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Donatelli ('82) on new mission to clean up Illinois politics

  • Jan Donatelli ('82)
    Jan Donatelli ('82)  In running for a seat in Congress against more than a dozen others contenders, Jan Donatelli ('82) is preparing for a new journey and faces incredible odds.  Courtesy Photo
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In running for a seat in Congress against more than a dozen others contenders, Jan Donatelli '82 is preparing for a new journey and faces incredible odds. But, she won't have to wear any protective gear to go to Washington, D.C., which means that getting into politics may be less dangerous for the former aviator.

This 5th Congressional District seat was vacated by Rahm Emanuel, who left Congress to serve as President Obama's chief of staff, and is now up for grabs in a special election to be held on March 3. Donatelli is hitting the streets of Chicago for this compressed campaign, as she faces 11 others who are vying to win in Democratic primary and face their Republican opponent on April 7.

"At the moment, there are 12 Democrats, six independent Greens and seven Republicans running for the seat," says Donatelli. "It is a completely wide-open race."

Even though this campaign may be among the shortest in recent memory, a campaign mythos has grown around Donatelli, one that she embraces and is willing to tell. Her staffers say that she was ultimately motivated to run for office after volunteering for the Obama campaign. She also felt the urge for change as she volunteered for the campaign in nine states.

"I have an awful lot of people who are helping me out who were excited about President Obama," says Donatelli. "I was lucky - I was able to put my job on hold - and said ‘now is the time.'"

She has structured her team much like then-candidate Obama did, squeezing many of the lessons that she learned on the national stage to her Chicago-area run - including her own "D" logo, which is similar to Obama's "O" campaign logo. But this opportunity also will give her the chance to do something about the problems that have been plaguing her state in the last few months.

"I'm fed up with being fed up," says Donatelli. "Most people in the nation and, in fact, around the world have heard about all of our political troubles here in Illinois. We went from having the best of the best on election night and, barely a month later, we saw our governor taken away in handcuffs.

"So many people here have urged me to run to basically bring a fresh voice to politics. Illinois politics is usually is full of entrenched politicians who have a strong powerhold - and there is a strong desire from the voters for something different."

Righting the Illinois political ship is one of her motivations, but she is also ready to work with a work and for with a constituency that she feels is underrepresented in the government - military veterans. After graduation in 1982, Donatelli joined the Navy where she became a pilot, and eventually a mission commander at the Strategic Command Network for Intercontinental Missiles.

"Being the only veteran in the race, it's just kind of easy to have [my] story stand out," says Donatelli. "I personally feel that we need more veterans in Congress. I think that they have a better idea of what questions to ask. I firmly believe that we may not have gone so blindly into Iraq if we had more veterans in Congress and we certainly would be treating our veterans better."

After her military career, Donatelli flew commercial aircraft and has worked as a professional consultant in the interim. Through all the stages of her career, she has been someone who wasn't afraid to push to make things better. She credits that to William and Mary.

"My time at the College taught me to ask questions," says Donatelli. "It taught me not to blindly accept [the given answers] and to always be curious. I've had a very eclectic career and I've been a policy advisor from everything to solar [power] to aviation infrastructure, but it is that wonderful approach that William and Mary taught me to never accept anything less than your full best effort."