CHICAGO (CBS) — A community activist who gained visibility in this year’s race for Chicago mayor is now setting her sights on the 5th district Illinois Senate seat.

Patricia Van Pelt Watkins told a crowd of more than 100 supporters on Saturday that she knows the issues, has worked in the community, has faced down gangs and drugs and is in step with what voters want.

“I feel your pain,” she said. “I see the struggles you go through every day because I’ve lived through them with you.”

Watkins used drugs in her teens, but quit them “cold turkey” at the age of 21. In recent years, she has headed a non-profit agency and worked in West Side communities.

But stands such as those won her only 9,700 votes in the mayor’s race. This time, she has the backing of alderman and 2nd ward committeeman Bob Fioretti, who predicted that incumbent Annazette Collins would wage a biter battle.

“We’re going to have a hard fight from now until election day,” he said. “They’re going to throw all the mud in the world that you’ve ever seen.”

Watkins’ best-known moment in the campaign for mayor occurred during a debate, when former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun called her a “crack addict.” Watkins held her own in the exchange, and Moseley-Braun’s campaign then lost steam quickly.

Collins was appointed to the 5th District seat earlier this year, to replace Sen. Rickey Hendon, who resigned. In recent months, Collins has sided with ComEd on the power rates debate. She backs conceal-carry legislation and gained notoriety in 2009 when, as a state representative, she suggested training public school children at firing ranges.

Watkins made it clear that all of those stands will be front and center in her campaign.

The district encompasses most of Chicago’s West Side, east of Cicero Avenue, stretches south to portions of Chinatown and north to portions of Wicker Park.

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