Illinois state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald can thank banking industry consolidation for his victory in last week's U.S. Senate primary.

State Sen. Fitzgerald spent $7 million of his own money on the campaign, much of which he collected when his family sold its community bank, Suburban Bancorp, to Bank of Montreal Corp. The Canadian banking giant paid $246 million in stock for Palatine, Ill.-based Suburban in October 1994.

The conservative Republican spent much of his campaign funds on television ads blasting his opponent, State Comptroller Loleta Didrickson, for her support of tax increases and an expensive office remodeling project. Ms. Didrickson fought back, once criticizing state Sen. Fitzgerald for voting in favor of pro-bank legislation while much of his personal wealth remained in bank stock.

State Sen. Fitzgerald will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun in the November general election. Sen. Moseley-Braun, a Democrat, is a member of the Senate Banking Committee.

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It's taken 100 years, but Bank of Gravett is finally branching out. The bank, which has operated a single branch in tiny Gravette, Ark., since 1898 is to open its second branch next month, in Hiwasse, Ark., eight miles away.

Assistant vice president Michael D. Mayberry said Bank of Gravett has operated an automated teller machine in Hiwasse since 1996. However, with no banks in the growing town, Bank of Gravett decided the time was right to expand.

The new branch will open just in time: Two other banks are building Hiwasse offices this year, within two miles of Bank of Gravett's.

Bank of Gravett is the oldest continuously operating bank in Benton County and, until a few years ago, was the only one in Gravette. Last Saturday, it celebrated its 100th anniversary by holding a birthday party for 400 customers, neighbors, and community members.

"It was quite a turnout," said Mr. Mayberry. "Even people that have since moved to other states came back." - Alan Kline

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