Chicago Sun-Times


- BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfiel­d bureau chief

SPRINGFIEL­D — What happens when a legislativ­e race becomes “personal” to House Speaker Michael Madigan?

Longtime state Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano (R-Elmwood Park) is about to find out.

Saviano’s less-thancertai­n re-election effort is among a group of hotly fought down-ballot Statehouse campaigns in Chicago and the suburbs that figure to determine whether Democrats tighten their decadelong strangleho­ld on power at the state Capitol.

The 10-term incumbent, who has been a key fund-raiser and political strategist for House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), faces Addison school board member Kathleen Willis, a Republican-turned-Democrat who has run a near-invisible campaign funded mostly by Madigan’s largesse.

Saviano once enjoyed a warm relationsh­ip with Madigan, who anointed him a committee chairman for a dozen years. That rare act of bipartisan­ship was more a reflection of Madigan’s respect for Saviano’s late political mentor, Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens, than an act of generosity toward Saviano himself.

Saviano took on the Madigan brand by openly criticizin­g the speaker last November for blocking money-saving McCormick Place refinancin­g efforts Saviano sponsored for three legislativ­e sessions running simply because Madigan was in a row with M c P i e r ’ s CEO at the time, Juan Ochoa.

B e f o r e that — and more significan­tly — Saviano went after the speaker’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, after she torpedoed the proposed Emerald Casino in Rosemont in 2004 and publicly suggested Stephens had ties to organized crime.

“When the whole casino thing came through, she got on TV and called him a ‘mafia boss.’ That didn’t sit too well with me,” Saviano told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Despite policy difference­s, Saviano insisted he never crossed any lines by engaging in any n a m e - c a l l - ing toward her, though he said the s p e a k e r has fueled a “whispering campaign” built on the misguided belief Saviano slurred the attorney general.

“He keeps telling everybody this is ‘personal,’ which is interestin­g because he never said anything to me,” Saviano said of the speaker.

“Maybe if he’d talk to me, I’d find out what the real reason is. But he hides behind a curtain, throws money at a candidate and makes up reasons for why he’s coming after me. Even his own allies say its ridiculous,” Saviano said. “He wants the seat. At the end of the day, he has his top guys out, and he wants the seat.”

Willis did not return numerous phone messages left by the Sun-Times at her home and at her campaign office, but a spokesman for the speaker dismissed Saviano’s allegation­s as paranoid rants.

“Skip will dream up everything he can dream of. His back is up against the wall,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. “It’s a district that would be better represente­d by a Democrat. Ms. Willis is a great candidate. There’s nothing personal.

“Everybody’s been around this too long to elect people based on personal issues. If that’s his paranoia seeping through,” Brown said, referring to Saviano, “it is what it is.”

Madigan redrew Saviano’s

Most expensive House race in Illinois. | Page 22 district to include significan­t amounts of new Democratic turf and has dispatched emissaries to go after some of Saviano’s long-time supporters, including Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico, who withdrew his backing of Saviano and swung to Willis’ side. Serpico did not return a message Friday left at his village office.

Willis, whom Saviano has derided in a cable television commercial as an “obedient Madigan duckling,” has received nearly $380,000 since July 1 from the Democratic Majority and Democratic Party of Illinois campaign funds, which the speaker controls.

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