State Senate: 3 Dems fight DuPage odds for 23rd District
Villa Park Village President Thomas E. Cullerton (left) and Bartlett attorney Greg Brownfield are two of three Democrats seeking to claim the 23rd District state Senate seat. Marketing consultant Kevin Allen also is running.
Updated: March 23, 2012 8:12AM
With decades of futility hard-wired into their political DNA, DuPage County Democrats haven’t had success sending one of their own to Springfield since cumulative voting ended in the Illinois House more than three decades ago.
In fact, political historians in the county say the drought in getting a Democrat elected to the state Senate from a predominantly DuPage district predates the Great Depression, and there might not have been one before that.
Defying those long odds, three Democrats have lined up against one another in a primary for the 23rd Senate District, where the winner will go on this fall to meet either state Sen. Carol Pankau (R-Itasca) or Rep. Randy Ramey (R-Carol Stream).
As if the oddity of a well-populated Democratic Senate primary in the county isn’t enough, DuPage voters who pull a blue ballot, like their counterparts in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, will have a chance to elect a Cullerton.
Villa Park Village President Thomas E. Cullerton, 42, who describes himself as a “third cousin” to Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), is running against attorney Greg Brownfield, 51, of Bartlett, and self-employed marketing consultant Kevin Allen, 47, of Addison, in the irregularly shaped northern DuPage and far northwestern Cook district. It touches Lombard, Itasca, West Chicago and Bartlett on its four corners.
Democrats see a chance to be competitive here in the fall, though the district went solidly Republican in the 2010 election cycle. In 2008, it swung heavily in President Barack Obama’s favor, with more Democratic than Republican primary ballots cast countywide for the first time in memory.
All three candidates have stuck their toes in the political water before, though Cullerton has had the most electoral success. In 2009, he fended off two others to win his first term as the village’s chief executive, drawing 54 percent of the vote to become the county’s youngest mayor. The new Senate district was drawn by Democrats in such a way that it includes Villa Park entirely, which figures to be an advantage for Cullerton. In the past, the town was carved up among different districts.
In 2010, Brownfield lost to Ramey 62 percent to 38 percent in a race for the 55th House District, though the Democrat received close to 12,000 votes. And in 2008, Allen attempted a run against Pankau but was knocked off the ballot, drawing a minuscule 58 write-in votes.
Cullerton, a Teamster and a sales rep for Hostess brand confections, has scored many of the major endorsements in the race, including from the Illinois AFL-CIO. He insisted his cousin is not providing financial or political help in the primary.
The DuPage County Cullerton points to his record running Villa Park, where property tax increases have remained within the confines of property tax caps during his time as village president. The village is running a small surplus, and there have been no municipal layoffs, he said.
“I have a good record of making sure my citizens are taken care of, their garbage gets picked up, their streets get plowed and their grant money gets handled correctly,” Cullerton said.
Brownfield, who stepped down from his spot as a lawyer at Prairie State Legal Services and has drawn the endorsement of the IVO-IPI, questioned the legitimacy of Cullerton’s campaign because he thinks it relies on party-driven support from outside the district.
“I’ve been without a paycheck since July 2009, with the idea of building a grass-roots local effort to try to accomplish this. That’s not what I’m seeing from the Cullerton camp. Quite the reverse. Theirs’ is a top-down, party-supported, parachute-in-with-folk approach,” he said.
Just as in his race against Ramey, Brownfield is not shy about calling out House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), chairman of the state Democratic Party, with a message that may sell well in DuPage but not necessarily in Springfield.
“I think the state would be in better shape if he weren’t in that position any more. He’s good at what he does. A good tactician who gets things passed,” he said. “But when you make calculations based on what wins elections and secondarily what makes a difference in people’s lives, I think you’ve got to go.”
Allen, in making his case, described himself as a “longtime Democrat with a proven Democratic track record of supporting other Democratic candidates.”
He said he is better positioned for the nomination than Brownfield because “I live in DuPage County, where the vast majority of this district is located” and because county voters could be turned off by the Villa Park village president’s ties to the Senate president.
“In this district, unfortunately for Mr. Cullerton, that last name can cut both ways. Suburban Democrats are very independent-minded. They have a tendency to be less enamored of old-style party politics,” Allen said.
On issues, there are no gaping divides between the candidates. All three favor legalizing gay marriage and oppose or lean against pension-reform legislation that would impose a three-tiered retirement plans on existing state workers and teachers.
Allen favors a “limited” concealed-carry law. Brownfield opposes it, while Cullerton, an Army veteran, said he’s “not sure” he’s opposed but would want to see a bill.