A political calculation


On a chilly November morning, Daniel Biss leans back in his chair and looks out over mounds of academic journals, books, and papers that cover a creaky wooden desk in his Eckhart Hall office. Biss, a 30-year-old assistant professor in mathematics and the College, has a long, narrow face, raven hair with a speckle of white, and wears a gray and black sweater and blue jeans.

When he speaks, his passionate prose seems more at home at the University than at a podium or on the floor of the Illinois State Capitol. Yet, Biss, a Democrat who lives in Evanston and is currently teaching two courses and doing research on topology—the study of the geometric figures or solids unchanged by stretching or bending—is in the midst of a campaign for the Illinois House of Representatives’ 17th District, which encompasses parts of Evanston, Glenview, Golf, Morton Grove, Northbrook, Northfield, Skokie, Wilmette, and Winnetka.

Biss, who wanted to be a mathematician since he was 13, became active in local politics early on in the Bush administration. “I felt betrayed enough that it didn’t really make sense to stand back. I didn’t feel comfortable throwing myself into math 24 hours a day anymore.” When he came to Chicago in 2002, he began volunteering for a slew of local races. Later he got involved with Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign. While the day-to-day work of grassroots campaigning was “very dull,” he nevertheless found it captivating. After months of considering where to concentrate his next efforts, he decided to take on Republican Rep. Elizabeth Coulson. “I want to create a community that can work together to make a significant difference in the culture of Springfield.”

Biss has garnered national coverage in the Wall Street Journal and the DailyKos blog, as well as in the local media. “I’m coming from a pretty different place than most state-representative candidates,” says Biss. “Most were recruited to run, and the fact that I wasn’t, and that I’m not motivated by personal gain, is energizing people.”


Photo: Daniel Biss talks with Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin before a political rally.

Photo courtesy Daniel Biss.

November 12, 2007