Our People

Board of Directors

John Gearen, Board Chair and Treasurer, Rhodes Scholar, Partner at Mayer Brown LLP Chicago, former Board Chair of IES Study Abroad and Link Unlimited, current Chair, The Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation.

Rita McLennon, Board Secretary, Executive Director, Shriver National Poverty Law Center, 1993-2007, Chief Operating Officer, Better Government Association, 2010-2012, Director of Development Merit School of Music, 2012 to present

Richard Devine, Chief of Staff, Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, 1996-2008 State’s Attorney of Cook County Illinois.


Advisory Board

Honorary Chairperson of the Advisory Board: Senator Bill Bradley, Rhodes Scholar, US Senator from New Jersey 1979-97, a sponsor of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, candidate for US President 2000, Managing Director Allen & Company December 2000 to present.

Anan Abu Taleb, born in the Gaza Strip, owner of Pizza Capri restaurants in Chicago, Maya restaurant in Oak Park, Illinois, Mayor of the Village of Oak Park 2013-present.

Jeff Artis, 2013-present National Director of Corporate Engagement at Year Up, following 19 year career selling workforce management and technology based service solutions, principally at IBM but also BMC Software, Getronics and Spherion. Previously member of Board of Directors, Indianapolis Urban League.

John Austin, Director of the Michigan Economic Center, Past President Michigan State Board of Education, creator of Great Lakes Economic Initiative for the Brookings Institute.

Jon Baskin, Editor of Point Magazine, University of Chicago, 2008-present, formerly Writer of Progress Report for the Center for American Progress, PhD student University of Chicago.

Chris Connolly, owner of Connolly’s Quality Caretaking, property management and landscaping, Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin.

Lisa Cook, Marshall Scholar, Senior Advisor US Treasury Department 2000-2001, Visiting Associate Professor, Kennedy School, Harvard University 1997-2004, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution based in Stanford University, 2001-2005, Associate Professor of Economics at Michigan State University 2005-present in the fields of innovation economics and economic history, with a leave of absence as staff economist in the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisors, August 2011-August 2012.

Cindy Estrada, UAW Vice President 2010-present, leading General Motors Department 2014-present, current member Democratic National Committee.

Caitlin Frazer, US Department of State Presidential Management Fellow/Foreign Affairs Officer 2010-2013, Legislative Assistant 2013-17/Deputy Legislative Director 2017-present for US Senator from PA Bob Casey.

Carolyn Grisko, since 1995, CEO of Grisko LLC, a full-service communications agency supporting public policy initiatives on behalf of government, nonprofit and corporate clients. Prior to starting the agency, Carolyn worked in the Richard M. Daley administration and in public radio.

Michael Holland, Chairman, UMWA Health and Retirement Funds, 1993-Present; SEIU Midwest Area Director, 2004-2008; Court-appointed Election Officer, 1989-1993.

James Jacobs, President of Macomb Community College 2008-2017, Senior Advisor to Ralph C. Wilson Foundation 2017-present, formerly President of the National Council for Workforce Education.

Martha Laning, founder and board member of Plymouth Intergenerational Center in Plymouth, Wisconsin, 2009-2013, candidate for Wisconsin State Senate’s 9th District, Chair of the State Democratic Party of Wisconsin, June, 2015 to present.

J. Timothy Londergan, Rhodes Scholar, formerly Chair of Indiana University Physics Department, Director of IU Nuclear Theory Center, co-founder of the 560 person group Concerned Scientists at Indiana University, and co-author of the blog “Debunking Denial”.

Nathaniel Lubin, Director of Digital Marketing with Obama for America 2011-2012, Digital Director of the Inaugural Committee & Director of Digital Strategy at the White House 2015, Founder, Lubin Strategies LLC 2015 to present.

Dan Santow, former Contributing Reporter Fox News, former Senior Editor/Columnist Chicago Magazine, Executive Vice President Edelman, Chicago 2002-present.

David Wilhelm, former Campaign Manager Clinton/Gore 92, former Chair of the Democratic National Committee, currently Partner/Chief Strategy Officer of Hecate Energy, Columbus, Ohio, 2013-present.

Abigail Wozniak, native of Green Bay Wisconsin, Senior Economist to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, 2014-15, Associate Professor, Department of Economics at Notre Dame, focusing primarily on labor economics issues, 2015 to present.

Auxiliary Board

Chairperson of the Auxiliary Board Michael J. Howlett is an attorney at Mayer Brown, and has been involved in government and politics for nearly a decade. Mike has worked in the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and for the Illinois General Assembly. He also has extensive experience in public and legislative affairs, coalition building, issue advocacy, and fundraising.

Greg Bales has worked in Democratic politics and government for more than a decade, currently serving on the staff of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. Prior to joining Senator Durbin’s staff Greg worked as a policy advisor for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He was a previous staffer for former Illinois Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson and has worked on numerous political campaigns in California, Illinois, and Indiana – most recently serving as Illinois State Director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign.

Matt Cain is the principal of MJC Consulting, a boutique political consultancy specializing in first time candidates. Matt brings 13 years of political campaign experience to Rust Belt Rising, having run campaigns across the Midwest for Local, State, and Federal candidates.

Claudia Chavez currently serves as Deputy Director for the Mayor’s Office of Legislative Council and Government Affairs team (LCGA) for the City of Chicago, where she is responsible for managing Mayor Emanuel’s government affairs priorities and serves as a key liaison to the City Council, city departments, sister agencies and regional municipalities. Claudia is a seasoned political veteran with more than a decade of experience in municipal, state, and federal elections, including Mayor Emanuel’s re-election campaign in 2015 and President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in Colorado. Claudia also served as a Senior Account Executive at Resolute Consulting, a national public affairs firm, where she led multiple client project management teams, and managed local and multi-state issue advocacy campaigns.

Stacy Raker Howlett currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer for the Chicago City Clerk’s Office. Most recently, Stacy managed the 2016 campaign of Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D) who represents Illinois’ 17th Congressional District which sits in the heartland and is an agricultural, industrial and blue collar area. The campaign posted a landslide 20-point victory in this congressional district where Donald Trump also won. Stacy’s campaign experience spans the federal and local level, and she brings a wealth of operational and organizing expertise. Stacy received her Masters Degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University.

Reyahd D.J. Kazmi is dedicated to justice and equality for all regardless of their color of their skin, the size of their wallet, or the neighborhood they are from. Mr. Kazmi is the Director of Business & Government Strategies for a leading youth and family advocacy organization called National Youth Advocate Program, is the Owner and President of Kazmi Advisors, a government affairs and strategic advising consulting firm, and serves on multiple boards ranging from government to the not-for profit and for-profit sectors.

Zach Koutsky is the Legislative and Political Director for Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers and previously served as Senior Advisor and Campaign Manager to State Treasurer Michael Frerichs. He has worked for nonprofits and political campaigns in nine states, most notably the 2008 and 2012 campaigns of President Obama. Koutsky earned a Masters Degree in Urban Planning and Policy with a concentration in Economic Development from the University of Illinois Chicago and a bachelors degree from Illinois State University in Political Science and Sociology. Zach is deeply involved in progressive causes and community organizations in Illinois including the 47th Ward Democrats, Youth in Government, Chicago Scholars, and the Special Olympics.


Daniel Biss, Executive Director, State Senator, former State Representative, candidate for Governor of Illinois, and mathematics professor at the University of Chicago.