Two Primary Races You Might Have Missed

As the dust settles on the Illinois primary election and the state begins its march towards November, all eyes are trained on an upcoming “Battle of the Billionaires” for the governor’s mansion. 

But there are a few notable results you may have missed in the meantime. At least two long-time Democrats favored by Illinois’ political establishment fell by the wayside in their primary elections: state Sen. Ira Silverstein lost his re-election bid to union lobbyist Ram Villivalam, and state Rep. Dan Burke fell to Southwest Side high school counselor Aaron Ortiz.

Silverstein’s Storm 

After serving Illinois’ 8th Senate District for nearly 20 years, Silverstein’s re-election campaign found itself under fire from all sides late last year: in October, the senator was accused of sexual harassment by victim rights advocate Denise Rotheimer in a legislative hearing, armed with printouts of hundreds Facebook messages the two had exchanged over several months. 

In January, the inspector general determined Silverstein had acted in a way that was “unbecoming of a legislator” but cleared him on charges of sexual harassment. Even so, the episode raised eyebrows statewide — the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board declared that “the #MeToo moment arrived” on Silverstein’s door step earlier this month — and shed light on a culture in Springfield’s General Assembly that’s been described as a “frat house” in the past. 

Silverstein also found himself in a protracted legal battle to stay on the ballot in the run-up to the primary after his petition signatures were challenged. Arguing in front of the Chicago Board of Elections, Silverstein and his attorney hauled in handwriting experts and over a hundred witnesses to testify that they’d signed on the sitting senator’s behalf. In the end, he passed the 1,000-signature threshold by two. 

But even with harassment and legal challenges behind him and thousands of dollars in campaign cash from Senate President John Cullerton, the battered incumbent wasn’t strong enough to fend off his main rival. Villivalam, the child of Indian immigrants, was endorsed by U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Brad Schneider, and Luis Gutierrez, along with Planned Parenthood and the Chicago Teachers Union, and Silverstein was left with only 30 percent of the vote.

Cracks in the Burke Dynasty 

On the Southwest Side, the race between Ortiz and Burke was cast as a referendum on the Burke political dynasty. Rep. Burke’s brother — Ald. Edward Burke — is one of Chicago’s most powerful and longest-serving local politicians. 

Both Burkes have served districts with large Latinx populations for years, while Ortiz and his most prominent supporter — Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — argued that Rep. Burke had become distant and unavailable from his Spanish-speaking constituents. 

Burke went into Election Day with a massive advantage in funds, with over $550,000 raised to Ortiz’s $187,000. Burke received $55,000 from House Speaker Michael Madigan and his political committees, while Garcia contributed $51,000 to Ortiz in the campaign’s final months. 

While the Chicago Board of Elections has yet to announce final vote tallies, Ortiz leads Burke 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.

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