Democrat Cheri Bustos’ first television ad of the 17th Congressional District campaign introduced her Monday as a working mom who wants to fix Washington, D.C.
But that’s not the impression her rival, Rep. Bobby Schilling, wants to stick.
The freshman Republican used the occasion of Bustos’ first television ad to accuse her of being a tax-and-spend liberal while being on the East Moline City Council, setting off a skirmish between the two camps over their respective records on spending public money.
The 17th District race is expected to be a brutal one, with both sides raising record amounts of money for the district. Much of it will go into television ads.
Of the two candidates, Bustos’ campaign got out of the gate first with a TV spot that showed the former journalist and hospital executive with her family at Frank’s Pizza in Silvis, where she said they eat nearly every week.
Instead of “putting the special interests ahead of the middle class,” Bustos said in the ad that she would put Main Street first. The campaign declined to say which markets the ad is running in.
The spot brought a quick retort from the Schilling camp, which accused her of being too closely tied with EMILY’s List, a group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.
In a second news release, it then suggested she was “one of the meanest congressional candidates in Illinois history” who voted for property tax, sewer and water rate increases while also backing a plan to spend $624,000 on a “luxurious parkway right outside” her East Moline house.
The Bustos camp responded to the Schilling criticism by drawing attention to the nearly $320,000 in taxpayer-funded mailings the freshman congressman has sent throughout the district. Critics say the pieces are little more than campaign advertisements, and Bustos has hammered him for it.
Bustos was an alderwoman in East Moline from 2007 to 2011, and Republicans have dug into her record. In particular, they’ve sought to draw attention to the city’s improvement of 10th Street in a wooded section of East Moline. The Schilling camp has referred to it as “Bustos Parkway.”
Tim Kammler, East Moline’s director of engineering, said Monday the project actually was a two-phase water main replacement on 10th Street between 18th Avenue and 24th Avenue. Plans for the work date back to 2004-05, he said.
The first phase, between 18th and 21st avenues, was done in 2006 for $718,000, and the second phase, between 21st and 24th avenues, was done last year for nearly $662,000, he said. Kammler said there had been a “substantial” number of water main breaks and repairs on the street over the years, which left the street in “unacceptable” condition and necessitated its replacement, too. The vote to do the work was unanimous.
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Bustos doesn’t live on 10th Street but at the end of a short street that intersects with it.
Jon Schweppe, a Schilling spokesman, called the project part of a pattern.
“Why was Cheri Bustos so mean to East Moline taxpayers?” he asked Monday.
Allison Jaslow, Bustos’ campaign manager, responded to the Schilling camp by pointing to the mailers, which she said makes clear his re-election is his top priority.
“This outrageous spending makes him the number two biggest spender in Congress on the list of those who have exploited this taxpayer-funded mail service,” she said. “Schilling’s taxpayer-funded campaign spending binge shows that he is part of the problem in Washington.”
Schilling has defended the mailings, saying they are informative and have questionnaires that seek constituent input. He also says they provide constituents with information about important issues they hadn’t been getting previously and he’s spent less on office expenses overall than his predecessor, Rep. Phil Hare. Schilling says he returned $110,000 in office funds last year.