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State House: Veteran vs. newcomer in the 5th District state house race

Updated: February 22, 2012 10:42PM

A revamped State House district in Chicago that includes new, untested territory for a veteran incumbent is the stage for a Democratic primary matchup between Rep. Ken Dunkin and newcomer Dori Collins.

About one-third of the 5th House District is new for Dunkin, including more of the South Loop and less of the North Side 27th Ward, a key source of Dunkin’s support historically. The district extends from the Gold Coast to 67th Street, taking in parts of the South Loop, Bronzeville and Chatham.

The district change, combined with Dunkin’s reputation for showboating on the State House floor, might suggest an opening for Dori Collins, a 46-year-old consultant to the Chicago Public Schools.

But it’s an uphill battle for Collins, who is taking on a well-financed and skilled campaigner with a much deeper understanding of the state’s dire financial condition.

Dunkin, a 47-year-old social worker who grew up in Cabrini-Green, can comfortably and expertly discuss the state’s $83 billion unfunded pension liability and the state’s massive stack of unpaid bills.

On pensions, Dunkin says the state must do “something dramatic.” He wants to bring the unions to the table to hammer out a solution, saying he wants “the unions to understand these times are not like they were five or three years ago. There should be some shared sacrifice.”

Regarding the state’s nearly $5 billion in bills owed to human service providers and other vendors, Dunkin, of Bronzeville, thinks that can be whittled down over time by capping state spending and more budget cuts, a process that began last year.

Dunkin wants to see the temporary income tax increase expire in 2014, as planned.

Collins, also of Bronzeville, says she’s focused on local issues. For years, she has tried to get parents involved the public schools, first as a volunteer and now for pay, and has served on a local school council. The former pharmaceutical sales professional is also involved with a domestic violence group and a health advocacy organization for women of color.

But she lacks any plans for dealing with the state’s finances or a basic working knowledge of the financial issues confronting the state.

What drives her to run is an impression about Dunkin she has gathered from residents and local politicians — that he isn’t well-regarded in Springfield and that he fails to represent the entire district. On two occasions, bills he sponsored have been voted down by more than 100 of the 118 House members, a rare occurrence.

“I don’t feel he has the respect,” Collins said.

In turn, Dunkin dismisses Collins as an unknown.

“I’m active in my community and if you’re active, you know who is aggressive as an activist, who takes position on schools, on violence,” said Dunkin, former head of the Robert Taylor Boys and Girls Club of Chicago. “I haven’t heard of her in any of those forums . . . I respect those candidates who have done something in the community.”

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