Peters makes impact as State Senator in 13th
September 6, 2019

Senator Robert Peters with Governor JB Pritzker and activists in favor of HB 2541, which mandates civics education for incarcerated persons.

When 13th State Senate district Democratic committeemen selected Robert Peters to finish the term of Kwame Raoul, who left the seat after being elected attorney general of Illinois, Raoul’s advice to Peters was “always be open to building relationships.”

Peters has found that to be valuable advice. “By building relationships, you help to move each other,” said Peters, who added he is working hard to build relationships both inside and outside the State Senate.

Born deaf with what he described as a “massive” speech impediment, Peters said he fought to overcome numerous obstacles for much of his life, gaining full hearing by the time he was eight and full speech by the time he was 12.

Though he pursued a degree in history at Kansas State University, he dropped out a few credits shy of graduation because he could not afford to complete the program.

Inspired by his father, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney, Peters chose to work in public service but struggled to find work. Unemployed and without health insurance, Peters became a community organizer, working for the community group Reclaim Chicago, which assists the poor and working and middle classes.

Peters most recently served as Reclaim Chicago’s political director. The organization endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election. Though Peters declined to endorse a candidate for the 2020 election, he said he thinks positively of both Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. “They represent the need for a political system that lifts up minority voices,” he said.

Committeemen selected Peters to succeed Raoul during a closed-door meeting of the 13th District Democratic Legislative Committee at Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle’s office in Hyde Park.

Although he is glad to have been selected, Peters is sensitive to the secretive nature of the constitutional process that selected him and is determined to earn his critics’ trust and win re-election to a full term by running in the March 2020 Democratic primary.

Since entering the Senate, Peters has supported and worked for bills to raise the minimum wage, improve the State budget, legalize marijuana, increase women’s reproductive rights, and increase investments in working class minority communities.

Peters worked with 16th District State Senator Jacqueline Collins to pass SB1808, which requires multiple State agencies (including the Department of Children and Family Services) to work together to ensure at-risk young adults aging out of or already released from State custody or guardianship have the supportive services needed to survive outside the State system.

Those services include housing, education, and healthcare.

He also worked with Collins on SB 1510 to improve staffing requirements for nursing home residents to receive proper care.

“He’s a passionate, engaged, and committed public servant,” Collins said. “It’s been a joy working with him.”

Other measures Peters has worked on include HB 2040, which bans operation of private detention centers in Illinois that could be used to house detained immigrants working their way through the federal immigration system. This bill also prevents the State Department of Corrections from working with private companies to profit from prison incarceration or with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement to allow use of Illinois prison facilities to house immigrants facing deportation.

Another measure Peters championed and helped pass in the Senate was HB 900, which ends “pay to stay,” a practice used by the Department of Corrections that allowed it to sue former prison inmates for the cost of their own incarceration.

Peters feels this practice penalizes individuals again, after they already have served their time, and places an unnecessary financial burden on these individuals that hinders their ability to rejoin society. “If you go to prison and serve your time, only then to have to pay the State for that incarceration, that is ridiculous,” stated Peters.

He also sponsored HB 2541, which mandates civics education for incarcerated persons.

“Senator Robert Peters has been very involved and engaged, representing the diversity of constituents in the 13th district,” said Streeterville Organization of Active Residents president Deborah Gershbein.

“In the Streeterville community, he has been visible at many community functions, interacting with the public, answering questions, and sharing his thoughts and opinions on a wide range of issues,” she added, noting, “Senator Peters is doing an excellent job.”

Peters’ office is at 1509 E 53rd St. Call (773) 363-1996 or email

—Joseland Nixon