Race for lieu­tenant gov takes wacky, pricey turn

W. Side law­mak­ers re­vive old dis­pute amid record spending

Chicago Sun-Times - - Workwacker News - BY STEVE CONTORNO

SPRING­FIELD — Few dis­pute that Illi­nois’ lieu­tenant gov­er­nor is a back­wa­ter po­lit­i­cal of­fice, so can it be any sur­prise that two of the dozen candidates vy­ing for the va­cant post have spent time bick­er­ing over an al­leged evic­tion more than three decades ago?

State Sen. Rickey Hen­don once rented an apart­ment from state Rep. Art Turner, and nei­ther lieu­tenant gov­er­nor can­di­date dis­putes that. But the two West Side Democrats don’t agree on why Hen­don left.

“He has the unique dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the sec­ond per­son I’ve ever evicted,” Turner said.

“It’s just sim­ply not true,” Hen­don said. “I lived in one of Art’s build­ings [in North Lawn­dale]. I moved from there to an apart­ment on Lake Shore Drive. Clearly, I can af­ford rent.

“I didn’t even stay there two months — rats and roaches, that kind of thing.”

The decades-old dis­pute adds a bizarre el­e­ment to a lieu­tenant gov­er­nor race that is al­ready strange. The open of­fice has at­tracted six Democrats and six Repub­li­cans and has seen a record amount of money raised and spent.

This for a po­si­tion that was va­cated by Repub­li­can Dave O’Neal in 1981 be­cause he found the job too bor­ing.

“It’s a very un­usual sit­u­a­tion,” said Kent Redfield, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois-Spring­field, who con­firmed the race is the most ex­pen­sive in the of­fice’s his­tory. “If we hadn’t had the im­peach­ment [of Rod Blago­je­vich], it would be a lower pro­file sort of thing.”

The oust­ing of Blago­je­vich and as­cen­sion of Gov. Quinn from the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor’s of­fice left the job up for grabs and gave a blue­print for those with higher po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions. The re­sult has been a crowded field that is ex­ceed­ing cam­paign fund-rais­ing norms.

Since 1994, the av­er­age amount raised by a can­di­date in a lieu­tenant gov­er­nor pri­mary elec­tion was about $200,000, state cam­paign records show.

Dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2009 alone, the av­er­age amount raised among the dozen candidates stood at more than $250,000. Fac­tor in the $2.2 mil­lion in con­tri­bu­tions re­ported since Jan. 1, and the av­er­age raised climbs closer to $440,000.

The poster chil­dren for un­usu­ally high spending are the three pri­mar­ily self-funded candidates: Demo­crat Scott Lee Co­hen, a Chicago pawn shop owner and busi­ness­man, and Repub­li­cans Ja­son Plum­mer, a lum­ber com­pany ex­ec­u­tive, and Don Tracy, a Spring­field at­tor­ney.

Co­hen, who has lent $2 mil­lion of his own money to his cam­paign, said it has been costly try­ing to build name recog­ni­tion.

“It’s very hard when you’re not part of that ma­chine to get your mes­sage out without spending money,” Co­hen said.

In­de­pen­dently wealthy out­siders aren’t the only ones rais­ing eye­brows. Sen. Matt Mur­phy (R-Pala­tine) took in $555,483 in the lat­est re­port­ing pe­riod, largely thanks to his un­of­fi­cial run­ning mate, Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor Andy McKenna. Since July 1, 2009, McKenna’s cam­paign has do­nated more than $500,000 to Mur­phy.

Other Repub­li­cans in the race in­clude Car­bon­dale Mayor Brad Cole, Or­land Park school board pres­i­dent Den­nis Cook and Randy White, chair­man of the Down­state Han­cock County Board.

Rep. Mike Boland (D-East Mo­line), elec­tri­cal worker Thomas Castillo and Sen. Terry Link (DWaukegan) round out the Demo­crat bal­lot.

But the feud be­tween Turner and Hen­don, who are not among this cam­paign’s big­gest spenders, gives the race for this tra­di­tion­ally ho-hum of­fice an en­ter­tain­ing sto­ry­line.

Constructi­on will be­gin this spring to re­build the north-south stretch of Wacker Drive in down­town Chicago.

The three-year, $366 mil­lion project en­tails re­build­ing both the up­per and lower lev­els of Wacker Drive from Ran­dolph Street to Congress Park­way. The work will in­clude re­con­fig­ur­ing the Wacker Drive/Congress in­ter­change to make merg­ing eas­ier and add green space.

The re­con­struc­tion will in­clude new me­di­ans, im­proved lighting, re­plac­ing en­trance and exit ramps, and separat­ing the ser­vice drive from through lanes on lower Wacker. North-South Wacker Drive was built in the 1950s and car­ries about 60,000 ve­hi­cles on an av­er­age day, as well as thou­sands of pedes­tri­ans go­ing to and from the train sta­tions.

Constructi­on could start as early as April. The east-west por­tion of Wacker Drive was re­built in 2001 and 2002 for $200 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Brian Steele, spokes- man for the Chicago Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. To min­i­mize traf­fic has­sles, the project was done in phases. The north-south project will take the same ap­proach, Steele said.

An­nounc­ing the Wacker Drive project Wed­nes­day, Gov. Quinn said it will cre­ate more than 4,000 jobs.

AP PHO­TOS

Lieu­tenant gov­er­nor hope­fuls Rickey Hen­don (left) and Arthur Turner also are locked in bat­tle over a decades-old rent dis­pute.

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