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Rivals leading Burke and Silverstein in legislative races

Ira Silverstein, Illinois 8th District Senator holds up his "I voted" wrist band, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Chicago. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

In a major blow to the political operation of Chicago’s most powerful alderman, a novice legislative candidate was beating state Rep. Dan Burke — leading the longtime incumbent by nearly 8 percentage points in incomplete returns.

With 90 percent of the precincts tallied, first-time challenger 26-year-old Aaron Ortiz, had 53.9 percent of the vote compared with 46.1 percent for Burke.

Ortiz was leading Burke, whose brother is powerful Ald. Ed Burke, in the House 1st District race on the Southwest Side.

“It’s a mix of emotions tonight. I’m excited. I’m happy. It’s a feeling that can’t be described,” Ortiz said Tuesday night. “Defeat just prepares you for the next battle. If it’s not going to happen this time, then it’s on to the next one.”

Meanwhile, Democratic State Sen. Ira Silverstein was trailing key challenger Ram Villivalam, who had 51 percent of the vote, compared with 29 percent for Silverstein, with 81 percent of precincts reporting.

In the 1st District House race, Burke first took office 27 years ago. Ortiz had the backing of Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is a candidate to replace Luis Gutierrez in Congress, in a district that is now about 67 percent Latino.

When he announced his run for office, Ortiz blasted Burke, saying “he comes from a political family that represents Donald Trump and has worked to give Trump tax breaks over $14 million.”

He was referring to the law firm of Burke’s brother, which appealed the property taxes on President Donald Trump’s downtown skyscraper; those efforts have saved Trump and his investors millions.

The race between Ortiz and Burke is one of several battles this primary season in the long-running war between independent, progressive Latinos and their rivals who have aligned with the white establishment in Southwest Side Democratic politics.

The district includes all or portions of the Archer Heights, Chicago Lawn, Gage Park and Garfield Ridge neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Silverstein came under fire last year for exchanging inappropriate Facebook messages with a woman whose legislation he was sponsoring. The woman, victim rights advocate Denise Rotheimer, made public 444 pages of private Facebook messages, many of which were exchanged late at night. Silverstein is married to Chicago Ald. Debra Silverstein.

Villivalam said Tuesday night that the Facebook messages proved a key issue.

“People in the district have spoken loud and clear,” he said. “They believe in a zero tolerance policy toward sexual harassment. They believe women need to be heard and listened to and advocated for. We need to change the culture in Springfield.”

In a report issued earlier this year, legislative inspector general Julie Porter cleared Silverstein of sexual harassment or “other unlawful conduct,” but she said, among other things, that he “did not maintain on appropriate professional distance from the proponent of the bill he was sponsoring.”

Silverstein told the Chicago Sun-Times his behavior was “inappropriate” and involved what he called, “some stupid banter.”

The 8th District includes part of northern Chicago, Lincolnwood, Niles and Morton Grove.

DuPage County Commissioner Amy L. Grant was far ahead of her two competitors in the Republican 42nd District House race. Grant had 65 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for Winfield Township Republican Chairman Burt Minor and 13 percent for Ryan Edward Byrne, a marketing director for a software company, with about 50 percent of the precincts counted.

The race made headlines last month after Erika Harold, a Republican running for attorney general, urged Minor to drop out of his race, after, she claims, he asked her if she was a “lesbo” — while also using the n-word in front of her several times.