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8-year-old Lexi camps out with Seals' supporters at Gillson Park in Wilmette. The 37th and 40th polling precincts are held at the park's Lakeview Center.

Kirk wins Illinois' 10th, buoyed by strong environmental views

by Alison Flowers
Nov 04, 2008

GOP incumbent Mark Kirk may have beat Democratic challenger Dan Seals for the 10th Congressional District, but both candidates’ environmental and energy views are a photo-finish of similarities.

During his eight-year tenure, Kirk’s work to prevent pollution of Lake Michigan has received positive ratings from Environment Illinois, the League of Conservation Voters and the Alaska Coalition, accolades that Seals has not had the opportunity to glean. He embraces environmental positions much like Kirk’s.

Seals’ supporters camped out for the day just past the campaign-free zone of Gillson Park’s Lakeview Center in Wilmette. Advocates urged 40th and 37th precinct voters for their support.

“I think there will be a huge move towards environmental legislation in terms of energy independence,” said 53-year-old structural engineer Joe Burns as he distributed pro-Seals material. “I think that [Kirk has] been aligned so much with George Bush, and I don’t trust anything that George Bush has been doing with regard to energy.”
But for some voters, experience still trumps platform support, no matter how similarly the candidates line up on these issues.

“I don’t really understand what [Seals’] platform is other than ‘I’m not Mark Kirk,’” said democrat Belinda Nanda, 46, of Wilmette. She added that she thinks Kirk is both moderate and experienced, and she planned to cross parties to support him.

Over the years Kirk has won bipartisan support for working to restore health to Lake Michigan, an effort Seals also favors.

“The Great Lakes are the crown jewel of our environment,” wrote Kirk as co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force.

Kirk is endorsed by the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation for stopping British Petroleum from further polluting Lake Michigan from its Whiting, Ind., plant and for his legislation that bans sewage dumping in the lake.

According to the Daily Herald, the priority Kirk has placed on protecting Lake Michigan from pollution has been more effective than anything the 1970s federal Clean Air Act was able to do.

Last June, Kirk also authored the Apollo Energy Independence Act that proposes various energy independent strategies, including permanently securing hybrid car tax credits. While the bill remains in committee, Seals has supported the Apollo measures since his first jaunt as challenger in 2006. And even beyond the continental U.S., both candidates strongly favor protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But some voters are skeptical of Kirk’s environmental effectiveness regarding clean air. Patti Perry, a 53-year-old video producer and environmentalist described Kirk’s approach to energy issues as “traditional, dirty air energy.” In a state where childhood asthma rates exceed the national average, Perry is particularly concerned about air quality.

But the candidates clearly differ on one issue. Seals wants to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Kirk voted last May to suspend it. Each has his own environment-conscious strategy behind his perspective, however.

For Seals, modest use of the reserve would lower gas prices in the short-term, while Kirk intended the halting to allow more oil to enter the market.

Either way, it’s “time for a change,” echoed 67-year-old attorney Burn Weinstein, just after casting his vote. A short walk from the Wilmette lake front, Weinstein questioned about Kirk’s clean-up efforts. “I don’t think he can deliver on the lake,” he added. “I think he was part of a larger coalition.”