Backgrounds, experiences separate 27th District Democrats

When it comes to the issues, not much separates 27th District state Senate candidates Ann Gillespie and Joe Sonnefeldt, so the Democratic hopefuls are emphasizing their different backgrounds leading up to the March 20 primary.

Gillespie, 58, of Arlington Heights, is an attorney, retired business executive with CVS Caremark, and organizer of efforts supporting Cook County's minimum wage and sick leave ordinances through the group We The People.

Sonnefeldt, 53, of Mount Prospect, is a professional musician and president of the Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 school board, which he was elected to in 2011.

Both are backed by labor unions - for Gillespie, the SEIU, AFSCME and Illinois Federation of Teachers; and for Sonnefeldt, the Illinois AFL-CIO and Chicago Federation of Musicians.

But Gillespie also has garnered endorsements from a number of elected Democrats, including U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and state Sen. Laura Murphy and state Sen. Heather Steans.

During a recent interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board, Sonnefeldt called Gillespie "the choice of the Springfield insiders."

"I think voters need to ask themselves if they want another person who thinks they can go down and run government as a business or if they want another lawyer down in Springfield," Sonnefeldt said. "I'm someone that comes from a diverse background in the arts and education."

Gillespie said she's received support from current legislators because "they think I can win."

"I'm no more of an insider than Joe is. Neither one of us has been in the legislature before," Gillespie said. "The reason I'm running is because we need people that really just want to do the work. We need to get past the fighting and posturing and get the work done."

Both said they would seek to find common ground and build coalitions in an increasingly fractured state legislature.

Sonnefeldt credited his experience on the school board in helping to bring together people with different interests, including teachers, parents, taxpayers and students. As a school board member, he's been on the management side of the bargaining table during contract negotiations, and he's been on the union side during talks with downtown theater producers.

Gillespie, who is making her first run for elected office, pointed to roles during her business career where she had to bring people together. She said she would bring a "fresh face" to Springfield.

"They have had the same people that have been there for a long time," Gillespie said. "They've gone through the polarization. Once you're there and still fighting the same people, it's really hard to break out of it."

The winner will face Republican incumbent Tom Rooney in the November general election. Rooney, the former Rolling Meadows mayor, was appointed to the seat by GOP committeemen in September 2016, after Matt Murphy stepped down to work for a lobbying firm.

The 27th District includes parts of Arlington Heights, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights and Rolling Meadows.

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