June 11, 2008


Negativity abounds in the open-seat contest for state representative in the northwest suburban 66th District, but it's of an atypical variety: Instead of attacking who does or what is, the candidates are furiously proclaiming who doesn't and asserting what isn't.

The district takes in all of Elk Grove Village and Mount Prospect, most of Arlington Heights and Rolling Meadows, the eastern part of Schaumburg and the western part of Des Plaines.

Democratic candidate Mark Walker of Arlington Heights trumpets the fact that he isn't a Republican, a distinct advantage in a year when anti-Bush, anti-Republican sentiment is cresting. The district went 51.1 percent for George Bush in 2004 and 52.9 percent for Bush in 2000. "(Barack) Obama will win (the district) in 2008," Walker said. "The district is trending Democratic."

Walker asserts that his Republican opponent, 12-year Elk Grove Township Trustee Christine Prochno of Elk Grove Village, isn't the logical successor to the popular, retiring incumbent Republican, Carolyn Krause, a icon in the area who served since 1992 and who was unopposed in 1998, 2002, 2004 and 2006; in 2000 she won with 68.8 percent of the vote. Krause was the mayor of Mount Prospect from 1977 to 1989. "I'm the real independent. I'm like her," Walker said.

Also, adds Walker, Prochno's base in Elk Grove isn't solid. "A lot of conservative Republicans won't vote for her," he said.

Republican strategists in Springfield insist that Walker doesn't fit the district's demographic: a pronounced affinity for moderate, pro-choice women such as Krause, who strongly supports Prochno. Even though Walker, like Prochno, is a social liberal, favoring abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, the Republican expectation is that the "gender vote" will be critical - with just enough Democratic, pro-choice, pro-Obama women voting for Prochno to enable her to win narrowly.

The enthusiasm of conservative Republicans in the district for Prochno doesn't amount to much. As in most suburban areas, Republicans are bitterly divided between social conservatives (pro-life, pro-gun rights, anti-gay marriage) and social liberals. In the 2008 primary Prochno, age 56, beat Laura Bartell, a social conservative, by 4,248-3,541, getting 54.5 percent of the vote. Walker, unupposed, had 10,252 votes.

Bartell's key backers were Elk Grove Township Republican Committeeman Cheryl Axley, an appointed state senator from 2005 to 2006, and Mount Prospect Mayor Irvana Wilks. Axley has since resigned as committeeman, and she, Bartell and Wilks, all social conservatives, have no role in Prochno's campaign. "We're for her, but only because the alternative is worse," said one key conservative.

"That's not how I see it," Walker said. "A lot of Republicans want Prochno to lose."

Walker isn't convinced that voter revulsion toward Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger will be detrimental to his candidacy. Walker spends at least three hours a day knocking on doors, and the message he gets is this: Get rid of Blagojevich. "He's a corrupt, ineffective governor, they say, and I agree," Walker said."

As for Stroger, "voters feel he is inept, corrupt, has arbitrarily raised taxes for no good reason, and is only concerned about Chicago, not the suburbs, and I agree," Walker said." Prochno agrees. "All the levers of government are controlled by the Democrats," she said. "If voters want change in Springfield, they should elect a Republican (state representative)."

Prochno doesn't think that Walker can emulate the success of his mentor, state Senator Dan Kotowski (D-33), who beat Axley by 1,434 votes (getting 51.3 percent of the vote) in 2006 and who is up for re-election in 2008. Republicans think Walker is a loser who isn't credible. "I am working hard," Prochno said, noting that Walker lost a race for Wheeling Township supervisor in 2005, getting just 40 percent of the vote. "He has no base," she said.

Kotowski won, she said, because Axley had no presence in Des Plaines and Park Ridge, where the Republican organization had collapsed. Prochno claims the support of Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson and Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder. "My base is solid," she said.

