Illinois State University student Hannah Beer defeated longtime Democratic McLean County Board member George Gordon in Tuesday’s primary election. Democrat Lea Cline won out over Nathan “Chiko” Russo in the only other contested primary for County Board.
In District 6, Beer led Gordon with 65% of the vote with nearly all votes counted late Tuesday, according to the McLean County clerk. District 6 includes parts of Normal including the ISU campus.
Gordon was first elected to the County Board in 1996. He’s currently chair of its Justice Committee. He taught for decades in the Department of Politics and Government at ISU.
"I don't understand why the result is what it is. I don't know what happened," said Gordon. "I would be curious to know what percentage of the on-campus vote voted early. My guess is a fairly substantial portion, given the result."
Beer is a senior political science major at ISU who serves on the Human Relations Commission. Beer is also a Democratic precinct committeeperson in Normal.
Beer declined repeated interview requests from WGLT during the campaign.
The upset came on an unusual Election Day in which the coronavirus dominated headlines and lowered turnout across the state.
"I really don't get that one," said Erik Rankin, the chair of the McLean County Democrats. "You would think this would pretty unfairly hurt Hannah by not having any students there on Election Day and apparently that wasn't a big deal."
Rankin said early voting was probably pretty important in that district even though students tend not to early vote. He also mused that coronavirus worries might have suppressed turnout in the district in central Normal among seniors who might disproportionately favor Gordon.
He acknowledged first ballot position might have mattered in a low turnout, low profile office contest.
"Apparently more than we thought. ... That's a head-scratcher for me. I'm really shocked at that," said Rankin.
Gordon said he contributed to a bipartisan atmosphere on the county board and tried to develop good working relationships with everyone regardless of party.
"I am proud of my contributing to keeping oil drilling and possibly fracking out of McLean County. I am proud of my work supporting the solid waste management plan. I have been a strong advocate for the McLean County Nursing Home. Those are things that matter to me," said Gordon.
After Tuesday’s win, Beer will face Libertarian David Scarpelli in November. The district is strongly Democratic. Gordon said he believes the Republican Party may now slate a candidate for November.
"It is a whole lot easier for a minority party to take on a new candidate than a veteran candidate," said Gordon.
District 8: West Bloomington
In District 8, Cline defeated Russo with 54% of the vote. It was an open seat because incumbent Democrat Carlo Robustelli did not seek re-election to District 8, which includes much of west Bloomington and downtown.
Robustelli endorsed Cline, an art history professor at Illinois State University. She is chair of the Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission and has served as an election judge and polling coordinator with the Bloomington Election Commission.
Russo is a union construction worker and Democratic precinct committeeperson who emphasized his deep west side roots during the campaign.
Cline said she is grateful to everyone who voted for her. She said she appreciated Russo's kind concession.
“What I think made the difference is that I spent a lot of time investing in this community as a volunteer. I also interfaced with a lot of people in this community as their polling coordinator at Miller Park, so they saw me every election and they knew of my involvement,” said Cline.
She also said her time as chair of the Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission helped because many homeowners on the near east side in downtown live in historic neighborhoods and houses and interacted with her.
She said she learned a few things during the run-up to the primary.
“Politics is hard. We all hope that good honest people sign up to do this work, but having just run a primary campaign, I can tell you it's very difficult and it takes a lot of emotional energy in addition to money and time,” said Cline.
She said she is glad to learn the lessons and move forward.
"That one makes plenty of sense to me," Rankin said. "I think Lea Cline did her due diligence. She was out working. It was still a fairly close race."
"I think when you look at it, Lea Cline had the support of (outgoing County Board member) Carlo Robustelli and the support of (County Board member) Shayna Watchinski very publicly and very aggressively," said Rankin. "And Lea knows a lot of people from her volunteer work in that area."
Cline’s win sets up a general election fight against Republican Jordan Baker, a student at Illinois Wesleyan University who is also running in District 8.
The Republican majority on the County Board shrunk from 15-5 to 13-7 after the 2018 election. For Democrats to win control in November, they’d have to protect two currently Democratic seats (Gordon’s in District 6 and Robustelli’s in District 8) and also win four of five seats now held by Republicans.
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