With the Illinois primary election less than a month away, the race for 78th District state representative looks to be a two-person clash between incumbent Deborah Graham and challenger Phyllis Logan.

The 78th district covers part of Austin and east Oak Park.

Graham has represented the 78th District since 2003 and is seeking her third term in office.

Logan, an Austin realtor and co-owner of Bryant-Logan Realty, 5933 W. Madison, a native West Sider and an Austin for the past 25 years.

Logan has never held elected office, however, she said it was her many years as a community volunteer, including 10 years spent on Cong. Danny Davis’ housing advisory council, that motivated her to enter the political arena.

“I believe all phases of the school system on the West Side needs to be improved,” Logan said. “We need to look at countries that we lag behind in academic testing, such as China and Russia, and model ourselves after the way those countries create an atmosphere of learning by giving children choices in the types of schools they want to attend.”

Graham agreed that the school system needs improving, having attended teacher/parent council meetings at Douglas Academy, among other locations, she noted.

“We definitely need to improve our school system in Austin, no doubt, and I agree that a new general education academy is certainly needed,” Graham said.

Concerning the likelihood of a new school being built in Austin, Graham predicted, “hopefully, in the next five years.”

One of the primary issues facing both candidates following the Feb. 5 primaries is the ongoing housing market crisis.

Foreclosures have continued to plague most parts of the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs with sub-prime loans, predatory lending and skyrocketing property taxes as the main reasons behind them.

Logan said that her experience in working with property owners for the last two decades makes her an ideal candidate to tackle the problem.

“I don’t mind sharing information, and I feel as though my experience in communicating to people the options that are available to them to prevent foreclosures is what I would bring to the position,” said Logan, who also serves on Cong. Davis’ foreclosures advisory committee.

“Whether it’s avoiding being taken by sub-prime loans or predatory lenders, or just finding the right lawyer to look out for your interest, I will convey that message to the people of the 78th ward,” Logan said.

Graham, however, questioned Logan’s commitment to solving the issue saying, bringing up whether Logan supported House Bill 4050, legislation requiring all prospective home-buyers who fit in the category of first-time home buyers, persons refinancing a primary residence, or obtaining an interest-only loan to receive a mandatory credit counseling session prior to accepting the loan.

“She was against House Bill 4050, so I wonder just how involved she really is in this issue,” Graham asked.

The bill, according to some of its critics, became controversial two years ago when it originally called for those living within 10 specified zip codes -mostly African-American communities- to automatically submit to a credit counseling session. This struck some, including Logan, as discriminatory.

“I did not approve of HB 4050 for that reason,” she said. “We need to establish legislation that holds these unscrupulous lenders accountable, but does not punish innocent people.”

Graham also doesn’t think that Logan’s real estate credentials would make her more qualified to address the housing market crisis. Graham added that she has been dealing with the issue for months and her experience gives her the advantage in working with local law-makers to solve the problem.

“I had a foreclosure summit at Milton Brunson Elementary School over the summer where representatives of Harris Bank and Shorebank were doing credit checks on those in attendance. They were teaching potential home owners about adjustable mortgages and interest only loans,” Graham said.

“I’ve been tackling this problem for months, and I’m still at it,” she added. “It’s about educating the homeowners. They must know exactly what ‘interest only loan’ really means.”

Both Logan and Graham said that they would be supportive of converting the currently vacant Brach’s site on Cicero and Lake into a college-preparatory high school campus, similar to neighboring suburban school Oak Park River Forest.

The site, though, was recently sold to a developer who has no plans to build a school at the location.

However, while Graham said she sees the site as a potential business district as well, Logan asserted that her goal is to take advantage of the lots and condemned tenements down Madison Street and Chicago Avenue, between Cicero and Austin, and turn them into thriving businesses.