Destinee Ortiz: Called to Life of Public Service
In January 2022, Destinee Ortiz (’22) was 25 years old, parenting three children, including a five-month-old baby, and taking five classes at Governors State University (GSU) when she decided to run for the Will County Board.
A daunting task to which Ortiz responds, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?” is her mantra. “My grandmother ran a salon seven days a week. I’ve got that woman power.” From 2020 to 2022, the career and life goals of Ortiz changed forever. And those years coincided with her time at GSU after she transferred from Moraine Valley Community College in 2020 to finish her degree.
In November 2022, Ortiz was elected to represent the Romeoville area on the Will County Board, transitioning from the role of a college student to worrying about the health and safety needs of her constituents. Her committee assignments on Land Use Development and Public Health & Public Safety reflect her concerns.
During her time at Moraine Valley, Ortiz struggled with finding a career path. She knew that her major before transferring—accounting—was not for her. “In 2020, I started following politicians on social media,” Ortiz said, adding that she grew up in a Chicago household that was very uninformed about voting and political leadership. “I realized I was living in the district of U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and he was writing bills for anti-abortion laws. That motivated me to get involved. I felt that this person wasn’t representing most people and respecting a woman’s right to choose.”
Ortiz started volunteering for the campaign of former U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, who won Lipinski’s seat in 2020. In the meantime, Ortiz had decided to pursue a liberal arts degree at GSU and found that political science was her calling. Classes with Dr. Nicole Warmington-Granston inspired her, she said. “I took every class I could that she taught.”
Ortiz continued to follow politics closely in the Romeoville/Joliet area and got involved with an organization called Working Families Will County (previously Working Families Joliet).
“It’s a progressive organization that’s concerned with environmental justice, social justice and other important issues,” Ortiz explained. “That’s where I found my political home and got the idea to run for office in Will County.” The county board member from her district had decided to run for a seat in the Illinois State Senate.
What she didn’t anticipate was the lack of support from area politicians. It was a real-life education in how politics really works, she said, but that didn’t deter her drive and success. “People told me I wouldn’t win and I didn’t have enough campaign money.”
Ortiz ran against two candidates in the primary that were the choices of Will County Democrats, but she emerged as the top vote-getter.
In the general election, Ortiz had a very small campaign budget ($1,000 for printing leave-behind cards). She often took her children, who now range in age from 10 years to 15 months, with her to knock on thousands of doors. She explained to voters that since she only accepted small donations and no PAC dollars, “she would be accountable to her constituents and their needs,” she explained. The message worked.
Winning the election resulted in a part-time job and a $23,000 salary. She also serves on the Will County Forest Preserve District.
Ortiz sometimes votes against the wishes of her fellow board members and other local politicians but is committed to representing the interests of her voters. She’s opposed to the continued construction of massive warehouses in the area. She recently was taking water samples to the Health Department for testing and is worried about the lack of water in the aquifer that underlies Joliet and Romeoville. “We’re running out of water but our leaders are allowing big businesses to come in—while asking residents to conserve,” Ortiz explained.
Politics will now be part of her life going forward, she said. Husband Rafael is running for the school board in Romeoville and she’s supporting someone who’s running for the Joliet Junior College Board of Trustees. Ortiz envisions running for other political offices in the future and returning to GSU for a master’s degree.
“I want girls, and especially those of color, to believe in yourself,” she said. “People will tell you that you can’t succeed but you have to follow your dreams.”