Crain's Chicago Business 40 Under 40: Christian Mitchell

Crain’s Chicago Business, 11/29/18

When Christian Mitchell talks about government—“the largest enterprise we have together; if we give up on government, we give up on ourselves”—it seems fitting that the legislative district of this former community organizer includes part of the area once represented by another community guy turned state legislator: Barack Obama.

Mitchell has worked for everyone from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to, yes, Obama. Soon, he will join J.B. Pritzker’s administration as deputy governor for legislative relations and other matters.

“At a time of great cynicism in politics, Christian is a breath of fresh air,” says Obama counselor David Axelrod. “He’s skilled and pragmatic enough to get things done, yet deeply principled. As he’s proven, he’s willing to stand up to great pressure for things he believes in.”

Mitchell has tangled with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union over pension reform. He survived a re-election battle, was an early sponsor of legalizing same-sex marriage and has been part of a crew that, little by little, has been enacting criminal justice reform. When Tim Mapes was ousted as executive director of the Illinois Democratic Party amid a sexual harassment scandal this year, powerful allies pushed for Mitchell to get the job.

So far, he has modernized the position. Mitchell actually shows up for and comments after things like gubernatorial debates, knows and uses Twitter and has arranged training sessions for organizers around the state. He says he doesn’t want the job for keeps. First—in between working for Pritzker—he wants to finish long-delayed plans to get his law degree.

But Mitchell has no plans to leave the public sector: “I want to stay in government and politics,” he says. “This is the place to help people I care about.”