Crain’s Chicago Business: Campaign cash becomes an issue in 10th District race


Written by: Greg Hinz

February 08, 2016

A political contribution from an auto dealer who received a tax break from the city of Highland Park is drawing some notice in the hot race for Congress in the north suburban 10th District.

At issue is a $5,400 donation from auto dealer Ernie Semersky to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, who is vying with ex-Congressman Brad Schneider for the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP incumbent Bob Dold in the November general election. The donation was made last spring but comes to notice now as Rotering's race with Schneider heats up.

Semersky has been a big backer of Republicans for public office. Here in Illinois, he donated $70,000 to Gov. Bruce Rauner's 2014 campaign and supported state Sen. Bill Brady, the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee. Nationally, he's contributed to Marco Rubio's presidential effort, and has donated nearly $13,000 to Mr. Dold, including $2,700 this election cycle.

So why he donating to Democrat Rotering?

Semersky failed to return a phone message left with his assistant.

In 2013, the Porsche and Audi dealerships he operates in Highland Park reached a tax-rebate incentive deal worth as much as $8.55 million, according to local media accounts.Officials at the time argued the break was needed to make sure the expanding dealership and its tax revenues stayed in town. Other dealers asserted that Semersky got a better deal than they did. Rotering, in an interview, defended the deal and said there is no connection to the contribution.

The city of Highland Park had sales-tax rebates with auto dealers since before I went on the City Council," she said, noting that one of those deals was with Semersky's firm. "It's a continuation of the policy to keep sales-tax revenue producers in the city."

Rotering said she and Semersky also worked together on a city social-services center. "He is very focused on Latino rights and (fighting) domestic abuse."

Some other Republicans also are helping her in the race, Rotering said. "They like proven leadership. I get things done."

A spokeswoman for Schneider declined to comment.

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