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State House: Appointed incumbent faces city finance director in 78th

Illinois Rep. Camille Lilly was appointed 78th House District setwo years ago is running Democratic primary.

Illinois Rep. Camille Lilly was appointed to the 78th House District seat two years ago and is running in the Democratic primary.

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Updated: February 27, 2012 9:40AM

It’s not about an incumbent vs. a challenger, a man vs. a women or black vs. white in the 78th House District Democratic primary, both candidates in the race insist.

It’s about who is best qualified.

And, you’ll be shocked to know, each candidate claims that mantle.

The race pits Rep. Camille Lilly, who works as a hospital administrator in Austin and has the strong backing of the Democratic Party, against Michael Nardello, a City of Chicago director of finance and administration, to represent a district that covers a piece of the West Side and near western suburbs.

There are no Republican candidates.

Lilly, of Galewood, was appointed two years ago and is facing her first contested election in a district that has changed dramatically after a remap last fall. A slice of the West Side was dropped and Proviso Township was mapped out and replaced with parts of Leyden Township.

Nardello, 45, who also lives in Galewood, is running on his nearly 20-year career working in public finance, the last 15 as director of finance and administration in the Department on Aging/Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, including managing a $35 million budget.

“We have a budget issue” in Illinois, Nardello told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’ve balanced a budget for 20 years, each year carrying over money. I’ve worked to maintain a level of service for our seniors that wouldn’t put anyone on a wait list, with no forced layoffs.”

Nardello, who ran previously for state senator, also points to his experience in his community, including 13 years on a local school council. He is endorsed by Ald. Nick Sposato (36th).

Nardello trails Lilly, 50, in endorsements, name recognition and campaign donations.

She is endorsed by a long list of public officials, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the mayors and village presidents in Oak Park, River Grove and Franklin Park. She’s also backed by most of the major unions and progressive groups such as the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood.

Lilly touts her experience as “a lifelong West Sider,” including her work in health promotion for the last 21 years at Loretto Hospital, where she is vice president of external affairs and development. She is also a co-founder and former executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, a volunteer job that she says taught her a great deal about economic development.

Nardello knocks her for maintaining her part-time job at Loretto, saying the Legislature requires her full-time attention.

“I’m very passionate helping people, particularly the sick,” Lilly told the Sun-Times. “I continue to do it because it has made a difference in the community where I live.”

Both candidates emphasize the need to seek input from the public and affected groups before making decisions, with Lilly using the example of bringing everyone together before the state takes any action to confront its $83 billion unfunded public pension liability.

Quinn last week floated the idea of making individual school districts help pay for their employee’s pensions and said all ideas for reducing pension costs — including employee contributions levels and retirement age — were on the table.

Lilly said all the proposals need to be reviewed, but she wouldn’t commit to any specifics, saying, “It’s important that you hear everyone’s opinions of a proposal. That’s an important part of the process. That’s what I’m bringing to Springfield.”

But she is strongly opposed to proposed cuts to Medicaid: “I don’t support slashing human services.”

Nardello was more firm on the pension issue. “It’s the root of the problem behind the budget,” he said.

Cutting the budget and closing down state facilities, which Quinn proposed, “Only buys us time. . . .We need to restructure the pension itself,” he said.

He said a bill to reduce pensions for current employees was flawed but “a step in the right direction.” It is also vital, he said, that the state pays its full share every year.

Nardello said he supports gay marriage while Lilly said she is still studying the issue.

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