Does move by Kotowski mean run for governor?
by RUSS STEWART
In Illinois there are a multitude of pathways to the governorship, none alike.
Bruce Rauner spent $75 million. Pat Quinn was the lieutenant governor when the governor was impeached. Rod Blagojevich married Dick Mell’s daughter. Jim Thompson put a bunch of corrupt politicians in jail. Dan Walker donned a red bandanna and walked the length of Illinois. Both Jim Edgar and George Ryan spent 8 years each in the unglamorous job of secretary of state.
As 2018 approaches, the Democratic frontrunner to oppose Rauner is Lisa Madigan, who has an uncluttered pathway because she is the daughter of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and the state attorney general.
Now along comes state Senator Dan Kotowski (D-28), age 48, of Park Ridge, whose pathway entails resigning his Illinois Senate seat effective Oct. 5 and becoming the chief executive officer of ChildServ, a nonprofit entity that provides counseling and intervention for families. Say what? ChildServ to governor? Is he delusionary?
Kotowski "is serious," a Democratic insider said, noting that employees and beneficiaries of so-called "human service agencies" are not faring well under Rauner’s relentless budget cuts. They are a core Democratic constituency, and they lack an advocate and a champion. "We need to protect the vulnerable," Kotowski said.
As for the cost of "intervening" in the lives of 3,100 families, as claimed by ChildServ’s Web site, "there will be donations from private individuals, foundations and government sources," Kotowski said. "Instead of raising a million dollars to get re-elected, I will raise a million dollars to help kids," he said.
Asked how much he will earn, Kotowski decline to answer. He told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was quitting so as to "take care of my family better." He has children age 12 and 15. A senator earns $67,836, plus $111 per diem, plus $10,000 as a committee chairman. Kotowski is the chairman of the Appropriation II Committee, which funds state agencies — a very powerful post. Will you be making more than $200,000 at ChildServ? "Next question," Kotowski said.
Kotowski’s resignation is a serious problem for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who will have to spend $1 million to defend his seat in 2016, when Kotowski’s current term expires. Of course, that’s chump change for Cullerton, who will raise and spend $6 million to $8 million to retain his 39-20 Senate majority. To checkmate Rauner, override his vetoes and pass bills in overtime, the Democrats need three-fifths majorities. Their majority in Madigan’s House is 71-47, just over 60 percent. Cullerton needs a minimum of 36 Democratic senators, and Madigan needs a minimum of 70 Democratic representatives.
"I anticipate running in 2016," Maine Township Democratic Committeeman Laura Murphy said. Under state law, the elected ward or township committeemen of the incumbent’s party pick the replacement, to serve the remainder of the term. A weighted-vote system is used. That means that every committeeman has the vote of the number of Democratic primary voters in the 28th District in the most recent primary, which was in 2014. The biggest share of the vote belongs to Mike Cudzik of Schaumburg Township, with 54 precincts. The second biggest is Maine Township, with 41 precincts, followed by Elk Grove Township, with 25 precincts. The remainder are in Chicago’s 41st Ward (four), Norwood Park Township (three), Leyden Township (one), Palatine Township (two) and DuPage County (14).
Murphy, age 55, is on the Democrats’ "B List" for appointment. Both Democratic state representatives, Marty Moylan (D-55) of Des Plaines and Michelle Mussman (D-56) of Schaumburg, took a pass and are seeking re-election. Were Murphy not a township committeeman, she would be on no list. Her pathway to Springfield requires only one vote, that of Cudzik. "I have the support of Dan (Kotowski), Marty (Moylan), Don Harmon and John Mulroe," Murphy said. "I’m excited. This will be a ‘targeted’ race, with heavy spending by both parties." If she is appointed, Murphy will serve through January of 2017. Cullerton, Cudzik, and Elk Grove’s Ted Mason have yet to anoint Murphy.
Other possible appointees mentioned but already discarded include twenty-something Des Plaines Mayor Matt Bogusz, who was elected in 2013, and Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson, who was elected in 1987. The popular Larson, who strives to be nonpartisan, is being recruited by the Republicans.
