face it, if you are a Republican and white, people assume you must be racist. If you’re black, they assume you must be a brown-noser, and that’s just the way it is.
“Consequently, he was facing a real uphill battle against [candidate Lashawn K.] Ford,” said John of the 2006 race. “If he was running in a white community, he probably would have garnered much more support from the party. However, he really wanted to change his community and prove that we didn’t have to depend on that perfect Democratic candidate to impact the West Side. He wanted to prove that there were Republicans who cared about the West Side and wanted to change it.”
Services for Harris are scheduled for this Saturday, Sept. 9, at Gospel Temple, 3855 W Harrison. The wake is from 10 to 10:30 a.m. The funeral is at 10:30 a.m.