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updated: 9/19/2012 3:57 PM

Redrawn Senate 28 district may pose challenge for candidates

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  • Dan Kotowski, left, opposes Jim O'Donnell in the 28th Senate District race.

    Dan Kotowski, left, opposes Jim O'Donnell in the 28th Senate District race.


Republican political newcomer Jim O'Donnell says independent voters may turn the tide in his favor in a Democrat-leaning 28th Senate District, while Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski is relying on his record representing the 33rd Senate District to win Nov. 6.

State legislators drew a new map after the 2010 Census. The newly drawn 28th District runs from Roselle east through Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Rosemont and Park Ridge. It includes the 55th and 56th state House districts.

O'Donnell, 61, a Park Ridge businessman who has never served in government, beat Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski in the March Republican primary for the 28th Senate District. O'Donnell said not being a career politician will curry favor with independent voters in the new 28th District.

"The makeup (of the district) definitely leans Democrat, but it's not bulletproof for (Kotowski)," O'Donnell said. "There is a huge independent (voting block) in the middle where this election really will be won."

Kotowski acknowledged the district is more than 50 percent new but seemed less concerned about its makeup. He said he is focusing more on his track record and accomplishments in the Senate.

"Voters are responding to my message and what I've done to tackle business as usual in Springfield," said Kotowski, also of Park Ridge. "If you listen to voters, they want a government that works, not one that has waste, corruption and mismanagement. Most of the people are supportive on both sides of the aisle."

Kotowski touted his efforts to kill the long-abused legislative scholarship program and get rid of "unnecessary perks" for politicians.

"The law that I worked on cuts the salaries of every single legislator," Kotowski said. Lawmakers also were receiving free health care for life and "now the politicians have to pay like everybody else," he added.

O'Donnell said Kotowski has been part of the problem in the state for the last six years.

O'Donnell said his top campaign issues are the same as in the primary: balancing the state budget, repealing the 2011 state income tax increase backed by Democrats, setting term limits for lawmakers, creating a positive economic climate, and pushing for meaningful pension reform.

"I'm going to lead by example by opting out of the legislative pension program," O'Donnell said. "Part-time legislators shouldn't be collecting a pension. I feel it makes a very strong statement to lead by example and say, 'Let's get rid of this.'"

O'Donnell said Democrats' version of pension reform would result in shifting the burden onto local school districts that could mean tax increases. The state also has been underfunding public education, he said.

"They are shirking their responsibilities, which is also increasing local property taxes," he added.

O'Donnell received a lot of grass roots support from the business community and spent about $125,000 on the primary campaign. Since the primary, he has raised roughly $130,000 and has a couple of fundraisers scheduled before the general election. His larger donors are still people in the small business community, he said.

Kotowski's campaign war chest stood at more than $500,000 at the end of July. He would not say how much he plans to spend on this election. "I will do whatever I can in the way of reaching out to people and secure resources to get my message out," he said.

"There's no question that we are going to get outspent in this campaign," O'Donnell said. "I have raised enough money and I will have enough support from the Senate Republicans to get my message out."

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