Rep. Melissa Bean (D)
Illinois 8th District
Schaumburg may not be nationally known, but it is one of America’s major corporate headquarters cities. Sixty years ago, this suburb northwest of Chicago was farmland. Today, Schaumburg—near the intersection of the Northwest Tollway and Interstate 290—is the site of the headquarters of Motorola and Zurich American Insurance. Nearby are the headquarters of Sears and Kemper Insurance, as well as the gargantuan Woodfield Mall and subdivisions as far as the eye can see. Schaumburg yearns for traditions. It has built a performing arts center, formed an orchestra for young people, and built from scratch a traditional downtown district. Lately, civic endeavors are taking a backseat to concerns about the recession, which hit here early. Motorola lost 3,000 jobs worldwide in 2008 alone.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 8th Congressional District of Illinois is made up of Schaumburg and dozens of similar communities north and northwest of Chicago. A short drive from Schaumburg is Palatine and country-manor Barrington Hills. The district—whose population grew 12% from 2000 to 2007—includes the rapidly-growing western half of Lake County, with little lake communities being surrounded by new suburbs like Deer Park and Volo. It also includes the Lake Michigan town of Zion at the Wisconsin border. To the west, the 8th includes about half of fast-growing McHenry County, where Democrats have begun to show some life. The area lacks a regional identity, other than the “northwest suburbs.” The local newspaper, the Daily Herald based in Arlington Heights, tried valiantly for a few years to give it a sense of place with a billboard campaign that dubbed it “Herald City.” It didn’t quite stick.
The tone of life is not elite, but people here are affluent. Culturally, it has more in common with the great rural Midwest than it does yeasty, lusty Chicago. Economically, its suspicion of government and trade restrictions has declined, as Motorola has become the victim of overseas competition, which has caused job upheaval in Schaumburg. Historically, this was one of the most Republican places in the nation. In the past decade, like other Chicago suburbs, it moved toward the Democrats. The Latino population has risen from 11% in 2000 to 15% in 2007, and Asian-Americans constitute 7%. If the 8th is still one of Illinois’s most Republican districts, as measured by its 56% support of George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, it has become far less Republican than districts with similar demographics in Texas and Georgia. Like most of the Chicago metropolitan area, the district voted for Barack Obama in 2008. Obama won 56% here compared to John McCain’s 43%.
Rep. Melissa Bean (D)
Elected: 2004, 3rd term.
Born: Jan. 22, 1962, Chicago .
Education: Oakton Comm. Col., A.A. 1982, Roosevelt U., B.A. 2002.
Religion: Serbian Orthodox.
Family: Married (Alan); 2 children.
Professional Career: Technology and sales consultant, 1982-2004.
The congresswoman from the 8th District is Melissa Bean, who on her second attempt at a House seat defeated Phil Crane, who had been the senior Republican in the House. Bean was born in Chicago and grew up in Park Ridge, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s girlhood home. Bean’s father owned a company that manufactured conveyor belts. She attended a local community college, then worked from home as a business consultant in technology sales, training executives at Motorola and other companies to develop marketing and sales campaigns. At age 40, she got a bachelor’s degree in political science from Roosevelt University. She served on the local PTA and volunteered for Crane’s Democratic challenger in 2000. Two years later, she ran for the seat herself. Although she got little assistance from national Democrats, she held Crane to 57% in 2002, the second-lowest performance of his long career.
|Melissa Bean (D)||179,444||(61%)||($2,986,001)|
|Steve Greenberg (R)||116,081||(39%)||($990,574)|
|Melissa Bean (D)||64,255||(83%)|
|Bill Scheurer (D)||12,968||(17%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (51%), 2004 (52%)
Bean kept right on campaigning, with her sights set on 2004. Her energetic campaign offered a vivid contrast to Crane’s sluggish and late-starting effort. Downplaying her party identification and keeping her distance from Democratic leaders, she handed voters jelly beans to help them remember her name, framed her candidacy as “a fresh start” and consistently talked about the need for a vigorous new voice. In this Republican district, she sharply attacked Crane for having lost touch back home while accruing little influence in Washington. Bean supported the war in Iraq, opposed the Bush tax cuts and favored abortion rights. Crane tried to depict her as an inexperienced newcomer who would be unable to deliver federal dollars for the district. But this is not a district that relies heavily on infusions of federal money. In October, the Chicago Tribune, historically Republican, endorsed Bean. Crane “has used his seat in Congress as a cozy sinecure,” the paper griped. Crane complained, “I have been busting my hump for about five straight weeks” in the campaign. Bean won 52%-48%, making Crane one of only two Republican incumbents defeated in 2004. She won 56%-44% on her home turf of Cook County, 50.3%-49.7% in Lake County and trailed 49%-51% in McHenry County, running in each case well ahead of usual Democratic percentages in this historically Republican territory.
In the House, Bean became identified as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. In 2009, Bean became a vice-chairman of the centrist New Democrats. Perhaps Bean’s most significant alliance has been her friendship with President Obama. They became friends campaigning together in 2004, and both were unlikely winners, she in the House and he in the Senate. They spoke “regularly and directly” during the 2008 presidential campaign. “He is open and receptive to new ideas, such as my interest in small business,” Bean said after the election.
She has focused her work on the Financial Services Committee. She worked on the issues of identity theft and tax credits for adoptive families (Bean was adopted as a baby). She backed a bill to permit small businesses to join together and offer health coverage to employees. She won business support—and angered unions—as one of only 15 House Democrats to vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which she said would benefit local companies. In 2007, she again drew fire from labor and progressive groups when she was the only Democrat to vote against the $607 billion spending bill for Labor and Health and Human Services programs, leading a public-employees-union lobbyist to comment, “We’re profoundly disappointed, to put it mildly.” A Bean spokesman said she was concerned that overall spending in the bill was too high. After initially supporting President Bush on the war in Iraq, she backed the February 2007 resolution opposing the president’s plan for a “surge” of troops in Iraq. She collaborated with Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California in 2007 on a sweeping plan to overhaul regulation of insurance, and “remove barriers to innovation,” Bean said. At home, she strongly opposed the takeover by Canadian National of a local rail line because of fears that increased Chicago-area freight service would make residential areas unsafe and harm the environment.
In two subsequent elections, Bean was a top Republican target. But she made skillful use of incumbency and solid constituency service, and moved quickly to build a campaign war chest. In 2006, she also benefited from a divisive six-candidate Republican primary. Former investment banker David McSweeney won the primary with 43% to 33% for Kathy Salvi, a personal-injury attorney with connections to local conservatives. Also in the general election was attorney Bill Scheurer, who ran as an independent with support from some national labor unions who felt betrayed by Bean. National Republicans spent more than $2 million here, some of it to encourage Scheurer, though he failed to get much traction. Bean won with 51% to 44% for McSweeney and 5% for Scheurer.
In 2008, Republicans again suffered from a fractious primary, Political neophyte Steve Greenberg, a wealthy businessman, was nominated with 57% of the vote. He put in nearly $90,000 of his own money for a total of $990,000, compared to Bean’s more than $3 million. They disagreed on energy policy, a timetable for the troops to return from Iraq, federal coverage of health care, and abortion rights. With a turnout boost from Obama, Bean increased her margin to 61%-39%. Republicans will need a topflight challenger if they hope to oust her in 2010.