Oak Park could decide 78th District race
Oak Park, 02/25/12--Rep. Danny Davis concludes his five minute candidate statement. The League of Women Voters of Oak Park and River Forest hosted a Candidates Fair at the Dole Branch Library on Saturday. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 29, 2012 4:07PM
Oak Park is shaping up as the primary battleground for an unusually competitive race for the 78th District Illinois House seat.
The March 20 Democratic primary features incumbent Camille Y. Lilly vs. challenger Michael D. Nardello.
Nardello holds a master’s degree in public service and works as the Director of Finance and Administration for the City of Chicago’s Department on Aging. He oversees a $35 million annual budget.
He served on the Sayre Language Academy local school board for 13 years, and has volunteered for numerous community organizations.
Lilly has a degree in hospital administration and works full-time as Vice President for External Affairs and Development for Loretto Hospital. She also serves on the board of directors of the Loretto Hospital Foundation, and helped found the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
Both Nardello and Lilly live in the Chicago 36th Ward, and both have Oak Park connections.
Lilly graduated from Hatch Elementary and Oak Park River Forest High School. Nardello attends St. Giles Church in north Oak Park, and his campaign manager is an Oak Park resident.
During a recent interview Lilly said she’s totally focused on meeting as many people as she could.
“I’m knocking on a lot of doors. I’m really excited about the race,” she said.
This is the second time Nardello is running for elected office. He lost the 39th Senate District race primary in 2006 to state Sen. Don Harmon (D-39th), getting only 21 percent of the vote. But he gained seasoning.
Harmon played a central role in the appointment of Lilly in his capacity as Oak Park Democratic committeeman.
Lilly filled the vacancy left in the 78th District when Rep. Debra Graham resigned in April 2010, to take an appointment to the 29th Ward aldermanic seat vacated by the criminally convicted Isaac “Ike” Carothers. Lilly then ran unopposed in October 2010 for a full two-year term.
The political landscape has changed since then, however. Under the 2010 statewide remap, the 78th District lost significant amounts of West Side territory and moved further west, into River Grove and Franklin Park. It also picked up a chunk of Elmwood Park, which used to be represented by Republican Angelo “Skip” Saviano. In the process the district went from being roughly 40 percent African-American to just 30 percent.
If Lilly wins the lion’s share of West Side wards and Nardello wins the majority of the vote in the western suburbs like Elmwood Park, River Grove and Franklin Park, Oak Park will be the key to victory, according to political analysts from both camps.
Nardello has said that Oak Park is the key to the race. Monday his campaign manager reiterated that contention.
“Oak Park is the battle ground,” said Oak Park resident K.L. Daly. “I wouldn’t have jumped in if first I didn’t thing he ‘d make a difference and secondly that he had a good chance of winning,” Daly said of Nardello.
Daly said Lilly is heavily dependent on the support and guidance of Harmon locally and the Democratic state machine run by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
“Nine out of 10 times, when we see (Lilly) she’s with Harmon,” said Daly. “He’s promoting her heavily.”
Lilly started the year with $24,000 in her campaign coffers, and has taken in an additional $33,500 the first seven weeks of 2012. Most of that money has come from political action committees, including PACs controlled by power companies Exelon and Ameren Illinois, which have contributed $5,500. AT&T has donated another $1,500.
Also solidly behind Lilly is the Democratic Majority, which is chaired by Madigan.
Democratic Majority takes in contributions ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, mostly from political action committees, or PACs. Since being formed in December 2010, the fund has received $1.3 million, the vast majority from PACs.
Madigan has given Lilly almost $15,000 via the Democratic Majority fund the past two months. Other PACs which are heavy contributors to Democratic Majority have also contributed directly to Lilly, including two Service Employee International Union PACs, which have chipped in $16,500.
Since launching his campaign last August, Nardello has taken in a total of $39,195. That includes $17,702 he has personally loaned his campaign, and donations from family, friends and small businesses.
Nardello insists he will not take any contributions from PACs. The only politician to contribute to the Nardello campaign so far has been 36th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato.