Newcomer of Park Ridge toppled a longtime elected official, , in Tuesday's Republican primary in , which stretches westward from Park Ridge and Des Plaines and also includes parts of Rosemont, Elk Grove Village, Schaumburg and Roselle.
Smolinski has been mayor of Roselle for 19 years, and served as a village trustee for seven years before that.
O'Donnell, on the other hand, has never before tested the political waters.
"I've never even been to an election party before," he said Tuesday, waving his hand around at about two dozen supporters enjoying food and drink and celebrating with him. That was at about 9 p.m. Tuesday, when he was leading with 76 percent of the results counted.
"So if I win," he said at that time, "I beat the mayor of Roselle and also the Democratic party with their dirty brand of attack politics."
His campaign traced five attack pieces last week to a Democratic donor, Donald Levin, O'Donnell explained.
The attacks had come after an Illinois Manufacturers Association poll had showed O'Donnell leading 57-43, and O'Donnell speculates Democrats wanted to pick him off lest he proved a strong contender against in November. Kotowski, a Democrat, represents the 33rd Senate District, but because of redistricting, is running in the newly redrawn 28th District.
"An organization called Illinois Values First, that's the name of the PAC, dropped $15,000 into it (the attack pieces)," O'Donnell said. When his campaign did research into who gave the money, they learned Levin had donated thousands in the past to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, O'Donnell said.
"The winner of this race versus Kotowski in the fall is going to be hotly contested, and [the Democrats] don't want to lose that seat, but I think it's winnable," O'Donnell said.
"People are tired of living in the most corrupt state, the most bankrupt state in the nation," he said.
O’Donnell said he attributed his victory to the fact that he's been knocking on doors since Labor Day.
Though newspapers and Republican committeemen wouldn't endorse him, he said residents he talked to embraced his message of cleaning up corruption.
The Daily Herald endorsed Smolinski, and the Chicago Tribune endorsed O’Donnell.
Gil Liston, his campaign's office manager, said that message resonated with voters.
"Jim wants to improve the climate for business here," Liston said.
With 90 percent of the vote in and still trailing O’Donnell by about 1,000 votes, Smolinski thanked a group of about 20 supporters at Strike 10 Lanes in Roselle on Tuesday night as results were published.
“I want to thank each and every one of you who has supported me,” Smolinski said. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I would’ve loved to have been the next senator in this state, but I think God has another plan for me.”
Smolinski said she would have more time to spend with her family, including her grandson, who she dearly loved.
“A special thanks to my husband who has always supported me no matter what I did, and he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty, taking care of the house, getting up this morning and putting signs in Park Ridge, and dealing with me as I’ve gone through this journey,” Smolinski said.
Mary MacMillan, of Roselle, volunteered for the Smolinski campaign and attended the event at Strike 10 Lanes on Tuesday. MacMillan said she and her husband had known Smolinski for many years.
“She’s done great things for Roselle,” MacMillan. “She’s built this town up and made it a town to be proud of, and I think she would have represented us very well in the Illinois Senate.”
MacMillan said she was surprised that Smolinski did not win because she has a lot of experience.
“I think Gayle has great values and you can always trust her to do what’s right.”