Race for lieutenant gov takes wacky, pricey turn
W. Side lawmakers revive old dispute amid record spending
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.
Lieutenant governor hopefuls Rickey Hendon (left) and Arthur Turner also are locked in battle over a decades-old rent dispute.