Wednesday, December 10, 2014

EXTRA: No more jokes on Judy

I woke up Wednesday to a slew of e-mail messages consisting of the various statements sent to me by assorted government officials, all eager to see who could be the first to eulogize Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

She was 70 and suffered a stroke Tuesday. After being taken to a suburban Berwyn hospital, she was pronounced dead early Wednesday.

THERE ARE THE endless reminisces about her ability to work in a bipartisan political manner, which is a rare commodity these days amongst elected officials.

There also are the “crazy aunt” Judy type stories being shared about her outgoing personality with a quirky sense of behavior.

Personally, I can recall her walking around the state Capitol building in Springfield wearing slippers designed to look like the feet of a gorilla. Topinka justified them by saying they were comfortable.

I also recall the 1995 inaugural ceremonies when she was first sworn in as state Treasurer when she shared a campaign anecdote that basically was a fart joke – which left many of the Republican-types eager to celebrate their overwhelming victory in that electoral cycle completely stunned.

WHEN IT COMES to bipartisanship, I recall a Republican campaign event where she offended some of her GOP colleagues because she invited then-Cook County Board President John Stroger – who showed up!

But I also recall this was a woman who back in 1996 seriously believed her GOP colleagues should nominate Phil Gramm to be president – and she was one of the few Illinois Republicans with enough of an independent streak not to “follow the leader” and think that Bob Dole was the key to defeating Bill Clinton in that election cycle.

Personally, I recall when I got laid off from my then-job at the Statehouse with United Press International in 1999. Topinka was the one public official who came to see me and offer condolences, including a kiss on the cheek. Most political people would have given me a "smack" with their fists.

A day later, her aides told me a job was open on her staff, if I was interested.

I WOUND UP not taking it, and in fact came back to Chicago in coming months. But it was nice to know that the offer was there and that somebody had noticed me in a favorable way.

There also was the fact that Topinka in the 1990s got hit with a so-called scandal when she tried to resolve a debt owed to the state by a company that built a luxury (by Springfield standards) hotel.

The company owed some $40 million and was likely to default. Topinka was willing to write off the debt in exchange for a $10 million payment – which turned out to be better than the miniscule amount of repayment the state ultimately got.

Topinka wound up getting dinged with repeated jokes about her love of luxury and hotels – which was about as far removed as possible from the reality of a woman who often shopped at consignment stores.

I EVEN REMEMBER once being on the brunt of a Topinka diatribe who was convinced I was going to find another excuse to write about that long-ago issue.

But if there’s one plus to the fact that Topinka’s spirit is no longer with us, it is this – she won’t have to endure any more stupid hotel jokes at her expense.

Rest in Peace, Madam Comptroller (and Treasurer). And condolences to son Joseph, daughter-in-law Christina and grand-daughter Alexandra.


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