Illinois’s 78th District that includes Oak Park and Austin has a new state representative with ties to both communities.

Camille Lilly, executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce who is an administrator at Loretto Hospital , was named Saturday to fill Deborah Graham’s seat in the Illinois state legislature. One of two women among seven applicants vying for the post, Lilly was chosen by a select group of Democratic Party committeemen that met in Oak Park on Saturday. She received every committee vote but one.

Chaired by state Sen. Don Harmon (39th), the group met at the Carleton Hotel in Oak Park that morning to interview candidates before making their choice. Lilly, a founding member of the Chamber and its volunteer director, attended grammar school and high school in Oak Park. Her parents recently moved from Oak Park to Plainfield, Ill.

Speaking to the panel, she stressed the importance of neighborhood connections and nonstop work
toward community goals.

“It’s more than ‘We can.’- We must,” said Lilly, a 1979 graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School; she also attended Oak Park’s Hatch Elementary School.

Lilly said she will resign as the Chamber’s director but will continue to work at Loretto, where she’s served as vice president of external affairs. “A lot of people are already in place to take on the responsibilities that they have been groomed for,” she said of the Chamber, shortly after the committee’s vote.

Lilly added that the first thing she wants to do as state rep is meet with organizations and residents in the district. The 78th Illinois House district covers a portion of northern Austin and Oak Park, Melrose Park, River Forest, and Stone Park. The seat became vacant when Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Graham 29th Ward alderman in March; she succeeded Isaac Carothers, who resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges

Graham, who vacated her House seat to accept the appointment, was part of Saturday’s committee to select Lilly. The lone dissenting vote was from Tom Cargie, who cast a proxy ballot for Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

The other five candidates who addressed the panel were Maretta Brown-Miller, Rev. Marshall Hatch, Ted Leverenz, Blake Sercye and Bruce Washington.

The decision came following a two-hour public meeting, during which committeemen heard prepared statements from all seven candidates followed by a brief Q&A with the panel. The committee hearing in a small conference room at the hotel was nearly filled to capacity.

By law, committeemen have the power to make appointments when certain elected offices become vacant, a process normally done behind closed doors. The committee Saturday included state Rep. Karen Yarbrough (7th); former Chicago alderman William J.P. Banks; and 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts-28th Ward Ald. Ed Smith voted by proxy through Mitts.

Each candidate was asked about issues ranging from the civil unions bill currently before the state legislature to their thoughts about the environment. As for the newly-named state rep, Lilly said she plans on voting for a Democratic-proposed budget – one that might call for an increase in the state’s income tax. Tuesday was her first official day on the job in Springfield. The part-time, state rep position has an annual salary of nearly $68,000.

Helen Karakoudas contributed to this story