State Senate: 3 Dems hoping to replace Meeks
BY THE SUN-TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD February 17, 2012 11:26PM
Donna Miller has spent nearly 20 years working in sales, training and management in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. Her husband, David Miller, is a former state representative and dentist.
Updated: March 20, 2012 8:16AM
Will an NFL career, a compelling Horatio Alger story and a bucket full of cash be enough to fend off two seasoned candidates in the race to replace outgoing state Sen. James Meeks?
Napoleon Harris, a 33-year-old former linebacker who played for Oakland and Minnesota during an eight-year career, is betting on it.
In the 15th Senate District Democratic primary, Harris is running on his experience as the owner and operator of two pizza restaurants in the south suburbs and his commitment to improving the district’s struggling communities. The 15th District covers a sliver of the Far South Side and a swath of the south suburbs, including Harvey, Thornton and South Holland, going as far south as Crete in Will County.
“I want to help the community, my community,” Harris, a Dixmoor native, told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Harris, a Northwestern grad, lives in Flossmoor.
But no one is handing this race to Harris. He is up against two impressive opponents, including Patricia Mahon, a lawyer and the village administrator in South Holland. She is endorsed by nine south suburban mayors, half of them in the Senate district. Mahon said she also is getting support from Frank Zuccarelli, the Thornton Township supervisor. Zuccarelli is head of the powerful Thornton Township Democrat Organization, but that organization is not endorsing in this race.
Mahon emphasizes her deep knowledge of municipal issues and her experience helping to balance the South Holland budget without layoffs. “I know what it means to provide services with less,” Mahon told the editorial board.
The third candidate — no also-ran by any measure — is Donna Miller of Lynwood, the wife of dentist and former state Rep. David Miller.
Miller has racked up the most endorsements by far, including the nod from both major teachers unions, the AFL-CIO, UFCW and three other unions. Progressive organizations, including Equality Illinois, Citizens Action of Illinois and Personal PAC, also are backing her. She also has the support of three south suburban mayors and the Bloom and Crete township Democratic organizations.
Miller has spent nearly 20 years working in sales, training and management in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry. She emphasizes her expertise in health care and her corporate experience, and she lists job training and school funding reform as her top priorities.
“I can hit the ground running and really can contribute on health care,” Miller said.
Harris clearly has the money advantage. He has put $140,000 of his own money into his campaign. Miller has raised nearly $50,000, including a $25,000 personal loan. Mahon has raised about $34,000, including a $2,000 personal loan.
The three candidates aren’t far apart on the issues. All are committed to improving schools, as Meeks was, and opposed to changing pension benefits for current employees to help address the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability.
Instead, Mahon says the state should explore taxing retirement benefits, taxing more services and instituting a progressive income tax structure. Miller wants a better analysis of costly benefits, such as early retirement and salary bumps just before retirement.
On his Sun-Times candidate questionnaire, Harris laid out some alternatives to reducing benefits, including asking more from the highest-paid employees and earmarking a portion of any surplus toward pension liabilities. But in his Sun-Times interview he said only that “something has to get done. I’m not sure I know all the answers.”
Both Miller and Harris support gay marriage. Mahon said she supports “people choosing who they want to be with.” But “I don’t know if government should define this.”
The differences between the three largely come down to depth and style. In their Sun-Times interviews, both Mahon and Miller answered questions on state issues with ease and expertise, though Mahon was more willing to take a firm stand. On school vouchers, for example, Miller said she would have to “see if the people want it.”
Harris knew many of the buzz words but was less steeped in the issues, particularly on the state’s finances.