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3 Dem newcomers aim to square off with Roskam in 6th District

Leslie Coolidge an accountant from BarringtHills is running for Democratic nominatifor 6th Congressional District.

Leslie Coolidge, an accountant from Barrington Hills, is running for the Democratic nomination for the 6th Congressional District.

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Updated: February 28, 2012 11:46AM

Sometimes ordinary Americans, though previously uninvolved in electoral politics, watch the cable news shows, read the papers, grow increasingly disgusted by what they see and jump up and say, “I’m running for Congress!”

They really do.

And three of them are running for Congress in the 6th District’s Democratic primary.

This is a wide-open Democratic primary, with no obvious favorite, in large part because there is no well-known party figure in the race. This, in turn, is a reflection of the fact that the 6th District is strongly Republican and represented by Peter Roskam, a seasoned and fast-climbing member of the GOP House leadership. Democrats with better name recognition, financing and party backing have taken a pass.

“The debt ceiling debacle got me into this,” Leslie Coolidge, 52, a Harvard graduate and an accountant, told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Coolidge was referring to the House Republican brinksmanship last year over a bill to raise the federal debt ceiling, a debacle that led to a lowering of the nation’s credit rating.

“We will elect people who will come to the middle point,” said Geoffrey Petzel, 29, of Lake Zurich, explaining why he’s running. He says Washington needs more people like him who understand the art of principled compromise. Petzel is executive director of Friends of the Fox River and a home rehabber.

And then there is Maureen Yates, 76, of Barrington, the retired owner of a flower-arranging business, who also is disgusted by what she sees in Washington, but wants to jump into the fray as a warrior, not a conciliator.

What kind of representative would she be?

“A firebrand, I’m afraid,” she said.

Describing herself as “very much of the MBA generation,” Coolidge, of Barrington Hills, said she would take a “practical” approach to public policy. She would boost the economy and create jobs, for example, through a combination of strategies, beginning with federal investments in roads and bridges, “generous” tax credits to businesses for the first year of a new employee’s salary and tax credits for high-technology research and development.

Coolidge does not emphasize this in her campaign — the mantra for every smart candidate this year is “jobs” — but she also has a strong background in wildlife and environmental issues. She is a member of the World Wildlife Fund’s National Council, a trustee of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and vice chair of the International Crane Foundation.

In Congress, she says, she would hope to take “a leading role” in protecting the environment “against the assaults of those seeking to roll back the environmental protections enacted over the last 50 years.”

Petzel, strikingly well-organized in his positions for a newbie candidate so young, also has a strong background in environmental issues, having been a leader in Fox River preservation issues since he was a teenager. He claims credit for writing a state law that banned gravel mining in forest preserves. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Petzel is particularly specific in his proposals to promote renewable and clean-energy sources. He calls for permanent tax credits to producers of renewable energy such as wind and solar, low-interest loans to expand transmission lines for renewable energy, and a congressional mandate that 25 percent of all American electricity be produced from renewable sources by 2025.

Yates takes the most liberal views on the issues, delivered with more liberal rhetoric. She would, for one, “stop the wars completely” and “bring all the troops home” now. And she would push hard for an “equal wage act” for women.

Is the 6th Congressional District ready to elect a Democrat? The newly drawn district, which now includes all or parts of Algonquin, Barrington, Cary, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Lake in the Hills, Lake Zurich, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, South Elgin, West Chicago, Westmont and Wheaton, still looks like strong Republican turf.

But Coolidge, whose congressman at the moment is the freshman GOP warrior Joe Walsh, says voters are feeling “buyer’s remorse” about having elected guys like him.

“A lot of people are more moderate than either end of the scale,” she said.

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