- Nabeela Syed, 23, won the Democratic primary for the 51st House District, and Kevin Olickal, 29, was declared a winner in the 16th District.
Two young Indian Americans are one step closer to becoming the first South Asian Americans in the Illinois State Legislature. Nabeela Syed, 23, won the Democratic primary for the 51st House District, and Kevin Olickal, 29, was declared a winner in the 16th District.
Syed defeated Chelsea Laliberte Barnes by a significant margin. With 95 percent of the votes counted, Syed had 6,624 votes, or 72.32 percent, while Barnes had 2,541, or 27.7 percent, according to the Chicago Tribune. In November, she will take on Republican incumbent Chris Bos. The 51st District includes parts of Palatine, Inverness, Lake Zurich, Hawthorn Woods, Kildeer, and Long Grove.
Olickal, a progressive Democrat, has a lead of over 500 votes over incumbent Denyse Wang Stoneback. Data by the Chicago Tribune shows Olickal with 4,555 or 52.7 percent, compared to Stoneback’s 4,090 or 47.3 percent. The 16th House District includes all or part of Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove and Chicago’s 40th and 50th wards. Although no prominent news organization has called the race yet, Olickal took to his social media handles to declare victory.
The race represented a rematch from two years earlier, when both ran for the seat against former State Rep. Mark Kalis. At the time, Olickal lost to Stoneback by more than 3,000 votes when he finished last in a three-way primary .
On her website, Syed promises to be an advocate for issues most important to her constituents, including healthcare, education, taxes, and equal rights. She says she’s running “to build a better Illinois for residents today and tomorrow — an Illinois with a strong economy, sustainable infrastructure, and affordable healthcare and higher education.”
Currently, she works for a nonprofit in digital strategy supporting a variety of their civic engagement efforts including voter mobilization, ending sexual assault on college campuses, and promoting gender equity, according to her website. Most recently, she served as the Campaign Manager for current Township High School District 211 School Board Member Tim Mc Gowan.
Syed has worked with a variety of progressive organizations, including EMILY’s List, to raise money to elect Democrats to Congress. She has been a mentor for youth as a high school debate coach. She is also active in her religious community at the Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs and is a strong advocate for promoting interfaith dialogue and empowering young Muslim women to lead.
She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Science and Business Administration, where she served as the president of a pro-bono consulting organization assisting local businesses and nonprofits.
Olickal is “committed to fighting for middle-class and working families, ensuring that every community has a voice in government,” according to his website. Born and raised in Skokie to Malayali parents who immigrated to America in the late 1980s, he’s an alumnus of Skokie public schools and Niles North High School
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology at The Ohio State University, he then returned to Illinois, “committing his career to public service to advance and protect the progressive values that allowed his family to succeed in this country,” his website says.
Olickal is currently working part-time towards his Juris Doctorate at Loyola University Chicago School of Law School. Most recently he worked as a Cook County Recovery Specialist at The National Partnership for New Americans providing COVID-19 relief to small businesses and nonprofits.
He told India Abroad in a 2019 interview, that although he is a Democrat, his inspiration to join politics came from his uncle Mathew Olickal, a Republican who was involved in local politics and started to engage Indian Americans in the 1970s and 1980s. “He was a Republican because that party was running a lot of states during those days and Republicans were very supportive of our community,” Olickal said. “His motto was to encourage political participation of the local Indian American community, although I must add he was a great admirer of President Obama.”
Meanwhile, three-term Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi easily won the Democratic primary from the state’s 8th Congressional District, defeating Indian American challenger Junaid Ahmed. With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, Krishnamoorthi received 28,222 or 70.5 percent of the votes, while Ahmed got 11,816 or 29.5 percent. He will face GOP candidate Chris Dargis who is projected to win the Republican primary.