The largely behind-the-scenes battle for control of the Oak Park committeeman’s seat, and through it possibly the 7th District Republican committeeman seat, has warmed in recent weeks.
Both camps have sent out fliers urging supporters to get the vote out. The race between appointed incumbent Richard Willis and challenger Marlene Lynch would appear to offer local Republican voters a choice between a social and fiscal conservative and a social moderate and fiscal conservative.
Besides determining the face of the Republican Party in Oak Park for the next four years, the March 21 election will quite likely have a decisive impact on the ability of Clark Pellett, the openly gay chairman of the Chicago Republican Party, to win a seat on the State GOP’s 19-person Central Committee in April.
Willis, a 21-year resident of the village, holds an MBA, is assistant controller at Abbott Laboratories. He was first appointed an Oak Park GOP precinct committeeman in 1984, and served for 12 years as an Oak Park Township trustee. He was appointed in November by Cook County Republican Party Chairman Gary Skoien to complete the term left vacant by the September suicide of Steven Meyer.
Lynch is the owner of Marks Travel Service in Oak Park, and is the single mother of three grown sons. She is also Clark Pellett’s sister.
While both candidates say they will work to revitalize the Oak Park Republican Party, the election will take place amidst an intra-party squabble that breaks mainly along social conservative and social moderate lines between the Chicago and Oak Park Republican organizations.
In asking for GOP support, Willis noted that Lynch has never been involved with local GOP politics, and is only running because she is the sister of Pellett, who last fall had sought the 7th District Republican State Central committeeman position vacated by Meyer. That election was won by a margin of less than 1 percent by Meyer’s former deputy committeeman, Carol Donovan, with Willis’s support.
While acknowledging that she is Pellett’s sister, Lynch said she is motivated only by a belief that the Oak Park GOP has had no effective presence in Oak Park in quite some time. Willis and his predecessors, she said, haven’t done anything to bring Republicans back to prominence in Oak Park.
“I’ve lived here many years, and I can’t remember a GOP committeeman trying to contact me,” she said Saturday.
Lynch added that the reason she hasn’t been more personally involved in local GOP politics was that she was busy raising three boys as a single mother and business woman.
“I’ve raised three boys. I know what family means,” she said.
Willis declined recently to personally attack Lynch, saying only that the Republican voters of Oak Park would be best served by someone who had forged valuable contacts with GOP insiders. Said Willis, “I’ll leave that [decision] up to the voters of Oak Park.”
However in early January the Cook County Board of Elections heard a formal objection from Willis to Lynch’s candidacy for 7th District committeeman. According to that board’s decision, Willis did not appear at a January 3 hearing, nor did he attend a subsequent continued hearing. On January 11 the elections board found Willis’s objection to be invalid and allowed Lynch’s name to be placed on the ballot.