Raja Krishnamoorthi ’95, who won the Democratic Party primary on Mar. 15, believeshe has a very good chance to serve in the the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois’ 8thCongressional District.
The 8thDistrict includes the Chicago suburbs of Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and Palatine. Krishnamoorthi won the Democratic primary on March 15, defeating his two opponents,Michael NolandandDeborah Bullwinkel. According to Krishnamoorthi, he isnow focused on winning the general election in November.
“So far, the dynamic has been favorable, but we can’t take anything for granted,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We have to make sure we get our message out.”
Krishnamoorthi is currently president of Sivananthan Labs, where he works on leading research teams developing semiconductor technologies, improved military technologies, solar cells and biosensors to detect weapons of mass destruction.
He was formerly the Illinois Deputy Treasurer and served as the policy director for Barack Obama’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.
William McLeod, mayor of Hoffman Estates, noted that Krishnamoorthi’s background in government and business is very helpful since it allows government officials to recognize the effects of their decisions.
“It’s important to recognize the effects of government decisions on a small business,” McLeod said. “Small businesses are the backbone of this country.”
Krishnamoorthi noted that hehas received endorsements from many politicians, including Democratic Representatives Jared Polis ’96 of Colorado and Derek Kilmer ’96 of Washington, local community leaders and advocacy groups in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Polis said that Krishnamoorthi has an excellent chance of winning and is honored to help him however he can.
“Raja is a terrific candidate and I am thrilled to support him for Congress,” Polis said. “We need his innovative approach to help ensure that Americans have access to opportunity in an increasingly complex world.”
Sunil Bhave, a member of the District 59 School Board, explained that Krishnamoorthi is a very genuine person who is able to get along with people who have different opinions, which is a very rare quality that is needed in Congress.
“Within a minute of talking to him, you just want to shake his hand and give him a hug,” Bhave said. “He listens to what people have to say.”
Born in New Delhi, India, Krishnamoorthi moved to the United States when he was three-months-old so that his father could complete a graduate degree in industrial engineering. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., andmoved to Peoria, Ill., where his father was a faculty member at Bradley University. There, hegraduated from Richwoods High School.
He explained that he decided to apply to the University because of the strong engineering school, which was where he intended to major. He also said that the liberal arts component and the presence of the Wilson School was key, because it would enable him to take humanities and science classes at the same time.
“Princeton’s structure accommodated all of those interests at the same time,” he said. “I could not find that anywhere else.”
Krishnamoorthi originally intended to pursue Electrical Engineering, but realized early on that he wasn’t comfortable with the coursework.He recalled that during orientation week, members of the incoming freshman class were asked to raise their hands if they had enough Advanced Placement credits to qualify for advanced standing. He noted that many of the students’ hands went up, and that was when he realized how strong his classmates were.
“I didn’t have AP courses to begin with,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I realized that I wasn’t as academically prepared as some of my peers.”
Despite this disadvantage, Krishnamoorthi eventually graduated summa cum laude from the University.Krishnamoorthireceived a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a certificate from the Wilson School. His independent project dealt with natural gas powered engines and his senior thesis for the Wilson School dealt with foreign directed investment in India, due to his interest in economic development.
He explained that he transferred from Electrical Engineering to Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering because of his interest in the large number of practical applications, such as combustion engines and solar cells.
“I was able to take courses where the professors and the teaching assistants were available to mentor and shepherd me through some very difficult coursework,” Krishnamoorthi added. “They allowed me to excel.”
Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Luigi Martinelli GS '87, who taught Krishnamoorthi fluid mechanics, said that Krishnamoorthi was one of his top students, with a lively personality and leadership abilities.
“He had a very subtle way of leading, without showing that he was doing so,” Martinelli said. “He was always in a cheerful mood and very positive.”
Wes Fisher ’95, who was Krishnamoorthi’s roommate duringhis freshman year, said that Krishnamoorthi was very nice and polite. He added that Krishnamoorthi spent most of his time studying and was probably the hardest-working student he ever met.
“He seemed a very knowledgeable and a calm person,” Fisher said. “He was excited to get an education and learn as much as possible.”
Outside of academics, Krishnamoorthi was a violinist at the University Orchestra, a member of the Young Scholars Institute, where he would travel to Trenton every week to tutor students.He was also an interactor, or student peer adviser, in the engineering school.
