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State House: Signs of LGBT progress in 14th District race

Kelly M. Cassidy left PaulA. Basta

Kelly M. Cassidy, left, and Paula A. Basta

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Updated: March 27, 2012 8:11AM

In a sure sign of progress for Chicago’s gay and lesbian community, two lesbian candidates are vying for a state House seat on the Far North Side — and no one is making a big deal out it.

Both Democratic candidates support gay marriage and are strong advocates on other issues particular to gays and lesbians. But that’s not what’s dominating the campaign for the 14th District seat.

“People are not looking at them as candidates from the lesbian and gay community but as two really qualified women that are working hard to represent our community,” said Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who vacated this seat last year after being elected alderman.

Both women bring strong credentials to the race and have deep ties in the Rogers Park and Edgewater neighborhoods. The newly redrawn district also includes southeast Evanston for the first time.

Paula Basta, 55, of Rogers Park, is the regional director of the city’s busiest senior community center and has a long history as a social worker, mostly working with senior citizens. She also has been active in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender organizations, including a term as president of the board of Equality Illinois, the gay rights group.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy, 43, also of Rogers Park, worked for 14 years in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, helping to oversee the budget process, grant-writing and intergovernmental affairs. She was a legislative aide to State Sen. John Cullerton, now the Senate president, and active in several groups, including Equality Illinois and the Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance.

Cassidy was appointed to the seat last April, besting 22 candidates, including Basta. Just moments after the appointment, Basta announced her candidacy.

“I’ve always believed voters should have a right to chose their elected officials,” Basta told the Chicago Sun-Times. “This election gives them a choice.”

In an ethics platform released this month, Basta said voters should fill any vacancies rather than let “party bosses make their own appointment.”

Cassidy has racked up a slew of endorsements, from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to major unions, including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME, Osterman, the IVI-IPO, Equality Illinois and others.

From the beginning, Basta has tried to position herself as the independent candidate, a label Cassidy refuses to concede.

“I came here 20 years ago, knew no one,” Cassidy said. “The folks that are supporting me are supporting me because they’ve seen my work, my results, how hard I work when I’m engaged in a fight. That’s why they’re supporting me, not because I’m some how connected.”

She noted that independent groups supporting her wouldn’t back “an insider candidate.”

On the issues, the two candidates aren’t far apart. Both women support streamlining government without shredding the state’s safety net.

On school funding, Basta says “schools in Illinois require adequate funding but they also need to better handle their own escalating expanses and sprawl.”

Both are opposed to imposing reduced pensions on current state workers, saying state workers and teachers have been unfairly demonized for a problem they did not create, and they advocate working out a solution with the state’s unions.

Cassidy voted against a tax incentive package for CME Group, saying she is philosophically opposed to a “piecemeal approach” to tax breaks. “Small business will be the engine that brings our economy back,” she said. “Handing money to folks who will close stores anyway won’t get us there.”

By way of distinguishing themselves, Cassidy says she’s not just passionate, she gets things done: “There’s strong and then there is effective. My track record is that I have been an effective advocate over the years, even in my short time in the House.”

Basta noted her 10-point ethics plan, which includes term limits and greater caps on campaign donations: “I would be a strong independent voice that Springfield desperately needs.”

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