A spirited Democratic Party primary race for state representative is developing in the Illinois House’s 24th District, which includes a sliver of Riverside bounded by Herrick on the north and Gage on the south and includes much of the southern half of Brookfield. The district stretches from Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood to Brookfield.
Robert Reyes, 33, is challenging incumbent Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D-Cicero) in a rematch of their 2012 primary race. Hernandez, who was first elected to her seat in 2006, won the 2012 race easily with about 63 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Reyes in a three-person race.
But, Reyes has come out aggressively. Last week, Reyes held a press conference to criticize Hernandez for accepting $1,850 in political contributions over five years from a McCook bar, the All Star Bar & Grill, which, according to Reyes, a host of online reviews and comments on its Facebook page, features lap dances, sexual touching and scantily glad dancers.
“This was a five-year relationship,” Reyes said. “It was completely inexcusable. If you’re going to go out and get contributions, it shouldn’t be with places that are so nefarious.”
Reyes called on Hernandez to resign and accused her of being the only state representative in Illinois to have accepted contributions from what he called a “sex club.” Reyes tried to tie Hernandez to human trafficking and pointed to an online review that stated that women were not allowed to enter the All Star Bar & Grill as customers or guests.
Reyes’ campaign sent out a mailer attacking Hernandez for accepting contributions from a sex club and asking voters to call her office and tell her to resign.
Hernandez reacted quickly. The day after Reyes’ press conference, Hernandez said that she had donated $1,850 from her campaign fund to Un Nuevo Despartar, a domestic violence center in Little Village that advocates for victims of domestic violence and works to prevent domestic violence.
In a statement issued the same day as Reyes’s press conference, Hernandez said that the contributions were made by a retired Cicero police officer who is a co-owner of the All Star Bar & Grill.
“When the nature of this specific business was brought to my attention, I decided to donate these contributions to an organization that helps women dealing with these types of issues,” Hernandez said.
She said that she has a record of supporting women and accused Reyes of resorting to political games and smear tactics.
“As a Latina woman who has personally experienced far too many inappropriate comments, sexist attitudes and unacceptable instances of harassment, I personally fully understand the seriousness of sexual assault,” Hernandez said in her statement.
Reyes lives in Berwyn and is working as the vice president of Realty of Chicago, a Berwyn-based real estate firm.
He also attacked Hernandez for suing the state when the state comptroller tried to delay issuing paychecks to state legislators earlier this year when the state was in the midst of a budget crisis.
Hernandez’s campaign manager, Mike Erickson, responded to that in a telephone interview with the Landmark.
“Lisa is a full-time legislator, which allows her to perform her job well, and this is the salary that she uses to support her family,” Erickson said. “I think that being a legislator shouldn’t be something exclusive to the millionaire class. She’s a regular neighbor, like you and I, and deserves a salary for the work she’s doing.”
It appears as if Reyes will have the support this time around of Berwyn mayor Robert Lovero, who in the past had donated to Hernandez’s campaign fund. However, Hernandez in the most recent Berwyn city elections threw her support behind a slate of candidates challenging Lovero’s.
“We’re working on that,” Reyes said. “That might be a possibility.”
Lovero did not return a call from the Landmark prior to deadline.
Reyes says that he more than 80 volunteers working for him and that he is a better prepared and stronger candidate than he was in 2012. He declined to say how much money he has raised so far. His most recent filings on Nov. 1, revealing donations of $1,000 or more, show contributions of $5,000 in total from four donors.
“The report comes out in December,” Reyes said of the next required campaign fund disclosure report.
Hernandez had just over $74,000 in her campaign fund as of Sept. 30, according to state records, and she continues to raise money. State Rep. Michael Zalewski’s campaign fund donated $1,000 to Hernandez’s campaign fund on Oct. 16.
Erickson said that Hernandez is taking Reyes seriously despite calling him a revenge candidate.
“We take every race seriously, challenger or no challenger so we’re just going to work as hard as we can to make sure people know Lisa and they understand her record,” Erickson said.