Park just ain't what it used to be. Neither is Don
Harmon, Oak Park's Democratic township
committeeman, a 10-year state senator and the
powerful Illinois Senate president pro tempore.
it is still a bastion of liberalism, trying
economic times are eroding Oak Park's habitually
guilty minds. Barack Obama annihilated John McCain
in Oak Park with 84.3 percent of the vote in the
2008 presidential race. Democrat Pat Quinn
triumphed with 74.7 percent of the vote in the
2010 gubernatorial race, and Democrat Alexi
Giannoulias won the Senate contest with 76.6
percent of the vote. Conservatism in general,
either fiscal or social, and Republicanism in
particular, have about as much appeal in Oak Park
as a case of halitosis.
years past, every self-respecting, politically
correct, liberal white Oak Park Democrat would
automatically vote for a black candidate over a
white candidate, especially for a black woman, and
even more urgently for a minority candidate or a
woman over a white man whose surname ended in a
vowel. To do otherwise would cause a paroxysm of
times have changed, and such an aberration is
exactly what may occur on March 20 in the
Democratic primary for the newly configured 78th
Illinois House District seat. Unless Harmon, like
Horatio at the bridge, piles up a huge Oak Park
margin to rescue Camille Lilly, the obscure black
incumbent, white challenger Mike Nardello may win.
Harmon doesn't deliver well over 60 percent of the
Oak Park vote for her, then Mike wins," said
Oak Parker K.L. Daly, Nardello's campaign manager.
everywhere else in Chicago and the Cook County
suburbs, Oak Park property values have collapsed.
Homes valued at $850,000 and up as recently as
2007 are now well under $500,000, but property
taxes continue to climb. "The issue is
affordable housing," Nardello said.
and undisciplined spending, both at the state and
local level, is making home ownership
unaffordable, and I hold every public official,
including Lilly, and particularly Harmon,
accountable," Nardello said. "The root
of the problem is that we continue to elect the
same old ineffectual politicians to office, and
they fail to find solutions."
was appointed to Democrat Deborah Graham's House
seat in 2010 after Graham was appointed 29th Ward
alderman, replacing Ike Carothers, who was
convicted of bribery. Lilly, Graham's protege, was
then and still is the vice president of external
affairs for Loretto Hospital, a full-time job.
However, according to a Lilly campaign staffer,
Lilly does not get paid by the hospital for days
spent in Springfield or elsewhere. She says that
she's a founding member of the Austin Chamber of
Commerce, and she was the chamber's paid executive
director until 2010. Sounds like she's a 24/7 kind
Lilly was appointed to Graham's seat after the
March 2010 primary, she was unopposed in the 2010
election, and March 20 is her first competitive
did not respond to four phone calls to her
legislative and political offices requesting an
not atypical," Daly said. "She has no
presence and no visibility in the district. She is
in 2001 to elect a black Democrat, the old 78th
District was 39 percent black and 14 percent
Hispanic, encompassing most of the black-majority
29th and 37th wards in Chicago, all of Oak Park
north of Madison Street, and Hispanic areas around
Melrose Park, River Forest and Maywood. Graham won
the seat in 2002, and she was never seriously
challenged. The new 78th District, crafted by
Democratic Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan,
eliminates all territory west of Harlem Avenue and
south of North Avenue and adds Elmwood Park, River
Grove and Franklin Park, largely white areas with
growing a growing Hispanic population. According
to 2010 census figures, the district is now 50
percent white, 30 percent black and 20 percent
an Oak Park attorney, also had his 39th Illinois
Senate district crafted for him in 2001, and he
won unopposed in 2002 and 2008 and with 76.7
percent of the vote in 2006. He was unopposed in
the 2002 and 2008 primaries, and he beat Nardello
in 2006 with 78.8 percent of the vote. Harmon is
now a close ally of Illinois Senate President John
Senate district contained both Graham's 78th House
District and Skip Saviano's 77th House District.
Saviano, a Republican from Elmwood Park, was a
onetime aide to Democratic state Senator Jim DeLeo
and a principal of the Elmwood Park Republican
machine run by Mayor Pete Silvestri. Saviano's
district, which was 84 percent white and 22
percent Hispanic in 2001, included Elmwood Park,
River Grove, Franklin Park, Northlake, Schiller
Park, Rosemont, a piece of Chicago and Bensenville
in DuPage County.
nonaggression pact was struck. Harmon shared an
office with Saviano in Elmwood Park, and Graham
officed with Harmon in Oak Park. Harmon made sure
Leyden Township Democrats gave Saviano a pass, and
Saviano made sure Republicans never seriously
contested Harmon. Harmon made sure that Oak Park
propped up Graham, campaigning as part of the
Harmon/Graham (and, in 2008, Obama) team. Having a
black female face on his literature was helpful.
