The recently redrawn 28th Senate District in Illinois serves as a boxing ring to two immensely different candidates who are ready for a fight all the way until Election Day.
Two-term Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski gave up his seat in the 33rd Senate District after the map was redrawn in 2010. He is now seeking to gain the 28th District seat over Republican challenger Jim O’Donnell, in a race where some think the Democrat has the advantage. The candidates have seemingly nothing in common, besides their hometown of Park Ridge.
“The percentage of Democrats is higher in the district [Kotowski] is in now than in the previous district said,” Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
O’Donnell, the heavy underdog in the race according to campaign coffers says he entered the race because of Kotowski’s vote to increase the state income tax by 67 percent in 2011.
“I’ve kind of been following him, not happy with him, and when he became the deciding factor in the 67 percent income tax vote, I decided to run,” O’Donnell said. “That was the final straw for me.”
The first thing O’Donnell said he will do if elected is to repeal the tax increase in which he claims Kotowski’s vote was the difference maker.
Kotowski was O’Donnell’s senator when he represented the 33rd District. A large portion of the 33rd District is now part of the 28th.
“It is a very partisan map,” Redfield said. “You draw maps to minimize competition.”
The new map has seemingly given the edge to Kotowski, whose lawn signs greatly outnumber O’Donnell’s in Park Ridge. With the Republican incumbent not seeking re-election in the 28th District, it opens up a sought after position for the Democrats.
“I expect to win,” Kotowski said. “I’ve worked with both sides of the isle and stood up to business as usual.”
Kotowski’s confidence comes from strong Democratic support and a massive amount of contributions. So far, Kotowski has raised $3,458,971. According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, 89 percent of the almost $4 million raised belongs to the Democrat.
O’Donnell said it will be a tight race, one where Kotowski’s finances will play a major role.
“He represents himself as not being one of the insiders and yet he has raised an incredible amount of money,” O’Donnell said. “He’s going to outspend me by a lot.”
Kotowski denies the accusations that he is an insider and that his votes have weakened the state.
“That’s not true,” Kotowski said. “Decades of reckless spending and sweetheart deals have brought this state to its knees financially.”
In March, O’Donnell won the Republican primary with 7,450 votes while Kotowski ran unopposed and received 7,991 votes. With just over 500 votes separating them, each vote will carry immense weight.
Bruce Karlson, a resident in Park Ridge, agrees with O’Donnell that the race will be tight but he said he is very pleased with Kotowski. Karlson’s house sits in the middle of the two candidates’ homes, which are only about two miles apart.
“My read is, generally, the community is satisfied with the job Kotowski has done,” Karlson said.
Kotowski has helped out Karlson’s family who has a special needs child.
Though O’Donnell might not be Karlson’s choice, he said he has been getting great support, especially from the small business community.
O’Donnell’s employer, Camcraft, is his biggest contributor while Kotowski’s biggest financial backer is the Cook County College Teachers Union, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
One thing both of these candidates agree on is the perks of a public official in Illinois need to be cut. Kotowski has cut his office budget by 22 percent and has voted on cutting the free health care officials receive. O’Donnell said if elected he would opt out of the pension program.
“Officials shouldn’t be collecting pension for a part-time job,” O’Donnell said.
Kotowski said he has eliminated waste by voting for a bill that requires the state to “live within it’s means.” Accordingly, Kotowski said he voted to eliminate perks such as free health care for life for politicians.
“For the first time, they have to pay for it,” Kotowski said.
Even before they were challengers, Kotowski and O’Donnell sat on different sides of the political fence. Kotowski said he was the only Democrat who stood up to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, while O’Donnell’s manufacturing company – Camcraft – was awarded $1.7 million in Opportunity Returns in 2005 by the indicted governor. Opportunity Returns are monetary grants awarded to companies by the state to help them expand and further their research.
With all 59 Senate seats up for grabs, and 12 incumbents not seeking re-election, Nov. 6 can mark vast changes for Illinois until the next redistricting in 2020.