After graduating, Krishnamoorthi spent two years as a strategy consultant and dealt with how a business should grow, whether through increasing revenue or cutting costs. He had always wanted to go to law school because of his interest in government and public policy.
“There’s nothing like law school that prepares you for that,” Krishnamoorthi said. “You really learn about the bones of our legal system and the Constitution, and how the federal government operates.”
He then graduated from Harvard Law School in 2000, clerked for Judge Joan Gottschall at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for a year.He assisted Judge Gottschall in deciding cases, and dealt with procedural motions arising in the cases.
“It’s a real workout in terms of researching and writing and learning to express yourself persuasively,” he said.
Krishnamoorthi then joined law firm Kirkland and Ellis in Chicago, Ill., as an attorney. He dealt with many different types of law, including contract law, securities law, white-collar criminal prosecutions and bankruptcy litigation.
In addition, he did some pro-bono work and was particularly proud of helping a man who had been persecuted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I helped him win asylum in a really tough immigration court in Chicago,” he said. “I really believed that had he been returned to the [DRC], his life would have been in jeopardy.”
After spending a couple of years working at the law firm, Krishnamoorthi was appointed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to be the Special Attorney General with the Public Integrity Unit. He took this position after a former colleague at Kirkland and Ellis became the head of the Public Integrity Unit and asked Krishnamoorthi to come and join him.
Krishnamoorthi said that the Public Integrity Unit investigates corruption within the government and he had the opportunity to bring several cases before a grand jury.He was also appointed to the Illinois Housing Development Authority, which finances affordable housing in Illinois.Specifically, the authority lowers the interest rate on loans to developers, which encourages them to build affordable housing projects across the state.
Krishnamoorthi’s first foray into politics occurred in 1999, when he worked on Barack Obama’s Democratic primary campaign for the 1stCongressional District of Illinois. Obama lost, but asked Krishnamoorthi to become policy director for his Senate campaign in 2004. As a policy director, he educated Obama on various issues and formulated policy that would set him apart from his competitors. He also helped Obama prepare for debates.
In 2007, Krishnamoorthi left Kirkland and Ellis to become the Deputy Treasurer of Illinois. He was appointed by the Treasurer, who was formerly the banker of Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign. In the Treasurer’s office, he worked on policies to manage the state’s money, such as investing the money to earn interest for the state, and managing the state’s venture capital fund, which resulted in the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. In return for depositing the state’s money in a private bank, the Treasurer asked the bank to help in in promoting economic development. Krishnamoorthi focused on writing the policies aimed at promoting economic development, and was impressed by the amount of money managed by the state.
“I was interested in the sheer amount of money that flows through the state Treasurer’s office,” Krishnamoorthi said. “The money that every state collects can be used to help taxpayers in various ways.”
His first foray into elected office came in 2010, when Krishnamoorthi sought the Democratic nomination for Illinois State Comptroller, who maintains the state’s accounts and authorizes checks and payments. He noted that he possessed a unique set of skills that would help him in this position.
“One the one hand, I was an attorney who had investigated ethics abuses,” he said. “On the other hand, I had some financial training as the Deputy Treasurer.”
Krishnamoorthi lost to David Miller in the Democratic primary by just over a percentage point. He said that he was able to meet great people during his bid, which encouraged him to try again for elected office. From his first run, he learned that he needed to raise more money to get his message across.
In 2010, Krishnamoorthi joined Sivananthan Laboratories as the president after meeting Dr. Sivalingam Sivananthan, the founder of Sivananthan Labs, when Krishnamoorthiwas running for Comptroller. Sivananthan said that he was introduced to Krishnamoorthi at a party celebrating the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and was impressed by his engineering and law background. Sivananthan was a strong supporter of Krishnamoorthi and offered him a job serving as a president of the company.
“I asked him to join Sivananthan Laboratories, since he was interested in clean energy and small businesses,” Sivananthan said. “Also, he would be able to reach out and inspire underprivileged communities.”
Sivananthan said that Krishnamoorthi worked on a company called Episensors, which was developing lightweight infrared cameras for the U.S. military. Krishnamoorthi also worked on InSPIRE, an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on training veterans and underprivileged students to work in renewable energy fields.
“It was amazing to see a lawyer establish, within two years, a one-of-a-kind high-end camera,” Sivananthan said. “He cares for the people a lot, and is able to give a voice to those who don’t have one.”
Just recently, a member of the Sivananthan Labs' group of companies, EPIR Technologies, collaborated with NASA to develop X-ray imaging technology for the ASTRO-H (Hitomi) satellite, which successfully launched in Feb. 2016.
In 2011, Krishnamoorthi decided to run for the House of Representatives in the 8thDistrict of Illinois. He noted that he jumped into the race because he wanted to defeat then Rep. Joe Walsh, a Tea Party Republican.
“He was then the Donald Trump of the U.S. Congress,” Krishnamoorthi said. “He was a horrible guy who played on people’s fears and tried to demagogue on the issues.”
Krishnamoorthi said that his second attempt at elected office was a positive experience because the discussions he had with his opponents were civil and ideas-focused. However, he lost the Democratic nomination to Tammy Duckworth, who went on to become the Representative for the 8thDistrict. Krishnamoorthi then became an advisor to Rep. Duckworth.
Last year, Rep. Duckworth announced that she would step down from the House of Representatives to run for the U.S. Senate. Krishnamoorthi subsequently declared his candidacy for the 8thDistrict in 2015, and won the Mar. 15 Democratic primary.
His campaign has mainly revolved around keeping people in the middle class and strengthening the middle class and he has advocated for a set of policies to achieve this. Krishnamoorthi wants to raise the minimum wage, pass paid maternity leave, reduce student debt burdens and focus on building a clean-energy economy.
Bhave explained that Krishnamoorthi’s honesty and integrity are evident, especially since Rep. Duckworth endorsed him. He noted that Krishnamoorthi ran a very clean campaign in 2012 and said that Rep. Duckworth has applauded his campaign this year.
“I think that says a lot, when one of your former opponents comes out and supports you enthusiastically,” Bhave said.
Krishnamoorthi noted that many of his policies have bipartisan support, and he wants to work to find common ground. He explained that there are many Tea Party Congressmen who support expanding solar energy.
“Some folks believe that solar energy has become a liberty and independence issue in the Southwest and Florida, because they can cut the cord with their utilities,” he said. “It has the promise of combatting climate change and creating jobs.”
Palatine Township Democratic Committeeman Matt Flamm noted that the 8th District has become more Democratic over time, and is home to a high proportion of young, elderly, and immigrant voters. One of the most prominent issues that Krishnamoorthi has focused on is protecting Social Security and Medicare, since there is a very large elderly population in the 8th District.
Another important issue is equal pay, as Krishnamoorthi noted that there are many women who feel that they are underpaid compared to their male colleagues.
Max Richtman, the CEO of the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare endorsed Krishnamoorthi after he reached out to them. Richtman noted that after reviewing Krishnamoorthi’s positions, the NCPSSM endorsed him.
“He felt very strongly about this country having a commitment to seniors,” Richtman said. “He said that we need to pay special attention to women’s Social Security benefits, because they are often lower than their male counterparts.”
Richtman was also impressed by Krishnamoorthi’s dedication to helping veterans get jobs and his experience in solar technology.
Flamm noted that Krishnamoorthi believes in a government that helps people that need help and doesn’t help those who don’t need help. He added that Krishnamoorthi is very likeable, and is a well-known face in the district due to his positive campaign message.
“He has developed a brand name that is incredibly positive,” Flamm said. “I can’t think of any politician who is more universally liked than Raja.”
Tim Burns, a member of the District 59 School Board, said that although Krishnamoorthi is a progressive, he appeals to moderate voters in the 8thDistrict. Burns added that Krishnamoorthi knows what the people need, and is focused on how to care for people.
“He blends the professional side of business with the human side of caring for people,” Burns said. “He seems genuinely open to all people.”
Krishnamoorthi noted that he spends most of his time campaigning during the day or working. He enjoys spending time with his two kids and wife and watching sports.
McLeod noted that one of Krishnamoorthi’s strong points is his personality and experience and his ability to look at every side of an issue. Most importantly, McLeod noted that voters should keep in mind who the best person is to be making decisions when something unexpected comes up.
“I want Raja to be there when something totally unexpected comes up,” McLeod said. “It’s not just about who agrees with me the most, but who do you want there when there’s an important decision to be made.”