A Q&A with Jeff Schoenberg, IEJF Board Member
Jeff retired from the Illinois General Assembly in 2013 after serving for more than 20 years, most recently as a State Senator representing the 9th District. He currently serves as principal of Schoenberg Impact Advisors, a strategic philanthropic consulting firm.
You were instrumental in increasing funding for civil legal aid during your time as a state senator. What do you think is the most compelling argument for investing in legal aid?
Investing in civil legal aid services can make a tremendous difference in giving low-resource Illinois residents the ability to protect themselves and their families during times when they are most vulnerable. Having access to pro-bono legal representation, help lines and mediation services gives people the tools to hold on to their housing when landlords or lenders seek eviction or foreclosure, move forward from unfavorable domestic and economic relationships and expunge their criminal records of cannabis-related offenses. The pandemic has only left those with fewer means even more exposed, which is why we need a strong and sustainable financial commitment from the state.
You retired from the General Assembly in 2013, after serving more than 20 years. What do you miss most about being a state legislator?
First, sharing a mezzanine office suite @ the Capitol with Barack Obama and sitting next to him during some rollicking Senate Democratic caucus meetings. Secondly, I always felt that it was both an amazing professional challenge, as well as a deep personal learning experience to try and solve difficult problems alongside people who came from widely disparate backgrounds. Being cast into a workplace with such a richly diverse group of people from communities across the state whose beliefs, life experiences and political points of view were often different from my own left an indelible mark on my thinking.
The political environment has grown increasingly partisan in recent years. What do you think can be done to help reduce this polarization?
For the first chunk of my legislative career, I was a Democrat representing a predominantly Republican House district. That meant I was constantly burrowing into issues to find common ground and mutual interest. It also meant developing personal relationships with people across the aisle who looked at their politics in a distinctively different way. It’s far too easy to demonize your opponents if you don’t really know them. I stuck by that approach even after I was in a safely Democratic Senate district and it continued to work well for me.
On a personal note, what is your favorite way to survive the Chicago winter?
During my very first primary campaign for the Illinois House – which I lost — I got frostbite on one of my toes from campaigning in the bitter cold at the Metra and CTA stations in the northern suburbs. Was far too stubborn to wear warm boots instead of dress shoes. Decades later, I still feel it on rare occasion. I can do without the memories of both losing and frostbite, so I recommend incredibly warm boots and really good coffee from an indie small business owner.