Patricia Van Pelt Watkins

for Illinois State Senate 5th District

Over the past three decades, Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins has worked to improve the lives of Chicago families.


As an advocate for strong families and thriving neighborhoods, Patricia strives to make communities livable by working: to improve the quality of education; create an environment that promotes public safety; attract opportunities that generate employment; and assemble resources to support small businesses. In order to unify a diverse urban community, Patricia tackles issues directly by engaging residents in building strong accountable coalitions to solve problems and to improve the quality of life for all.


Born in the Near North Side and raised in Cabrini Green, Patricia is a lifelong Chicago resident. Despite her early experience with poverty, Patricia gleaned hope from her mother, who supported seven children on a meager income while she struggled to pay for her own education. Her mother’s example provided Patricia with the fortitude to endure the hard lessons of her youth and defined the person she is today. Her experiences gave her guidance, perspective and understanding as she began a long and impressive career in public service.


Patricia began her professional life as a steelworker, where she became a union steward, on the South Side. She subsequently earned her bachelor’s degree, her master’s degree and her PhD while raising her two children and co-founding the 300-member Ambassadors of Christ Church in Chicago’s Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.


Continuing her efforts as a community leader, she founded the Target Area Development Corp., an organization that leads community-driven initiatives to strengthen communities and solve problems though research, organization, mobilization and education. Under her leadership, the corporation’s budget swelled from $10,000 to $3 million and initiated a wave of employment opportunities.


She organized the Developing Justice Coalition and shepherded the passage of landmark criminal justice legislation through the Illinois legislature by allying states attorneys and the ex-offenders they prosecuted. Fearlessly countering the drug trade, she empowered residents by teaching them how to establish boundaries and peaceably banish dealers from their neighborhoods. In order to advance education on this issue, she recruited a diverse team of professionals and promoted efforts to reduce drug influence and violence in schools.


As a successful leader, Patricia relies on an invaluable network of coalitions and organizations that span religious and political divisions to solve common issues. Her accomplishments have inspired an alliance of religious groups, uniting people of all faiths to address the shared needs of urban communities through the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations. With the help of former Governor Jim Edgar and Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, as well as former Democratic Commerce Secretary, Bill Daley, Patricia is a founding board member of Advance Illinois, a successful statewide education advocacy organization.


Patricia endeavors to solve problems through the direct dedication of public attention and resources. She believes that the best way to lead people is to include them, and her strategy requires cooperation and acceptance of mutual responsibility.


As State Senator, Patricia will be a catalyst for necessary development and change. She sees a city that has lost touch with its people, a city that benefits insiders while marginalizing much of its population. She knows Chicago can be great, but only when it truly serves its greatest asset — its people. She feels compelled to take responsibility for issues and to act on behalf of those who have no voice in decision-making.


Patricia acknowledges the challenges ahead, but she has made a life of triumphing over adversity. She rose from poverty to become a Certified Public Accountant and a PhD. When her daughter died in a plane crash, she channeled her grief into counseling families as a spiritual advisor and followed up by building supportive housing in her daughter’s honor. From her humble beginning, she became a leader who works to provide her community with the power to sway the government and the future.


At a time like this, we should all feel the same sense of responsibility to ensure that we have a state that is accessible, accountable and responsive to its people. This election is about a choice. We can choose to reject the politics of the few for the prosperity of the many. We can choose the politics of involvement over the politics of exclusion. Patricia is determined to start the next great chapter in our state’s history: a future in which the government acts not as an agent of recidivism and fragmentation, but as a proxy of expansion, acceptance, and progress for all of the people of Illinois.

Awards and Honors

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  • LISC Community Hero Award
  • Susan F. Berkowitz Award for Outstanding Service to Children
  • Sally Brewster Foundation’s Outstanding Community Activist Award
  • “Peace in Action” Award for the Strongest Achievement and Implementation of the Cease-Fire Covenant in Chicago.

Professional Accomplishments

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  • Founding Director of Target Area Development Corporation, which developed a model that improves public safety in communities through programs that reduce recidivism and change conditions that can lead to violence and crime.
  • Founding Member of the Grow Your Own Teachers program, which created a pipeline for people of color to enter the teaching profession.
  • Founding Board Member of Advance Illinois, a bi-partisan advocacy group that works to improve the quality of education in Illinois.
  • Founder of the Developing Justice Coalition, which spearheaded passage of legislation that improved fairness in the criminal justice system and removed barriers to employment.
  • Founder of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, which created a report card that evaluated the voting records of state legislators on issues of human rights and racial equity.
  • Raised millions of dollars to expand housing options and improve public safety, education, employment and criminal justice outcomes in local communities.


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  • Fenger High School, Chicago; obtained a GED
  • Associate Degree in Natural Science, Truman College
  • Bachelors Degree in Public Administration, Roosevelt University
  • Masters Degree in Human Services Administration, Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies
  • Certificate in Urban Development, Spertus Institute
  • Accounting courses, DePaul University; achieved a CPA
  • Doctorate in Management of Non-Profit Agencies, Capella University, School of Public Leadership.




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