"I didn't go to Springfield just to play defense and take votes that were just safe and easy," Rep. Ron Sandack said after he announced support for marriage equality last May.
Cue the firefight.
Sandack's vote for marriage equality has taken center stage in an ugly primary runoff against Republican opponent Keith Matune, a local teacher and school board member. The campaign has embroiled the 81st District, which encompasses parts of Downers Grove, Woodridge, Darien, Westmont, Bolingbrook and Naperville.
Sandack was one of just three House Republicans to vote for marriage equality. He voted against civil unions as a state senator in 2010.
Sandack told Windy City Times that he had a change of heart following that vote.
"It became pretty clear to me that there's always been a fundamental difference between a state or secular civil license and a religious ceremony," he said. "So this became for me about fundamental fairness, equality and freedom. This was a pro-family bill to me and that's my conversion, my thought process."
But not everyone in his district had the same evolution.
A barrage of mailings criticizing Sandack's vote on equal marriage have hit area residents, and some are calling the mailings homophobic.
The mailers come from Illinois Family Action, a political arm of the Illinois Family Institute and Liberty Principles PAC.
Both groups aim to tie Sandack to Gay Liberation Network founder Andy Thayer, who Republicans have depicted as a radical right activist. The mailers use a copyrighted Windy City Times image, reprinted without permission, that shows Sandack standing next to Thayer at a rally in his district.
Sandack stood next to Thayer at the rally because he spoke after him to a crowd of same-sex marriage supporters. He also spoke to a contingent of protesters opposed to the bill moments before. Sandack is believed to be the only state rep. to appear in person at a string of rallies held around the Chicago area last fall in regards to marriage equality.
But Dan Proft, a WLS radio talk show host and head of the Liberty Principles PAC, said that Sandack's appearance next to Thayer raises important questions about his associations and further clouds his credibility.
Proft takes issue with characterizations of his mailings as homophobic.
One of his mailers criticizes Sandack's switch on the same-sex marriage issue, alongside a picture of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in dance leotard. It reads, "Now we know where Ron Sandack learned to dance."
Lucy Lloyd lives in the district has strongly criticized the mailings and Keith Matune on her ChicagoNow.com blog. She said she feels the marriage issue was on any easy one for the district, but a lot of her neighbors felt the mailers went too far, she said.
"People are pretty disgusted," she said. "They think it's horrible."
But Proft contends that his mailings target Sandack over his changing stance on the issue, not on his support for same-sex marriage. He says he is not homophobic, nothing that his PAC has backed candidates who support civil unions and same-sex marriage.
"My mail pieces have very little to do with marriage everything to do with trust," Proft said.
Asked whether the reference to Emanuel dancing might be seen as a play on homophobic assumptions, Proft said the mailer referred to Emanuel's own stance on marriage equality and politicking, not on his sexuality.
"Now who's stereotyping?" Proft said. "If you dance, you're gay? I don't think so."
Proft says he is funneling between $150,000-200,000 into the Sandack primary.
A committee disclosure reflects that Proft's PAC has already spent more than $106,000 on the race, including more than $53,000 in cable advertisements. When PAC contributions exceed $100,000 in rep. races, campaign spending caps are lifted.
Also named in the Matune/ Sandack effort has been Dick Uihlein, owner of Uline, Inc., which donated $1.5 million to Proft's PAC in January, according to Illinois State Board of Elections filings. Uline Inc distributes near Chicago, among other locations, according to its website. Uihlein could not immediately be reached at his corporate offices, but Proft said that Uihlein is like other donors to his PAC.
"They want to see candidates who are committed to the economic liberty policy agenda win elections, simple as that," Proft said.
Matune has also been tackling criticisms over allegations that he tried to cover-up his arrest record. Matune wrote on his Daily Herald candidate questionnaire that he had never been arrested. But multiple media reported that Matune had been arrested in May 1991 on Virginia warrant for passing a bad check and again in Indiana for public indecency the following year. According to the Chicago Tribune, Matune accused Sandack of threatening to release information about his arrest. Sandack denied the allegations of threatening Matune.
Proft defends Matune as a veteran award-winning teacher and school board member. Matune did not respond to a request to comment.
Sandack told Windy City Times in his candidate interview that as for the marriage issue, he polled his district and found that 54 percent favored it.
"If people want to vote for someone who said, 'these are my positions, and they're unflinching, and I'll never change my mind,' that's certainly one representative," Sandack said. "I changed my mind. I listened to the people of the 81st [District]. I didn't just listen to Republican Primary voters."
Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim is demanding that any of its images used without permission be removed from any fliers, brochures or websites.