UI alum runs for Urbana mayor

Urbana+mayoral+candidate+Andy+Ma+poses+outside+of+the+Urbana+Free+Library+on+Dec.+19.+The+primary+election+will+occur+on+Feb.+23.

Photo Courtesy of Andy ma’s facebook

Urbana mayoral candidate Andy Ma poses outside of the Urbana Free Library on Dec. 19. The primary election will occur on Feb. 23.

By Karena Tse, Staff Writer

By Karena Tse

Staff Writer

As thousands of December graduates departed for new callings and communities, Andy Ma decided to water his roots where they laid. For Ma, last semester’s commencement marked the beginning of his campaign for Urbana mayor.

“I live here,” he said, “might as well make the place you’re living a better place.”

On Feb. 23, voters in Champaign and Urbana will cast their ballots in the 2021 primary election. Urbana voters will be met with three mayoral candidates: Diane Marlin and Dennis Roberts, who have each served in the Urbana city government for more than a decade, and Ma, a passionate activist and political science graduate.

Ma’s priorities include defunding the police, ending chronic homelessness and enacting a moratorium on utility shut offs and evictions. He centers people in his politics and rejects the American legal system’s tradition of punishment.

“If it comes to a person being thrown in jail, you’ve already failed,” Ma said. “There’s so much you could’ve done before you start arresting people — that’s not a solution.”

Ma traced his political convictions back to his days as a young student in Memphis, Tennessee. He was a senior in high school when Donald Trump took office as the 45th president. 

Coming of age in such a volatile political landscape left Ma charged with an energy for change. In these formative years, politics saturated his inner and outer lives.

“All my friends, a lot of our conversation was politics,” Ma said. “And I really felt as a high schooler this powerlessness. I really didn’t like feeling powerless.”

Ma has found empowerment in local politics. He worked on the Stefanie Smith congressional campaign last spring, collecting signatures and distributing flyers. In the fall, he worked on his own campaign for precinct committeeperson — a position he ultimately won against Illini Democrats’ Mallory Wentworth. 

Ma’s work is driven by a sense of moral urgency so profound and irreducible, he finds the feeling almost redundant to explain.

“I just have to do something,” he said. “There is no alternative. Things are getting worse.”

Ma credited much of his energy for activism to his community at UI’s Young Democratic Socialists of America. The RSO has helped him connect with peers who share his vision of true social equity.

Dat Luu, sophomore in LAS and acting YDSA president, values Ma as a comrade.

“I think he’s a principled person,” Luu said. “He cares very much about fighting for working-class people, fighting for socialism, and fighting for posterity.”

Luu took leadership of YDSA last summer with a modest, matter-of-fact attitude — an attitude which mirrored Ma’s approach to his own candidacy. Like Ma, Luu came forward out of a simple sense of duty.

“I felt like if I have the opportunity to step up, then I should do it,” Luu said. 

As a new leader, he grappled with what his activism should look like. He considered the kind of political participation he should ask of his peers in a season marked by such strife and sorrow.

Luu also had to leave room for his own emotional processing. When his mother contracted a life-threatening case of COVID-19 at her nursing job, Luu awakened to a painful understanding of what it means to be a working person in the U.S.

“I understood that my mother’s situation was something that would happen to many more people if we didn’t do something,” Luu said. “It became personal for me — trying to change things, trying to help people.”

Aside from Ma, there are many candidates Luu is excited to support in next month’s primaries. Ma is just one in a slate of progressive leftist candidates running for office — candidates like Rita Conerly, Meghan McDonald and Justin Micháel Hendrix are also running on platforms of defunding the police and ending chronic homelessness.

Ma and Luu agree that a great task of Champaign-Urbana progressives is to tap into the student body’s awareness. They urge students to recognize their potential to guide the movement of local politics.

“I’m just one student up against some established incumbents,” Ma said. “If I can get people to know I’m running, and that there’s an election, that can really change things.”

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