Kotowski, of Park Ridge, scheduled himself to walk precincts at least four hours a day and did so for 22 months prior to the 2006 election. He won the 66th House District, which is the west half of his Senate district, Axley's base, with 52 percent of the vote. Walker claims he has been walking precincts daily since May of 2007 and that he has made 10,000 contacts since then.

Walker declares that he won't be a "Madigan Monkey" if he wins - in other words, not a controlled vote in the pocket of powerful, anti-Blagojevich House Speaker Mike Madigan. Prochno insists otherwise: "If (Madigan) spends $250,000 to win the seat, Walker will vote like he's told," she said.

"Absolutely not," countered Walker, age 60, a Vietnam veteran and a retired executive vice president of Citibank who now runs a consulting company. "I will vote my conscience and my district." Adds Walker: "My base is in Arlington Heights, among veterans, and among Kotowski voters. I will win."

And, finally, Prochno doesn't think that the 66th District will be a so-called "Tier One" race in November, with Madigan pouring in money to win the seat. But that may be wishful thinking.

Democrats have a 67-51 majority in the Illinois House, and they need to pick up five seats to give Madigan a 72-seat "super majority," which means he can override a gubernatorial veto and impeach the governor. The Krause seat is critical to that goal. Walker said he will self-fund up to $100,000.

The 66th District contains 91 precincts, including five in Des Plaines, 18 in Elk Grove Village, 31 in Mount Prospect, four in Rolling Meadows, 31 in Arlington Heights and two in Schaumburg. The Arlington Heights precincts, south of the Northwest Highway, are the town's most affluent, upscale and Republican. The Rolling Meadows precincts are working class Democratic, but also very anti-immigration, pro-gun rights and pro-union. The Schaumburg precincts, west of Interstate 53 around Woodfield Mall, have a large Asian population.

To win, Walker needs to carry Arlington Heights by at least 60-40 percent, keep Prochno under 60 percent in Elk Grove Village and under 55 percent in Mount Prospect, and get a majority of at least 55 percent in Des Plaines, Schaumburg and Rolling Meadows.

Turnout in the 2004 presidential contest was 42,712, with Bush beating Kerry 21,666-20,737 and with 309 votes for the Libertarian candidate. Krause, unopposed, got 33,386 votes, which means that about 13,000 Kerry voters backed her and 9,000 others didn't vote in the race. Turnout in November will be closer to 50,000, with the Obama-McCain vote about evenly split and with McCain winning the district.

The key is who will get the "magic 10 percent." Prochno needs 10 percent of the Obama vote - primarily liberal white women who will back her because of her gender. Walker needs 10 percent of the McCain vote - primarily a mix of pro-McCain white male veterans and working class voters who abhor Obama but who also detest all other Republicans.

Prochno admits that there is "great displeasure" with Republicans at the federal level, but she's trying to focus on local issues such as property taxation, education funding and the possible indictment of Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich before the November election. "That would be great," she said \.

Walker concurs. "There's been a change of focus" in the past year, he said, regarding feedback from walking precincts. Walker said that last year voters were agitated about Bush, the Iraq War, immigration, gun control and taxes. Now they're upset about Blagojevich, Stroger, gas prices and the economy, he said.

"I do not support a recall or an impeachment (of the governor)," Walker said. Prochno does. She would love to make the contest a referendum on Blagojevich and Stroger, not on Bush.

"We need to correct broken (Springfield) processes," Walker said. "Why should it take seven months to pass a budget? We have an irresponsible governor and an irresponsible legislature. I call the governor 'Blagobush,' since he lies or reneges on all his promises. He cannot be trusted."

The bottom line: Mark Walker is an energetic and appealing candidate, much like Dan Walker, his unrelated namesake, was in 1972. Dan Walker won the governorship by 77,494 votes, even though Richard Nixon carried Illinois by 874,707 votes. My prediction: Walker is outworking and is better positioning himself than Prochno. But all depends on Madigan. If the speaker dumps $400,000 into the race, Walker wins; otherwise, Prochno will squeak by.