Two candidates for state representative on Chicago's Northwest Side say they - one a survivor of domestic abuse and the other of sexual violence - have been subjected to false and deeply personal attacks from their opponent that they've found to be far more hurtful than just "politics as usual."
Joe Duplechin and Patti Vasquez are both running in the Democratic primary for state representative in Illinois' 19th District, which encompasses parts of the Jefferson Park, Portage Park and Dunning neighborhoods, plus portions of the surrounding suburbs.
They're challenging incumbent state Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, who was appointed to the office in July 2019 in a sort of musical chairs common to Chicago politics. LaPointe is now seeking her first full term, running a campaign that has sent several pieces of direct mail to voters in the district - four of which claim Duplechin and Vasquez are "backed by extremists."
"We just can't trust Duplechin and Vasquez to protect women's rights," reads one of the mailers, sent late last month. "The insiders behind Duplechin's campaign worked to elect an extreme politician - even after that politician had repeated incidents of domestic violence, including trying to choke a woman with a phone cord."
The sources listed in the fine print of the mailer point to Duplechin's campaign's financial disclosures and two domestic violence cases. Cook County Circuit Court records obtained by NBC 5 show that the cases, from 1996 and 1998, involve former state-Rep. Ken Dunkin, who represented the 5th District from 2002 to 2017. The allegation involving the phone cord surfaced most recently in the 2016 Democratic primary, in which Dunkin ultimately lost his seat.
Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show Dunkin and Duplechin have both received some contributions from the same donors, like the political action committees of organizations including the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters or the Associated Firefighters of Illinois. But the same search of LaPointe's financial disclosures reveal that she also received thousands of dollars in contributions from donors who had backed Dunkin in the past.
LaPointe did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the mailers, some of which tout her endorsements from officials like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Sen. Dick Durbin.
"I know negative mailers are part of the game and it's not like I have thin skin for it, but this one is particularly disturbing," Duplechin said last week.
Duplechin is a Chicago police officer who most recently unsuccessfully ran for 39th Ward alderman. He said the mailers were particularly difficult for him because both his biological father and stepfather physically and verbally abused his mother for years when he was young - culminating in a traumatic altercation with the latter when he was 10 years old.
"Finally at 10, I stood up and I ended up getting beaten and my brother and I ended up getting knocked out a window," Duplechin said. "It was my stepfather, and he ended up going to jail for six months for it."
"I remember that whole time when he was locked up," Duplechin said. "What's worse is he was locked up and he was the guy that made the money, so we were struck even more, had to move in with family and just struggled. That's how domestic violence has affected me."
Duplechin said that his 15-year-old daughter asked him if he choked her mother with a phone cord - an assumption about his relationship with his wife that he called "the logical guess" for those who have seen the mailer.
"If you read it, it's about money, but if I ask 10 people, I would say seven out of those 10 think I choked someone with a phone cord," he said, growing emotional. "I'm 40 years old and I still get shocked by it, I’m taken back to when I was 10."
Vasquez is a comedian and former radio host who said that as a survivor of sexual violence, she's also upset with what the mailers have said about her.
"Vasquez's campaign is funded by right-wing Republicans who backed a candidate trying to strip away a woman's right to choose, even in cases of rape and incest," the piece reads, citing her committee's financial disclosures and the 2016 Republican Party platform, giving no other details.
In a video posted on her campaign Facebook page on Wednesday, Vasquez said the part of the mailer that bothered her most was the phrase "can't be trusted."
"That cuts to the very heart of a survivor's struggle, because the word trust or the implication that someone is a liar or untrustworthy is what makes healing and justice so very hard to attain," she said.
"It's shocking that with everything we know now, with the Me Too movement, with everything that women have endured, sexual violence, workplace harassment and abuse - that she is willing to attack a victim," Vasquez said in an interview on Tuesday, calling LaPointe "not fit to lead."
"Stuff like this makes regular people not want to be involved, even though I think that’s more of what we need, more regular people to be involved, not backroom deals and nastiness," Duplechin said. "Even talking to people, knocking on doors, this is part of the reason why they are so fed up with government, because of things like this. I think everybody understands that politics is dirty, but at least have some truth to it."