Obama Helps Defeat Incumbent Lawmaker in Illinois
By Monique Garcia and David Heinzmann and William Lee
Chalk up a win for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan in his war with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Madigan-backed Juliana Stratton on Tuesday easily defeated Rauner ally Rep. Ken Dunkin for the Democratic nomination in the city's 5th House District. Stratton's campaign was heavily funded by labor groups that oppose Rauner's pro-business, union-weakening agenda.
The race was like none seen before in Illinois, with record-breaking spending, allegations of dirty campaign tactics and even an endorsement from a sitting president with Barack Obama cutting an ad for Stratton.
Madigan also got to celebrate another victory: a primary win over challenger Jason Gonzales, who had been funded by many of Rauner's donors.
With 88 percent of precincts reporting, Stratton led with 68 percent of the vote compared with 32 percent for Dunkin. In a reflection of the campaign's bitterness, Stratton refused to declare victory until Dunkin called to concede defeat.
Stratton arrived at a community center in Bronzeville to cheers and hugs from well-wishers as supporters yelled "Julie! Julie!"
"This is an incredible journey and I'm so thankful for all of the support," she said. "Though he's not here in person, I know that President Barack Obama is here in spirit."
More than an hour after Stratton left the stage, Dunkin emerged to say he had called Stratton to concede.
"Partisan politics is going to be the death knell of this state," Dunkin said, laying all of the blame for the state's record-breaking budget impasse fueled by the partisan battle at Madigan's feet.
Madigan "is the lone wolf out there and the people are suffering," Dunkin added, saying a "perplexing" amount of money was spent on his race but that he had no regrets about how he had handled his office and the race.
Combined, both sides poured more than $6 million into the contest. Dunkin received $1.3 million from the Illinois Opportunity Project alone, which is run by Dan Proft, a conservative radio talk show host. It has ties to the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank Rauner has donated more than $500,000 to over the years.
Stratton received millions from labor and Democratic heavy hitters, including more than $25,000 in help from the 42nd Ward Democratic Organization, led by former Madigan aide Ald. Brendan Riley. The money was used for a mail piece featuring an old mug shot of Dunkin, highlighting his conviction for battery.
Dunkin's campaign also was challenged by 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, a Stratton supporter who filed a complaint with the Cook County state's attorney alleging his workers were trying to buy votes for $50 apiece. Dunkin's camp said the accusations were "baseless" and contended the attacks from the Democratic establishment were punishment for bucking Madigan, whom he accused of "plantation politics" by taking advantage of black voters and lawmakers to maintain power.
The attention-seeking Dunkin tried to paint himself as a hero for cutting a deal with Rauner in which he refused to vote with Democrats to try to overturn Rauner vetoes of bills to protect funding for child care and services for seniors and the disabled. Dunkin also missed an attempt by Democrats to overturn another Rauner veto of union-backed legislation to limit his options in contract talks with state workers. His defection earned him a public rebuke by Obama during a February speech on bipartisanship at the Illinois Capitol, and Dunkin said Obama's support of Stratton clearly swayed voters.
"Having the president of the free world to chime in on a local House race, one of the few in the nation, and not the U.S. presidency, not the Senate, not a congressman, not the state's attorney's office race -- but my race -- really spoke volumes," Dunkin said. "You know, it is what it is. He has a right to endorse whoever he wants to, and life goes on.
"I am not embittered by any stretch. The people of the 5th District, they spoke," Dunkin said. "They spoke when I defeated an incumbent 13 years ago ... they spoke now when they sent me home, and it's A-OK."
Stratton, a former adviser to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on criminal justice issues, is now the director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has declined to say how she would have voted on the labor and child care issues but says her background as an administrative law judge and mediator for the city on employment issues ensures she can maintain independence despite heavy backing from unions.
For his part, Madigan took no chances in his own race, filling mailboxes with fliers labeling Gonzales a career criminal. Gonzales said he did serve jail time for illegal credit card use as a teen but received a pardon for his crimes from former Gov. Pat Quinn. With 97 percent of the vote counted, Madigan had 65 percent to Gonzales' 27 percent.
Standing before a group of about two dozen supporters, Gonzales said their efforts to unseat the long-standing speaker had not been in vain.
"To finally have somebody to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.' That is historic," he said.
Chicago Tribune's Celeste Bott and Cynthia Dizikes contributed.
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