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Couple Who Are Campaign Foes Manage to Keep Politics in Its Place

April 07, 2002|ELLEN WARREN | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Don't even think about telling this couple that politics makes strange bedfellows.

They've heard it so often, "It's nauseating, at this point," says Mary Ann Gearhart Deutsche. They might be sick of it but she and her husband, Lee Deutsche, are likely to hear a lot more of the tired phrase in the coming months.

She's an ardent Republican. He's a passionate Democrat. And the newlyweds are running against each other in the November election. Both are seeking seats on the Will County (Ill.) Board.

As the election draws closer, will Lee and Mary Ann be able to resist the temptation to "go negative"? When the campaign moves into high gear after Labor Day, is trash talk inevitable?

And, taking it to the bottom line, can the Deutsches' new (since Jan. 5) marriage survive the very public face-off this fall?

They laughed. "There aren't that many issues that are that divisive," says Mary Ann, although Lee cautions, "There will be some."

But, on the single most significant issue in Will County, the Deutsches are in full accord. Both oppose a third airport at Peotone.

On that matter, family farmer Lee can speak literally when he says "not in my backyard." The proposed site for the airport would take over at least a portion of the acreage straddling the border between Monee and Crete Township. He works the land with his brother, David, and sons Darren and Kyle.

Because of the size of the close-knit community where they both have been active, Lee and Mary Ann have known each other for many years. Both lost their spouses within a three-month span in 1989-90, but they didn't begin dating until 1998 when Lee, now 60, campaigned and won his first term on the Will County Board. Mary Ann, now 51, was seeking re-election to the board where she has held a seat since 1985.

So, their relationship already has survived one election cycle--where both candidates took the high road. "You always put forth the positive," says Mary Ann.

If they could be persuaded to be even a little combative and unpleasant, their election contest would sound like a sitcom or, even, a movie. Think a politics version of "Adam's Rib," the courtroom classic in which Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are married attorneys on opposite sides of an attempted murder trial. Or, a variation on the real-life story of Mary Matalin and James Carville, the romantically involved political opposites behind the 1992 presidential campaigns. Matalin and Carville got married, wrote a bestselling book, did an American Express ad campaign and had two children.

OK. Perhaps the Will County story of Lee and Mary Ann isn't quite the stuff of an ad campaign. For starters, in the interest of full disclosure, the couple notes that while they are running against each other, both could win.

The arcane way the Will County Board is elected means that there are now five candidates (three Republicans and two Democrats) running for a total of three seats allotted to District 1 on the 27-member board. Incumbents Deutsche and Gearhart Deutsche could both be winners.

It was mutual admiration for each other's commitment to bettering their community that provided the first "spark" between the two of them, Mary Ann says, but "not the only. I can tell you that."

On other fronts, they're also compatible. Both rooted for Duke in the recent NCAA tournament--and lamented the upset loss to Indiana University.

And, finally, says Mary Ann, "We're both very avid Cub fans!"

*

llen Warren writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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