Women’s group wants Netsch for governor



CHICAGO (AP)—The Illinois chapter of the National Organization for Women endorsed Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch for governor Sunday, but it refused to say if the group would support a female candidate for lieutenant governor.

The endorsement of Netsch, a Democrat, creates an awkward situation for the women’s group. Both female candidates for lieutenant governor received NOW’s support in previous races. And they are both running mates of Netsch’s opponents.

State Sen. Penny Severns, D-Decatur, has teamed up with Cook County Board President Richard Phelan and former Democratic congressional candidate Sheila Smith of Palatine is running with state Attorney General Roland Burris.

NOW officials said they would decide later whether to endorse candidates for the lesser offices.

‘‘Governor is a little bit more important than lieutenant governor,’‘ said Kim Villanueva, chairwoman of NOW’s political action committee. ‘‘I just think Dawn’s credentials and her experience … are just overwhelming. There’s no reason to wait.’‘

Netsch, who is the first woman ever to be elected to statewide office in Illinois, refused to name a running mate. In Illinois, party candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are chosen separately in the primary, although they run together in the general election.

Netsch was endorsed by both NOW’s Chicago and Illinois political action committees.

NOW leaders said the apparent conflict is a sign of maturity for the women’s movement. In the past, the list of candidates who supported women’s issues was limited, and so was NOW’s choices.

The leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates—Burris, Phelan and Netsch—had all courted the women’s vote and NOW’s endorsement.

‘‘I think it shows the fact that we’ve been taken seriously in politics,’‘ Villanueva said. ‘‘Someday we may have women running against women for governor—and that would be a wonderful dilemma for us.’‘

Smith, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress with NOW’s support last year, said she didn’t believe a conflict existed. Severns could not be reached for comment.

‘‘Dawn Clark Netsch has had a strong record of supporting women’s issues—as well as Burris,’‘ Smith said. ‘‘I think (NOW) made the decision based on the record and Dawn being a woman. I think that gave her a strong edge.

But: ‘‘It’s nice that women’s groups will have to make choices between women. Other issues are going to be involved, not just gender issues.’‘