"A Republican will win the seat," said one area Democratic office holder said. "Murphy is a very weak candidate." Murphy’s electoral history is checkered. In 1998 she ran for state senator in the old 28th District, losing to incumbent Republican Marty Butler, a popular former Park Ridge mayor, 32,977-21,984, getting 39.9 percent of the vote. Butler died a few weeks later. Murphy was elected a Des Plaines alderman in 2001 and re-elected in 2005; she was term-limited out in 2009. When Mayor Tony Arrrieda was termed out in 2009, Murphy didn’t run and Moylan was elected. Former Niles Mayor Nick Blase and current Mayor Andy Przybylo were Murphy’s predecessors as committeeman. Murphy won the post unopposed in 2002. There is no Democratic Party in Maine Township, scoffed the Democratic source. There are 98 precincts in the township. "She does not have more than a dozen precinct captains," the source said, noting that every township office is occupied by a Republican and that no Democrat holds any office in Park Ridge. Neither Moylan nor Bogusz in Des Plaines are part of her organization; they have their own operations.
Murphy, who currently is employed as a coordinator with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, asserted that her organization "helped elect" Kotowski, Moylan, Bogusz, Przybylo, Jan Schakowsky and Elaine Nekritz. That’s probably news to them.
Murphy’s problem is that Kotowski has set the proverbial bar so high as to be unattainable. The senator is known as "Energizer Danny," due to his indefatigable campaigning skills and discipline. Born and raised in Rogers Park, Kotowski got a degree in communication from the University of Illinois and a master’s in fine arts from DePaul University, which is atypical for an aspiring politician. He got a job as the executive director the nonprofit Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, and he moved to Park Ridge in the early 2000s. He decided to run for state senator in 2005. Having plenty of time but little money, Kotowski devised an unorthodox strategy: Beginning in May of 2005, he walked and worked precincts 4 to 5 hours every weekday and 6 to 7 hours every weekend day. Usually half of the door knocks were unanswered, but Kotowski made 50 to 100 contacts every day, which he put into a computer database, complete with phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
"The response was amazing," Kotowski once said. "A candidate for state senator knocks on their door and introduces himself. They couldn’t believe it." He followed up with letters, e-mails, calls and later yard signs. "Very few people asked me about issues or even my party, but they remembered me," he said.
Dave Sullivan, a legislative aide, was appointed to replace Butler, and he was unopposed in 2002. He was largely unknown, and Kotowski knew it. Sullivan quit to become a Springfield lobbyist in October of 2005, and the Republican committeemen got to pick the new senator. The appointee was Cheryl Axley, the Elk Grove Township committeeman, and her weighted vote, along with Mark Thompson’s Maine Township vote, gave her Sullivan’s job. Sounds familiar.
Kotowski maintained his relentless work ethic, Axley ran a desultory campaign, 2006 was a bad Republican year, and Kotowski won 29,293-27,859, getting 51.3 percent of the vote and winning by a margin of 1,434 votes. After winning, Kotowski kept to his daily precinct regimen, from 2007 to the present day. He was re-elected with 59.9 percent of the vote in 2008 and 57.3 percent in 2012.
The 28th District was carefully crafted by Madigan and Cullerton to re-elect Kotowski. The pre-2012 district encompassed northwest suburban Maine and Elk Grove townships, taking in all of Park Ridge, Elk Grove Village and Mount Prospect and the south half of Des Plaines and Rolling Meadows, extending from Interstate 90 in the east to Interstate 290 in the west. The post-2012 remap sliced off the north half of Park Ridge, added all of Des Plaines, cut out Rolling Meadows and Mount Prospect, and added Schaumburg and Streamwood south of Golf Road, plus 14 precincts in Roselle, Bloomingdale, Hanover Park and Bartlett, in DuPage County.
"Energizer Danny" took a hit for the party. He lost tens of thousands of constituents that he so assiduously cultivated, so he re-programmed and spent the last 4 years west of Interstate 290. He would have been unbeatable in 2016.
The Republican nomination in the 28th District has morphed into a valuable commodity, but the field is still fluid. Possibilities include Mel Thillens, of the armored car firm, who got 46 percent of the vote against Moylan in 2014 and who is on the Park Ridge Park District Board, businessman and 2012 loser Jim O’Donnell, who got 42.7 percent of the vote against Kotowski, and Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski. Park Ridge traditionally has "owned" the senate seat.
Kotowski and O’Donnell spent a combined $2.5 million in 2011 and 2012. Kotowski had $78,986 on hand as of June 30, which can be used for a future campaign.
"Rauner doesn’t care" is the human services’ lobby refrain. "Energizer Danny" is their champion. Kotowski will be a ubiquitous presence throughout Illinois for the next 3 years.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.