A tough race for the State House is shaping up in Aurora, where three local Democrats are vying to represent a newly-drawn district.
There is no incumbent in the 84th State House District, which covers about 70 percent of Aurora and parts of Naperville, Oswego and Montgomery. House Republican Leader Tom Cross currently holds the seat but under the new state legislative map he is running unopposed in the 97th District.
The winner of the March 20 Democratic primary will face Republican Patricia “Pat” Fee of Naperville in November.
The lineup includes Stephanie Kifowit, an Aurora alderman, substitute teacher and former Marine. The 40-year-old is running on her record as alderman, noting the council’s history of producing balanced budgets. She’s also playing up her history of public service and her experience working as a financial adviser.
Public service “isn’t just something that popped up because of an election for me, because there is an open seat,” Kifowit, an alderman since 2003, said during a Sun-Times Editorial Board interview session with her two opponents. “I’ve been in public service nine years, serving the people of Aurora and I was in the military. . . . I am about public service.”
Carole Cheney, a partner with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm, stayed even-tempered during the session, yielding nothing when Kifowit came out swinging.
“I’m independent, I’m not backed by any party,” Cheney told the Sun-Times. In the last month, Kifowit has received $31,000 from the state Democratic party. All told, Kifowit has $45,000 to spend. Cheney has $32,000.
The third candidate, Alex Arroyo, has reported raising $6,000.
Cheney, 52, is stressing her 20-year legal career and her strong financial and analytical skills. Early in her career, she worked as a press secretary for the Illinois Senate Democrats and for the National Safety Council. She’s also on the board of Feed My Starving Children.
When asked to cite a model public official, she chose Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: “She ran for office without glossing over the problems. . . . I appreciated her honesty and candor.”
Arroyo, a 42-year-old United Airlines flight attendant and the most liberal of the bunch, is running on his Aurora roots.
“I’ve always been active in my community,” Arroyo said. “As someone who was born and raised and lives in Aurora, I’ve seen how it has changed over the years. . . . I bring the quality of being the homegrown boy.”
Arroyo is the former chair of the Aurora Democratic Party and has been active in his church, as a youth mentor and with the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“I want to be an activist representative,” he said.
Arroyo is endorsed by Secretary of State Jesse White, the AFL-CIO, Equality Illinois (the group also is endorsing Cheney) and Personal PAC (that group has endorsed all three candidates).
Cheney is endorsed by the state’s two major teachers unions, IBEW, an iron workers union, two College of DuPage trustees, two state committeewomen, Equality Illinois and Personal PAC.
Kifowit is endorsed by the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois and two of its locals, SEIU Healthcare, a letter carrier and a machinist local, the Aurora mayor, the Montgomery village president and one Aurora alderman. She also is backed by the Sierra Club and Personal Pac.
On the state’s biggest financial headache – its massive unfunded pension liability – all three are adamant that the state must consistently pay its pension bills.
Cheney wants to “stop demonizing the various parties and come to reasonable compromises.”
She says all parties need to negotiate a solution: “The first step toward a solution is recognizing that we have to make drastic changes and that everybody has to give up something.”
Kifowit cited last year’s landmark education bill, which included input from all affected parties, as a model for reforming the pension system.
On most financial issues Arroyo showed little depth, both on his questionnaire and in person. He said all pension obligations must be paid first and said “I’m dead set against eliminating anyone’s pension,” though that has not been proposed. Arroyo, who lost his airline pension, also is open to borrowing to pay off the state’s bills.
On other financial issues, Kifowit is the most conservative. She rejects the notion of extending the temporary income tax increase beyond a planned 2014 expiration date and refuses to consider a progressive income tax for Illinois. Arroyo and Cheney are open to both.
Cheney and Arroyo both support gay marriage; Kifowit supports civil unions and says she would need to study any proposed gay marriage bill before deciding how to vote.