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Keith Pekau to challenge Sean Casten in new 6th Congressional District


Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau said Wednesday he believes his experiences as mayor can translate to the position of U.S. representative, particularly on current issues such as inflation.

Elected to a second term a year ago, Pekau, the apparent Republican nominee in the 6th Congressional District, called Democratic nominee Sean Casten the “polar opposite” of him on several issues.

Redistricting brought the 6th District farther into southwest suburbs, and Pekau said Wednesday that issues such as crime and inflation were constants as he campaigned.

Announcing his run at a Lisle business just before Thanksgiving, Pekau cited his record as mayor, including working to reduce village operating expenses and cut debt, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic hurting Orland Park finances.

“I think we have a message that resonates with voters and I have a long-standing track record of doing what I say I will do,” Pekau said Wednesday.

Unofficial totals show Pekau with a bit more than 38% of the vote, followed by Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso with a little more than 27%. The six-person race also featured an ousted southwest suburban high school board member as well as an attorney who last year unsuccessfully challenged Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady.

On the Democratic side, two-term representative Casten, of Downers Grove, defeated first-term U.S. Rep. Marie Newman of La Grange. She opted to challenge Casten after Democratic mapmakers placed her residence in the same district as U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Pekau said crime and inflation were hot topics as he campaigned, regardless of where he was at in the district, and he said government being more fiscally responsible can help.

“I would talk about reducing spending and cutting debt in Orland Park,” he said of his discussions with voters.

One of the key conversations about inflation focused on rising gas costs, and Pekau said Orland Park has experienced the budget hit of rising costs for gasoline and diesel fuel.

“It has doubled our fuel budget almost,” he said.

With the mayor’s job being part time, Pekau said that gave him flexibility in balancing his municipal role with the rigors of the campaign.

Following the primary, Pekau said he has been deluged with “literally hundreds of texts and emails” of congratulations from area elected officials, longtime friends and “guys I used to fly with,” noting his time in the Air Force.

He said he had not researched whether, if elected to representative, he could keep his job as mayor. For example, state Rep. Thaddeus Jones represents the 29th Illinois House District and also serves as Calumet City’s mayor.

“I would assume I would have to (step down), but even if I didn’t I would step down,” Pekau said. “I can’t do both jobs, in my opinion.”

Encompassing communities in Cook and DuPage and portions of Chicago, the new 6th District includes all or parts of Elmhurst and Villa Park to the north, extending to Burr Ridge, Darien and Westmont. Farther south, Alsip, Crestwood, Evergreen Park, Orland Hills, Orland Park and Tinley Park are now part of the district.

Pekau’s challengers included Robert Cruz, of Oak Lawn, who had been removed in January from the Oak Lawn High School District 229 Board for allegedly violating his oath of office and school board policies. The violations stemmed from lawsuits filed against Gov. J.B. Pritzker challenging the statewide school mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unofficial totals show Cruz garnering about 6% of the vote.

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Scott Kasper, of Orland Park, received about 7% of the vote in the GOP primary, unofficial results show. He had mounted a vigorous, yet ultimately failed, campaign in the spring 2021 election to unseat Orland Township Supervisor O’Grady, along with a slate of commissioner candidates.

Others seeking the GOP nomination in the 6th District were Niki Conforti, of Glen Ellyn, who had about 12% of the vote and Catherine O’Shea, who received 10%, according to unofficial results.

In the Democratic primary, Casten had 68% of the vote to 29% for Newman, who Tuesday night conceded the race.

In his statement of victory, Casten vowed to keep the district in Democratic hands.

“We have been given a mandate to continue our fight against the climate crisis, to end gun violence, to lower costs for families and to protect every woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” he said.

At her watch party, Newman called for unity “because the Democratic Party needs you, and we all need to be together, and we need to be united.”

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