Pinay lawyer wins primary, eyes history in Illinois Assembly

PINOY Newsmagazine/Philippine News
February 2008

Text, photo and video by Ted Regencia



CHICAGO — A top Filipino-American real estate lawyer is eyeing history in Illinois, as she makes a run for a seat in the State Assembly.

Aurora Abella-Austriaco, ran unopposed during the Democratic Primary, garnering 9,875 votes, almost double the votes of the 16-year Republican incumbent she’s facing in the November 4 general election.

Austriaco still faces an uphill battle since her district has been under Republican control for 118 years. But she expressed confidence that she will prevail, citing a “shift in demographics” and the voter’s appetite for “change.”

If elected, Austriaco will be the first ever Asian American state representative in Illinois, also known as the Land of Lincoln, for being the hometown of the Civil War-era President Abraham Lincoln. She will represent a district, which includes the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, where former first lady and New York Senator Hillary Clinton grew up.

One major hurdle for Austriaco is to appeal to the predominantly white and conservative constituency in her district.

“If you look at my sixteen years that I have done public service, it cuts across every organization, every racial boundary. I have represented mainstream organizations, and I have not had any problem. The fact that I am Asian, that has never been questioned in these leadership positions,” she said in a recent interview.

Austriaco is the immediate past president of the Illinois Real Estate Lawyers Association. Recently, she was elected secretary of the 22,000-strong Chicago Bar Association.

Austriaco said her heritage adds value to her brand of leadership. “I think the fact that I am a Filipino-American, obviously relates to the fact that, that is my heritage and I am very proud of it.”

The Manila-born mother of two, vows to prioritize legislation promoting affordable healthcare, access to human services, education and strong family values.

“We are such a community of strong family values that we really value children, because they are our future leaders. We want to provide them good education,” she stressed.

Austriaco also vowed “to work both aisles” in the Democratic-Republican divide at the assembly “to effect change.” “I am engaged and I am always there, really connected to the community. Whatever organization I’m involved in, I am always there. I am not an absent leader,” she added.

As a long-time real estate lawyer, she also vows to pass laws protecting those affected by the on-going real-estate and sub-prime mortgage mess.

“Foreclosure is a very real problem. We have lots of people that have been victims of foreclosure,” she lamented. She said her leadership experience in the 22,000-strong Chicago Bar Association would help her craft legislation to fix the problem.

A member of the Maine Township Democratic Organization, Austriaco’s candidacy has been endorsed by that group as well as by the Illinois AFL-CIO and Democratic leaders including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. She is also backed by the Chicago chapter of the Asian American Action Fund and the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago.

Three years ago when she ran as a Trustee of the Maine Township, US Senator Barack Obama personally campaigned for her.

Austriaco is married to Dr. Jerome Austriaco and they have two daughters, Danielle and Isabelle.

As a teenager and freshman student at Miriam College, she along with her sisters came to Chicago to join her parents here. “I can’t forget that day that we actually left, because on our way to the airport, was when [Ninoy] Aquino was assassinated,” Austriaco said as she recollects that “life-changing” moment in her life.

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