Skokie Democrats Square Off As 16th District State Rep Race Heats Up

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SKOKIE, IL — Early voting is underway in the Democratic Party primary race for the 16th District in the Illinois House.

After years of uncontested races, voters in the district are presented with their second consecutive competitive primary election.

First-term incumbent State Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback, 52, of Skokie, faces a primary challenge from fellow Skokie resident Kevin Olickal, 29, in her campaign for a second term representing all or part of Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove and Chicago’s 40th and 50th wards.

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A third candidate, Niles Township High School District 219 board member Naema Abraham, was removed from the ballot following a challenge to her petitions and subsequently endorsed Olickal.

In 2020, both Stoneback and Olickal ran for the seat to challenge former State Rep. Mark Kalish, who had been appointed to fill the vacancy created by resignation of longtime local party boss Lou Lang. Stoneback came out on top, with about 43 percent of the vote, compared to 32 percent for Kalish and 25 percent for Olickal two years ago.

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As this year’s primary race has heated up, gun violence prevention has been a key issue of contention.

Stoneback, who founded local gun control nonprofit call People for a Safer Society before running for office, has touted her sponsorship of House Bill 1092, which amended the Firearms Restraining Order Act to require police to publicize the program and establish a commission to implement the act.

But last month, a coalition of gun violence prevention organizations — Gun Violence Prevention PAC (G-PAC), Giffords PAC and Brady PAC — gave her a “C” letter grade and endorsed her opponent, Olickal, citing her decision to not vote for House Bill 562, another gun control measure that wound up passing with bipartisan support and become law last year.

Campaign mailers financed by Gun Violence Prevention PAC have subsequently described Stoneback’s lack of a vote on the bill as “shameful,” “unbelievable” and “out of touch” and suggested that not voting to concur on a Senate amendment was the same as voting “no” on “universal background checks.”

House Bill 1092, the amendment to firearm restraining order law, was not the only bill that Stoneback introduced in the House that became law. She was also the chief House sponsor of an amendment to the Illinois Domestic Violence Act that allows the Supreme Court to offer laminated cards that have the same effective force as an order of protection. House Bill 3485, which took effect this year, permits the issuance of wallet-sized “Hope Cards” containing information and a photograph of the person against whom the protective order has been entered. Other bills filed by Stoneback that have become law include one that provides that tenants who have received money from the Rental Housing Support Program remain eligible for assistance until they reach 35 percent of the area median income and another that allows for the award of interim attorney’s fees in divorce cases.

The rest of the approximately three dozen piece of legislation Stoneback has introduced have been sent to Rules Committee with no further action. They included a restriction on the concealed carry of firearms in forest preserves, a $1 million appropriation for the state public health department to conduct research into how to prevent gun violence, several measures to modify campaign finance rules, a change to criminal law to raise the threshold to charge repeat offenders with felony shoplifting and a firearm restraining order measure that would remove the requirement that gun owners participate in a hearing and that prohibits the ownership of guns for at least two years instead of until the end of an order of protection.

Stoneback’s endorsements include Planned Parenthood Illinois Action PAC, Illinois National Organization for Women, Personal PAC, Sierra Club, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Equality Illinois, Speaker Emanuel “Chris Welch,” and State Reps. Jonathan Carroll, Daniel Didech, Theresa Mah, Anna Moeller and Lamont Robinson.

“Denyse has been a strong advocate for working families in Springfield, fighting for higher wages, safer communities and more affordable health care,” Welch said in a statement earlier this month. “I am proud to endorse her for State Representative.”

Despite the support from House leadership, the first-term state representative has faced criticism from fellow Democrats for pledging to join the Progressive Caucus during her campaign but not doing so once in office — and for hiring former Evanston Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin amid an investigation into how city administrators handled reports of sexual misconduct and assault against women and girls working for the city’s Parks Department.


A map indicates the 16th District in the Illinois House of Representatives. (Google Maps)

Olickal, the challenger, is a law student at Loyola University Chicago and executive director of the Indo-American Democratic Organization who previously worked for The National Partnership for New Americans as a recovery specialist to help provide COVID-19 relief to small organizations, according to his website. The Niles North High School alum has previously worked in the office of 46th District State Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) and on the campaigns of other state and local Democrats.

Endorsements touted by Olickal’s campaign include Teamsters Joint Council No. 25, the Illinois Nurses Association, The People’s Lobby, the National Association of Social Workers and LIUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council.

While Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky is remaining neutral in the race, U.S. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Jesús “Chuy” García are backing Olickal, who has also received the support of the local state senator, Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago). When Stoneback and Olickal challenged Kalis two years ago, Villivalam refrained from endorsing a candidate.

“I knew Kevin then too, and felt like he would be an incredible state representative. At that time, he did not have the coalition of support that he does today,” Villivalam told Patch, when asked why he is not staying out of the race this year.

“I think he’s built a broad coalition of support that represents the district, quite frankly,” Villivalam said. “From our front-line workers, to gun violence prevention groups, to groups like the nurse’s association and social workers that work in health care and deeply care about reproductive health.”

According to campaign finance reports, Stoneback’s campaign ended the last quarter with about $57,300 in the bank, while her opponent had about $28,200.

Since April 1, the incumbent has received nearly $211,000 in contributions, both in-kind and cash, received in increments larger than $1,000, mostly from funds controlled by House leadership. Olickal had received about $110,000 in such contributions, a majority of which came from LIUNA, according to their Illinois State Election Board filings.

Early voting is underway through June 28 at the Skokie Courthouse, 5600 Old Orchard Road, among other locations in suburban Cook County and the city of Chicago. Voters may choose to vote at any early voting sites regardless of where they reside.


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June 17, 2022 at 01:45PM

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