Cabello vs. Szula duke it out in the 90th District


Will your next state representative be a detective? Or a heavy equipment operator?

Both Republican candidates in the 90th District primary, Mark Szula and John Cabello, claim to be conservatives who want to fight the liberals in Springfield. Which one has the real goods?

Szula is a union representative and heavy equipment operator who has been president of the Village of Roscoe since 2019. Szula has been a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 for more than 35 years. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Szula was deployed in Beirut (twice) and Grenada.

Cabello is a detective at the Rockford Police Department who served as State Representative for the 68th District from 2012 to 2020. He was reelected three times before being defeated by 239 votes by Democrat David Vella in November 2020. Before becoming a state representative, he served as a trustee for Winnebago County and Harlem Township. 

John Cabello is endorsed by an array of Republican luminaries, including a former Republican candidate for governor, our current Republican state representative, our future Republican state senator, the mayors of the nearby towns (with the obvious exception of Roscoe), the sheriffs of the nearby counties, and three out of four of our Winnebago County Board members. He himself endorses conservatives Darren Bailey and Tom DeVore, as well as Paul Arena, Gary Caruana, Lori Gummow, Randy Johnson, Brad Lindmark, Kevin Mccarthy and Dan Brady. During the 2016 election, he was co-chair of the Illinois Trump Victory Committee.  

But not so fast, says Mark Szula. When John Cabello was in the Illinois House of Representatives, he missed 268 votes and voted against Republican bills 70 times. "Where was John?" Szula's campaign ads demand. What was Cabello doing when he was supposed to be working?

Cabello claims that when he was supposed to be working, he was... working - at the Rockford Police Department. In fact, Cabello says that he had one of the best attendance records in Springfield. With thousands of votes each session, only missing 268 votes in eight years is pretty good, he claims. And Cabello says he never missed a major vote.

And as for the 70 Republican bills he voted against, Cabello claims they were RINO bills (Republican In Name Only) and not conservative enough. "Not all of the Republican bills were good for the people I was honored to represent," he says. He co-sponsored many bills himself, but among the bills for which he was primary sponsor, most of which didn't pass, his main emphasis was law enforcement. He did successfully pass a bill to tighten requirements for police training.

As for himself, Szula says, "As a Marine, I set goals and I achieve them, and I won’t shy away from a fight if that is what it takes to ensure that the residents of the 90th District won’t be left behind."

Mark Szula has not shied away from a fight as President of the Village of Roscoe, even unpopular ones. In October 2020 [PDF], he cast the deciding vote that led to Jessica's Restaurant being ticketed in November for violating Gov. J.B. Pritziker's COVID-19 executive order banning indoor dining, as reported in the Rockford Register-Star. He also led the unsuccessful campaign to pass a 1% sales tax in Roscoe. More recently, he broke the tie to allow a townhome development on Roscoe Road to proceed.

As Village President of Roscoe, Szula sees his greatest achievements as having "returned our police department to full staffing, strengthened our local procurement to keep local tax dollars in the local economy, and expanded the scope of our infrastructure maintenance programs to keep people safe." He could have done even more if the 1% sales tax referendum had passed. One of the tools he used to attract top talent to the Village staff and to the police force is to eliminate medical copays for them.

But Szula also says, "I spent my career operating heavy equipment, and I know a thing or two about building bridges. People have to come before politics."

Building bridges during a fight is a delicate operation indeed, and Szula doesn't always succeed at it. In meetings at the Village of Roscoe, Szula has had to preside over a consistently and evenly-divided Board of Trustees. Even their seating reflects it. On controversial issues, those on Szula's right usually vote one way, those on his left vote the other way, and in the case of a tie, Szula usually breaks it by voting with those on his left. In July 2020, Szula broke a tie to raise the part-time salary of the Village President from $15,000 to $38,000 and the salary of Village Trustees from $3,000 to $4,000 per year. But he will not benefit from the 153% raise until 2023, assuming he stays in his post as Village President, which he is legally allowed to do. He just isn't allowed to get paid by both the Village and the State for the same workdays.

One evidence for Szula's statement that "people have to come before politics" is that he has donated to both Republican and Democratic candidates (to fellow union member Lance Yednock, in one case). His opponent Cabello says Szula has also voted in at least two Democratic primaries, which is information that political candidates (but not journalists) can verify. Though Szula's union job sometimes involves placing a large inflatable rat in front of local businesses, he says it also involves more conventional and sensitive negotiations, with local governments engaged in public works projects.

Since January 2021, Cabello has raised $234,695 while Szula has raised $498,017, which may explain why Szula can afford to run TV commercials. Almost all of Szula's largest contributions come from unions or contractors, as well as some lawyers. As a police officer, Cabello also benefits from a union, the Rockford Police Benevolent & Protective Association Unit #6. Both candidates also receive contributions from other political campaigns. Szula's donors have included Friends of Dave Vella, Friends of Adam Kinzinger, Friends of Eli Nicolosi, and Citizens for Maurice West II. Ironically, in 2019 and 2020, Szula even received contributions from the campaigns of Mayor Greg Jury and Sheriff Gary Caruana, who are now chair and vice-chair of his opponent's campaign committee. Cabello has received large gifts from Ozinga for Illinois, REALTORS Political Action Committee, Breakthrough Ideas (led by Jeanne Ives), Chesney for Illinois, Bailey for Illinois, Citizens for Joe Sosnowski , and individuals such as Richard E. Uihlein. 

Any hobbies or special interests? Both candidates have taken money from car dealers and local pubs and Cabello's second largest contribution came from REALTORS Political Action Committee. Besides unions, Szula's contributors have included some companies that provide services to the Village of Roscoe, such as Fehr-Graham Engineering. Even when unopposed for Village President, Szula received large campaign contributions, such as $5,000 from Gold Rush Amusements on Aug. 9, 2019, one month after the Village voted to license Dandy’s Slots, which the company owns. He also received donations from Pinewoods Restaurant Group, which owns Molly's Deli and Gaming, which also depends on liquor licenses from the Village of Roscoe.

Now that the latest Democrat-controlled redistricting process is completed, the newly-mapped 90th District of the Illinois House of Representatives, which includes Roscoe and Rockton, is expected to lean Republican so strongly the Democrats didn't bother to field a candidate.  (The trade-off: Rockford's 68th District now leans Democrat so strongly that the Republicans didn't bother to field a candidate. The Illinois Supreme Court has pointed out that in Illinois, gerrymandering for racist reasons is unconstitutional but gerrymandering for partisan reasons is traditional.) Though more than 40% of Roscoe and Rockton voted for Joe Biden in 2020, Republicans now outnumber Democrats by 12-14% percentage points in the new 90th District.

More about the District 90 race

Interview: Mark Szula, Roscoe Village President, running for State Representative

Republicans running to represent Roscoe and Rockton: Andrew Chesney in Senate, John Cabello in House

Roscoe Village President Mark W. Szula joins Republican primary for District 90 State Representative

Two Rockford area candidates want to represent Illinois House 90th district

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