2011 remap changed everything. Saviano, who was
first elected in 1992 and who was no longer
buddy-buddy with Madigan, found his Elmwood Park
base in Lilly's 78th District, along with River
Grove and Franklin Park. The new 77th District now
lies west of Mannheim Road, including Northlake,
Rosemont, Bensenville, Addison and parts of Elk
Grove, Villa Park, Wood Dale and Elmhurst; it also
picked Stone Park, Melrose Park and parts of River
Forest and Maywood from the old 78th District.
Madigan has recruited and will fund a Saviano foe,
Kathy Willis. Saviano has $378,094 in cash on
hand, and he is unbeatable.
said he's been "campaigning heavily" in
Saviano's old district and that voters "don't
realize" that he will no longer be their
representative. "I try to educate them,"
he said. "If they want somebody like Saviano,
they should vote for me."
contenders have very different profiles:
is the director of finance for city Department of
Family and Support Services, grew up in River
Grove, has a family business in Elmwood Park,
graduated from Holy Cross High School, and is a
longtime resident of Galewood in the 36th Ward,
where he lives with his wife and three children.
He has a master's degree in finance from DePaul
University. He is a close ally of Alderman Nick
Sposato (36th), who scored a huge upset in 2011
over the ward's William Banks machine. Nardello
expects that the minions of the Saviano-Silvestri
organization in Elmwood Park will covertly aid
him, as a Lilly win in 2012 could embolden Harmon
and Leyden Township Democratic Committeeman
Barrett Pedersen, Franklin Park's mayor, to take
on Saviano in 2014. "I will resign my
(Chicago) job if elected state
representative," Nardello pledged.
is the quintessential non-politician, viewing
public office more as an entitlement than a
privilege. She is a graduate of Drake University,
and she has a master's in hospital administration
from Oklahoma University. In the rough-and-tumble,
Austin-based 29th Ward, where Graham has plenty of
detractors, Lilly is viewed as a dilettante who
has not earned her job. She has not attempted to
build her own political organization, and she is
totally reliant on Graham and Harmon. U.S.
Representative Danny Davis (D-7), a former ward
alderman, is opposing Graham for Democratic
committeeman, and most of Carothers' old backers
are with Davis.
age 70, may retire in 2016. He wants to be the
committeeman to have input into his succession,
and he does not want Graham to be his successor.
Lilly's plight is everybody's afterthought.
new 78th District contains 104 precincts in three
diverse areas: 35 in Oak Park, the mostly white,
upscale owner-occupied area north of Madison
Street, which has few renters and minorities; 36
in Franklin Park (10), River Grove (eight) and
Elmwood Park (18), which are a mix of working
class white ethnics and Hispanics; and 33 in
Chicago, including Galewood in the 36th Ward (10),
which is Nardello's base, and the predominantly
black 29th (18) and 37th (five) -- a loss of 8
black precincts from the current district.
the second half of 2011, Lilly raised $39,161 and
Nardello raised $36,334. Lilly has been a reliable
Madigan vote in Springfield, backing the income
tax hike and the Chicago Board Options Exchange
and Sears tax deals. Harmon raised $333,061 during
the same period, and he had $311,905 on hand.
will be anemic on March 20, in the realm of 20 to
22 percent. That means 7,000 to 7,200 Democrats in
the 78th District. The vote in the eastern
(Chicago) portion of the district will be about
2,400, with Nardello winning 65 to 70 percent in
the 36th Ward and with Lilly taking 80 percent in
the black wards. That puts her up by 100 to 200
votes. In the western portion of the district
(Leyden Township), with 1,900 votes, Nardello will
win 1,300-600, a bulge of 700 votes. So the real
battleground will be Oak Park, where turnout will
be about 2,800 and where the Harmon machine will
be scavenging for every possible vote. Lilly's
magic margin is 600 votes. Harmon must carry his
35 precincts by 1,700-900.
prediction: Guilt is a great motivator, but the
Obama fervor of 2008 has dissipated. Nardello has
positioned himself as an
"independent-thinking" Democrat, and he
won't suffer McCain's fate in Oak Park. In an
upset, Nardello will beat Lilly by 100 votes.
Note: Stewart, an attorney, was consulted by
Nardello on legal issues in 2011, but he has no
connection to Nardello's campaign.)