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Political gas giveaway jams traffic, raises questions
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff

Dan Seals, a Democrat challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk in the 10th Congressional District, chats Thursday with Lake Villa resident Debby Preciado about the high price of gas.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Traffic was jammed on Milwaukee Avenue and Half Day Road as motorists turned up in big numbers for a price break on gas. Organizers estimated 50 to 60 people took advantage of the low prices offered for about an hour.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/23/2008 12:13 AM

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The last time Democratic congressional candidate Dan Seals held an event at the Lincolnshire Marathon gas station it drew little public interest.

That was two years ago when he was only talking about gas prices. The reception was much improved Thursday when he invited motorists to fill up at $1.85 a gallon, and paid the difference from the going price of $4.14 a gallon for regular.

Seals' offer was based on the price of gas at the time his opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, was elected eight years ago. Seals made a surprisingly close run against Kirk in 2006 and is trying again.

"At least for an hour. At least it's something," Seals said, offering sympathy to price-weary motorists.

Kirk dismissed the event as grandstanding and called for a review to determine if the political event was legal.

About 50 drivers, limited to 10 gallons -- a savings of $22.90 each -- took up Seals on his offer.

Tracy Gentile of Grayslake got a new car two weeks ago because of high gas prices. The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu saves her about $50 a week compared with her old car, a 1998 V-6 Pontiac Grand Prix. "I hated paying 20 bucks a day to get back and forth to work," said Gentile, who works in Lincolnshire.

Gentile said she wasn't aware the event was sponsored by a politician, but she was happy to get the savings.

"It worked," she said.

Seals said rising gas prices have people upset. But even he seemed startled at the response, which led to some on-the-fly maneuvering because of the large turnout.

At its peak, traffic jammed Milwaukee Avenue and backed up around the corner for about a mile onto Half Day Road. Ten Lincolnshire police officers, with help from Buffalo Grove, kept order. Seals will be billed for that, too, said Lincolnshire Police Chief Randy Melvin.

"We're as surprised as anyone the amount of attention we're getting here," Seals said. "There are very few things you can name that have increased that quickly. It's a problem. We need to talk about it."

He dodged the legality question.

"We're not asking people to vote for me," Seals said. "What this is about is to show how expensive the price of gas has become."

Kirk ripped the advertised noon-to-1 p.m. giveaway and asked the Federal Election Commission and others to investigate. Kirk cited his effort to reduce gas prices, raise fuel economy standards, break up fuel monopolies and support renewable energy and efficiency programs as examples of practical solutions.

"While gas prices have jumped nearly $1.50 since Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, political stunts will not bring relief to Americans at the gas pump," said Kirk spokesman Eric Elk.

Like Kirk, Green Party 10th District candidate David Kalbfleisch objected to Seals' event.

"It's dirty politics; it's one step away from directly paying people for their vote," said Kalbfleisch of Arlington Heights. "If it's not illegal, it should be."

Many of those in line heard of the giveaway on television, the radio or from co-workers. Although some waited an hour or more, they didn't seem to care why it was happening.

"Every little bit helps," said Debby Preciado of Lake Villa.

Gabriella Dawson, a political science major at Lake Forest College, said she will pay closer attention to energy issues. She said she likes Kirk's record on environmental matters.

Will she vote for Seals?

"There's definitely a good chance, but you never know," she said. "As much as I would like to be bribed, this is not how you get my vote. It takes a lot more than that."