EDISON PARK — State Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Norwood Park) declared victory Tuesday night in the hotly contested race against anti-O'Hare noise activist Merry Marwig, who tried to end his 20-year tenure in Springfield.
McAuliffe said Marwig called him to concede around 9 p.m.
The incumbent, who won his 11th consecutive term representing Illinois's 20th District, walked into his campaign's Election Night party to the roar of applause at Emerald Isle, 6686 N. Northwest Hwy.
"I'm so grateful that [voters] had the confidence to send me back down to Springfield to finish this mess that we have down there," McAuliffe told his supporters. "I'm just so happy for everybody for being so positive in a negative race."
From the start, the race quickly became a proxy battle between the engines of each state party's machine, often with negative and personal advertising hurled from both campaigns.
Speaking after McAuliffe was his wife, Kim, who assailed Marwig for a "hurtful and disgusting" campaign.
"I think for Mike to be able to stand out there and campaign next to her is a testament to his character," she said.
Meanwhile, across the street at The Curragh Traditional Irish Pub, 6705 N. Northwest Hwy., Marwig commiserated with her own gathering of supporters.
"I'm proud of all the work I've done in my campaign," Marwig told DNAinfo at her event. And I've told Rep. McAuliffe I'll do anything I can to work with him for the good of the district and to mend some of these bridges."
Marwig, who leads a group that formed to protest the noise generated by planes using new east-west runways at O'Hare Airport, said she decided to run for the seat because of her "frustration with state government and the lack of leadership" from McAuliffe.
Top Democrats boosted Marwig's campaign with cash and endorsements from the moment she entered the race in the spring, eyeing a rare opportunity to pad their state House majority by knocking off Chicago's only Republican emissary to Springfield.
McAuliffe has represented Illinois 20th District, encompassing Edison Park, parts of Norwood Park and O'Hare along with several suburbs, since 1996. He first rose to the position to replace his father, Roger McAuliffe, who held the 20th District seat from 1973 until 1996, when he died in a boating accident in Wisconsin.
Earlier this year, McAuliffe was re-elected as the 41st Ward Republican committeeman.
Over the summer, the incumbent began airing a television commercial narrated by his wife, Kim, touting his work as an "independent voice" who would "stand up to leaders of both parties."
State Republican officials dumped more than $1 million into his campaign this year, making it one of the state's most expensive races. Since Nov. 1 alone, the Illinois Republican Party has loaded $61,286 into McAuliffe's re-election bid, plus another $21,121 from the House Republican Organization, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Marwig's campaign operated with fewer dollars all year, but it reaped heavy support from outside groups like the Service Employees International Union, which early on marked McAuliffe's seat as a "top-tier target."
A political action committee funded by City Council Finance Committee chairman Ald. Ed Burke (14th) spent heaps of money on the race, paying for a deceptive billboard and mailers depicting McAuliffe as a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The PAC, called Alliance for Illinois Taxpayers NFP, also drew scorching condemnation from Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) after the group sent mailers suggesting that the alderman had endorsed Marwig. Napolitano has stayed neutral in the race.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Marwig said of the fake endorsements, maintaining that her campaign doesn't coordinate with any PACs. "I want to make it clear that I didn't authorize any of those."
Marwig's campaign has, however, engaged in a tit-for-tat barrage of personal accusations and character swipes, saying through a statement Friday that she believes "McAuliffe and Trump share similar views on women."
The Democrat circulated one flier accusing McAuliffe of "protecting predators" by voting against a bill that would have given prosecutors more time to file charges in sex abuse cases. McAuliffe denies that, noting — on another flier — that he co-sponsored another bill that would have eliminated limits on when sex abuse charges could be filed.
Just as many mailers have been sent on the Republican's behalf, including one Marwig called "disgusting."
As an indication of the special attention powerful Democrats are paying to the race, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) spent an hour talking to voters as they headed into the 1½-hour line at the Roden Library Monday night.
"I know she's been active in the community interest and worrying about the quality of life for families in the neighborhood, and I'm glad to see that she's willing to come down to Springfield and help us tackle some tough issues," Durbin said.
Marwig has also scored personal endorsements from President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
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