SKOKIE, IL — Three candidates are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination to represent the 16th District in the Illinois House.

They include first-term incumbent State Rep. Denyse Wang Stoneback, Niles Township District 219 Board President Naema Abraham and Kevin Olickal, who was also a candidate for the office in the primary two years ago.

In that election, Wang Stoneback defeated former State Rep. Yehiel “Mark” Kalish in Kalish’s first race after being appointed to the statehouse seat by Niles Township Democratic Party Committeeperson Lou Lang when the longtime local party leader stepped down to become a lobbyist.

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Lang and his organization endorsed Wang Stoneback, the challenger to the candidate he appointed, after Kalish voted “present” instead of “yes” on an abortion rights bill, triggering backlash from female elected officials.

Wang Stoneback is the founder of a gun violence prevention nonprofit who has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at tightening restrictions on firearms, including sponsoring an amendment to the state’s administrative code to strengthen the Firearms Restraining Order Act signed into law in last year.

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Abraham, a payroll manager for a wholesale food distributor, immigrated to the United States from Syria with her family in 1975. She, her three siblings and her daughter all graduated from Niles North High School.

First elected to the District 219 school board in 2017 and reelected in 2021, Abraham would be the first ethnically Assyrian member of the Illinois House if elected, according to Politico. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her campaign.

Earlier this month, Wang Stoneback was included as one of 16 founding members of the Illinois Assyrian Caucus. Illinois is the first state in the nation to set up a statewide caucus to advocate for the Assyrian community, according to a release announcing the new group.

Olickal, currently a law student at Loyola University Chicago and a market development representative for an electronic signature company, is making his second run for the Democratic Party’s nomination in the district. He has previous experience as the executive director of the Indo-American Democratic Organization and a recovery specialist for the National Partnership for New Americans.

In March 2020, Olickal collected about 25 percent of the vote and finished in third place out of three candidates in the district’s first competitive election in decades.

“In 2020, I made a commitment to fight for my community in the 16th District. Today, with absolute resolve I am continuing that fight for a safer community, a woman’s right to choose, and a government that works for all,” Olickal said in a statement after filing paperwork for his candidacy.

“This district is one of the most diverse communities in Illinois,” he added, “and now more than ever, we need ethical and effective leadership for a better future.”

Wang Stoneback’s office has been linked to Evanston’s lakefront sexual abuse scandal that emerged publicly in July 2021. The state representative’s husband, Dave, is Evanston’s acting deputy city manager and longtime public works chief.

After former Evanston City Manager Erika Storlie placed former Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin on administrative leave that month, pending an investigation into why Lin did not disclose allegations of misconduct among park district staff, Wang Stoneback’s office hired her, with Lin listing her position as “interim chief of staff.”

An independent investigation commissioned by the City Council found extensive faults by Lin, who has since been hired by the Cook County Circuit Clerk’s Office, in her handling of the allegations.

Wang Stoneback’s office paid Lin $12,500 at a rate of $38.50 an hour from August through October last year, WBEZ Chicago reported. In October, Storlie arranged a separation agreement with Lin that awarded Lin nearly six months of severance pay, despite opposition from the mayor.

The state representative’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether Wang Stoneback was aware that Lin had been placed on administrative leave before being hired or who recommended her hiring.


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