By Bob Skolnik
The Democratic primary race for state representative in the 24th District between incumbent Elizabeth "Lisa" Hernandez and aggressive challenger Robert Reyes is getting nasty. The 24th District is centered in Cicero and Berwyn but stretches from the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago to Brookfield. It includes a sliver of Riverside between Herrick Road and the BNSF tracks, the Hollywood section of Brookfield and the area of Brookfield bounded by Fairview Avenue, Shields Avenue, Custer Avenue and Deyo Avenue.
The race is a repeat of their 2012 primary battle won by Hernandez. Reyes, a Berwyn Realtor with past political experience, is running an aggressive campaign portraying himself as a force for change. Hernandez is fighting back with help from powerful House speaker Mike Madigan, and her campaign and a political action committee that Madigan controls has been sending out direct mail attacking Reyes and trying to make fanciful connections between Reyes and President Donald Trump and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
One direct mail piece, sent out by the Madigan controlled Democratic Majority PAC, shows photoshopped photos of Reyes and Trump standing next to each other wearing doctors' coats with the headline "ROBERT REYES WILL PRESCRIBE DONALD TRUMP'S DANGEROUS ATTACKS ON WOMEN'S HEALTH." Another direct mail piece says that Reyes and Rauner are pushing an agenda that puts women's lives at risk.
At a candidate forum Monday evening at the Lyons Village Hall sponsored by the Brookfield Democratic Organization Reyes harshly criticized Hernandez for the mailers.
"It is very sad that she is trying to manipulate the fears of women to gain votes," Reyes said. "I think we need to end that type of politics and we need to make sure we unite as citizens and push back on that politics of division, of lies because that's what happens when politicians are going to lose an election. They get desperate and say things that they wouldn't normally say and in this case it's outright lies from my opponent that I'm not pro-choice, that I'm not for women's health care. She's saying that I'm against breast cancer screenings. My mom is here tonight: she's a breast cancer survivor so it's very sad."
Reyes portrayed himself as an outsider who is offering new vision and taking on the corrupt status quo.
"It is time that we have new leadership, it is time for a new vision, it's time that we have leaders that put our working families first," Reyes said.
Reyes attacked Hernandez for accepting campaign contributions from utilities and then voting to allow ComEd to raise rates.
"It is not right that elected officials take thousands of dollars from public utilities like ComEd and then vote to increase your rates," Reyes said.
Hernandez replied that no contribution can buy her vote.
Hernandez, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2006 on her third attempt, was low key and didn't respond to Reyes's attacks.
Hernandez emphasized the recent accomplishments of the legislature such as passing a budget for the first time in three years and enacting a law that changes the funding formula for state aid to local school districts to direct more state money to poorer school districts.
Hernandez said that experience counts in Springfield.
"In the kind of alignment we have in Springfield it matters to have strong relationships," Hernandez said.
The race is also something of a battle between Cicero and Berwyn. Hernandez's husband Charles is the Democratic committeeman for Cicero Township while Reyes is backed by Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero.
Riverside resident Lisa Janunas said she came into the forum leaning towards Hernandez and the forum reinforced her view.
"It gave me perspective on their personalities," Janunas said. "He came across as very forceful, very attack orientated. I think it did solidify my position, hearing both sides."