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State House: Chicago cop vs. lawyer who’s son of Dem committeeman

SandrStopp39 Chicago Police officer is running for 19th District House seat. She describes herself as moderate Democrwho votes for candidate

Sandra Stoppa, 39, a Chicago Police officer, is running for the 19th District House seat. She describes herself as a moderate Democrat who votes for the candidate regardless of the party.

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Updated: February 24, 2012 2:21PM

Two candidates are running in the Democratic primary for state rep in the Northwest Side’s 19th District.

One looks like a party regular.

The other looks like a Republican.

Robert F. Martwick Jr. would be the regular, the nephew of a former Cook County regional superintendent of schools. And his father, the Norwood Park Democratic Party committeeman, was among the party leaders who slated the son to run. Martwick is backed, as well, by the incumbent representative, Joe Lyons, who is retiring after 16 years.

Sandra Stoppa is the Republican, or certainly something close. The veteran Chicago Police officer voted in six Republican primaries from 2002 to 2010, and her position on many key issues would be appropriate for a moderate Republican. She favors letting the state’s most recent income tax increase expire, reducing corporate taxes and sticking with a flat income tax over a progressive one. She supports civil unions for gay couples but not gay marriage.

Asked whether she’s a stealth Republican, Stoppa told the Chicago Sun-Times that she is a “moderate Democrat” who voted in Democratic primaries in earlier years. Her approach as a voter, she said, has been to “vote for the candidate” regardless of the party. In the same way, she said, she is less interested in adhering to conventionally partisan stands on the issues than in taking “responsible” positions.

She said she favors lower business taxes, for example, to make Illinois more competitive with neighboring states because “consumers are going across the border.”

If critics want to say that’s a Republican stand, she said, “To each their own.”

Martwick, like Stoppa, favors letting the state’s temporary income tax increase expire, but he says he can’t close the door on an extension if that’s what it might take “to do the fiscally responsible thing.” He would not lower the corporate tax rate, except in limited circumstances, favors moving from a flat income tax to a progressive tax and supports civil gay marriage.

Martwick, a lawyer who previously ran for state senator and county commissioner, has the party money and party backing to run a sophisticated campaign. As reported by the Chicago News Cooperative, he even uses a cellphone app as he campaigns door to door to see who’s most likely to be home at a given time — say, retired folks in the middle of the day — and how they voted in recent elections.

Where Stoppa, 39, and Martwick, 46, are in full agreement is on the need to protect the pension benefits of current public employees, which should surprise nobody. The 19th District is home to thousands of police officers, teachers, firefighters and other public employees. The district includes parts of Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Belmont Heights and suburban Norridge. Both candidates say it would be a betrayal of trust, as well as unconstitutional, to cut pensions for current state employees.

That position has gained Martwick endorsements from the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Fraternal Order of Police. Some police officers have criticized the FOP for failing to endorse Stoppa, a fellow cop. She was endorsed, however, by the Chicago Sergeants Association.

If pension reform is off the table, how then does either candidate hope to pay off the state’s backlog of $9 billion in bills and $83 billion unfunded pension liability?

Stoppa proposes that all elected officials in the state follow her lead and pledge not to accept a public pension.

Martwick proposed that the state Legislature create a spending priority list by surveying each member and collating their responses. “When we fall short of revenues,” he said, “cut from the bottom.”

Martwick also questioned whether it’s necessary to fully fund the state’s pension system, especially during difficult economic times. A more reasonable goal, he said, might be to fund the system 75 or 80 percent, at least for now.

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