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updated: 3/11/2014 5:41 PM

Accusations dominate 17th Cook County Board GOP primary

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  • Barbara Bellar, left, and Elizabeth "Liz" Doody-Gorman.

    Barbara Bellar, left, and Elizabeth "Liz" Doody-Gorman.


The Northwest suburbs are miles away from the Southwest suburbs, but those who live in the 17th Cook County Board district are finding Orland Park-area politics all over their Republican primary.

The home bases of both Republicans in the primary, Commissioner Liz Doody Gorman of Orland Park and Dr. Barbara Bellar of Burr Ridge, are far from Des Plaines, Rosemont and Elk Grove Village, at the opposite end of the 47-mile long county board district.

The political center of the 17th is clearly in the South suburbs, where the GOP primary has devolved into charges and countercharges.

Bellar, who has both a medical degree and a law degree, said she is the "real Republican" in the race and that as a doctor she can have an effect on decisions regarding Stroger Hospital. She said she is running a grass-roots campaign because she's "been spun around by politicians in the past."

Bellar accuses Gorman of actually being a Democrat, but running as a Republican in the conservative 17th Cook County Board district. She claims Gorman works too closely with the Democrats on the board, where they have a 13-4 edge over the Republican members.

In response, Gorman calls herself a conservative Republican who has the support of her local township organizations and says she has helped get other Republicans elected. Still, as a minority member on the county board, she has to work with the other side to be effective, she says.

"I talk to Democrats, and I'll keep talking to Democrats to get things done," Gorman said.

Gorman has held the county board seat since 2002, and is also the GOP committeeman in Orland Township. In this primary, she has gotten virtually all the establishment endorsements from Republican township organizations, Republican mayors (including Craig Johnson of Elk Grove Village and Brad Stephens of Rosemont), and Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who has had Gorman's husband, Gerald, on her payroll as an independent contractor since 2011.

Bellar's only endorsements, meanwhile, come from the Illinois Family Institute, a Christian organization whose mission is "upholding and reaffirming marriage, family, life and liberty in Illinois," and the Republican Organization of Elk Grove Township.

Earlier in the cycle former congressman Joe Walsh's PAC endorsed Bellar, but later revoked that endorsement because he said she didn't have a clear path to winning the GOP nomination. Bellar, meanwhile, says Walsh pulled the endorsement -- which she said she never asked for to begin with -- because WIND, the radio station where Walsh hosts his show each weekday evening, gets advertising support from Sean Morrison, the Palos Township GOP committeeman and a Gorman ally.

Bellar has tried to break into politics before, running losing campaigns for state representative in 2010 and state senate in 2011. She filed petitions to run for Burr Ridge mayor in 2013, but it was ruled she did not have enough valid signatures.

She said her continued attempts stem from a desire to be a public servant.

"I'm the kind of person that a setback is another opportunity for a comeback," Bellar said. "Everything I'm doing is in preparation for something else. I believe I'm really cut out to be a public servant, a real, honest, sincere one."

In her state senate campaign, Bellar promoted herself as a former Benedictine nun ("There's NUN better!" was a headline on her website) until an investigation by the Southtown Star newspaper revealed she never actually took her vows.

She has not repeated the claim in any campaign literature this time around, but says she did not stretch the truth.

"I never said I took vows," Bellar said. "I was raised in a Catholic family and it was my desire to want to be a nun and serve God. I eventually did leave (the Benedictines) because I believe you can serve God in any walk of life."

Bellar said it was a former campaign manager who advised her to include the nun credential in her background.

"It's not the only thing or the main thing I have to offer," she said.

She also took some flak in that campaign for not being clear she got her medical degree in Mexico, and not the New York Medical College, where she did a fifth year designed for people who get medical degrees in other countries.

In the primary, Gorman has had an overwhelming financial advantage. At the end of the most recent quarterly reporting period ending Dec. 31, Gorman's committee, "Liz for the 17th" had $62,530.07 available. Bellar reported $1,950 cash on hand in the same time period.

Personally, though, the Gormans have had serious financial difficulties.

Gerald Gorman owned a Chrysler and Dodge dealership in Midlothian, which he closed in 2010 shortly before filing for bankruptcy. Liz Gorman filed for bankruptcy in November of that year, a few days after her most recent re-election, and the couple's home also went into foreclosure.

Their problems started in 2006 when Daimler Chrysler won a $4.2 million judgment against the Gormans, claiming the couple improperly used dealership funds for personal expenses, including loans to her county board campaign.

According to bankruptcy court documents, Gorman said she owed roughly $13.5 million, mostly in business debt. The bankruptcy case was closed in June 2011 and the couple still lives in their Orland Park home.

"People are having a difficult time with the economy, my family is not above that," Gorman said.

In 2011 Gerald Gorman was hired by state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka as an independent contractor on a 6-month contract that has since been renewed.

Gorman said when her husband lost the business it nearly killed him and destroyed her family. She is proud they have recovered.

"It's not what gets thrown at you, it's how you overcome that difficulty," Gorman said.

Bellar, however, said Gorman's financial troubles should be a warning sign to voters that she's not qualified to handle big budgets.

"The county doesn't get to just walk away from its debt," she said.

Bellar also notes that Gorman came in second on Cook County Clerk David Orr's 2011 list of "most lobbied" county officials, after county board member Larry Suffredin.

"I'm very accessible, that's the reason I was approached a lot," Gorman said.

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