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State Senate: Republican doctor, physical therapist compete in 18th



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Updated: February 18, 2012 4:18PM

Barbara Bellar is a practicing physician with a law degree, a retired major in the U.S. Army Reserve and a faculty member at DePaul.

Ricardo Fernandez has a doctorate in physical therapy and has taught at Governor’s State and Northwestern universities.

Each wants to represent the 18th Senate District as a Republican, and they enter the race with similar positions. But the campaign has turned edgy with questions about one candidate’s academic track record and the other’s residency outside district lines.

Whoever wins this Republican primary contest will square off against Democratic state Rep. Bill Cunningham in an area that for years has reliably leaned to the left on Election Day. Cunningham also raised more than $37,000 for his campaign in 2011, and neither Bellar nor Fernandez has come close to matching that.

But both candidates said they think they’ll be able to overcome those obstacles.

“I think it’s going to be a great year for Republicans,” said Fernandez, who hails from Orland Park. “The people that drew [this district] underestimated the voters.”

Bellar, of Burr Ridge, said she thinks she has continued name recognition from her race against Cunningham for the 35th House seat two years ago when she came up short but garnered about 42 percent of the vote.

Since then, she said, “You have to realize the sad, sad state of affairs of Illinois has gone from bad to worse.”

Although there has been little interaction between them, Bellar took a shot at Fernandez’s Ph.D. credentials, saying that he didn’t begin trumpeting a doctoral degree until late in the race.

“He’s referring to himself as ‘Dr. Ricardo,’ ” she said. “In any case, he wasn’t [previously] presenting himself as that.”

Fernandez dismissed that criticism, saying that he’s proud of his doctorate from Nova Southeastern University, and he went on the offensive by calling out Bellar for not living in the newly created 18th district.

“Being a resident makes a big difference,” he said. “Because I think if you don’t live in the district, you might be out of touch.”

State law allows General Assembly candidates to run in districts they don’t technically reside in after new lines are drawn every 10 years. However, they must be a resident of the district for 18 months before to the next election.

Bellar said she would be “perfectly willing” to move in to the district within the timeframe allotted and countered Fernandez’s attack by saying she was not interested in doing “dirty-laundry” attacks.

“You know, I’m not some outsider, and I really don’t appreciate that this is the only thing he’s saying,” she said. “Give me a break. Let’s have some substance here.”

Neither candidate has received endorsements from Republican officeholders; both said party members prefer to be hands-off at the primary stage.

On the issues, Bellar said she wants to repeal the 67 percent income-tax increase signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn last year. On pensions, she said Senate Bill 512, the proposal that would give state employees the option to pay more into the system and receive the same level of benefits, pay the same amount and receive reduced benefits, or enter a 401(k) plan, is “a step in the right direction.”

Fernandez said he also would ote to repeal the tax increase and be willing to change the pension system for future retirees, but he thinks pensions should remain intact for current retirees.

“We made a promise to these people who are retiring, and we need to hold that up,” Fernandez said.

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