On Sunday morning – almost three years after Judy Baar Topinka lost the governor’s race, by a wide margin, to Rod Blagojevich – the Riverside resident and former three-term Illinois treasurer officially announced that she’s back in state politics.
From a microphone in an upstairs meeting room of a popular West Loop restaurant, Topinka announced to a crowd of well-wishers that she’s seeking the Republican nomination for Illinois comptroller. It’s a decision the former Landmark columnist unofficially shared with us two months ago.
“I just can’t sit back and watch this go on anymore,” Topinka said shortly before noon Sunday among 75 supporters huddled in a second-floor room at Ina’s restaurant in Chicago. “It’s time for us to fight back and that’s why I’m going to run. I’m kind of in an I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore mode.”
Known as a regular at estate sales and resale shops, Topinka says she’s the best choice for state’s chief bill payer. “I’m cheap,” the always blunt and feisty Topinka told the crowd. “Thrift is in my DNA. I’m going to shut the purse strings really tight.”
The last Republican to hold statewide office, Topinka was Illinois treasurer from 1995 to 2007. Before her three terms as treasurer, she represented Riverside and other western suburbs in the state legislature from 1982 until 1995.
She lost the 2006 race for governor to Blagojevich, whose slick, well-funded campaign portrayed her as slightly wacky, out of touch, and closely connected to former Gov. George Ryan, who was convicted on corruption charges. Every Blagojevich TV ad against Topinka closed with “What’s she thinking?”
Though a bumper sticker on the rear window of her silver Honda Element reads “Don’t blame me, I voted for Judy,” Topinka speaks diplomatically of her loss and of the impeached Blagojevich.
“I take no satisfaction in having been right because it meant that so many in the state have been wronged,” she said Sunday. Blagojevich, who was arrested in December on charges that he attempted to sell Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, awaits a federal trial on corruption charges.
Topinka, 65, has been out of the public eye since her 2006 defeat, but has remained active. She sits on the board of the Regional Transportation Authority and is chairwoman of the RTA’s planning committee. Tuesday afternoons, she has a one-hour weekly radio show on WJJG-AM.
With former colleagues from the state treasurer’s office, she also started a company called Smart Money Housing, which provides credit counseling for those with poor credit.
For the GOP nomination in the comptroller’s race, Topinka will be running against Orland Park village trustee James Dodge and cable TV sports host William Kelly in the Feb. 2 primary. The comptroller’s seat is being vacated by Democrat Dan Hynes, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, challenging Pat Quinn. Quinn became governor in January after Blagojevich was impeached.
Topinka pins her political comeback to being fed up with corruption and wasteful spending in state government. “I will serve as your fiscal watchdog,” she nodded to the crowd carrying “We need Judy” signs.
Eileen Wild of North Riverside serves on the board of the Riverside Township Republican organization that Topinka runs. She was there for the official announcement Sunday morning, and she wasn’t surprised that Topinka decided to run for office again.
“It’s in the blood,” Wild said. “She likes every aspect of it.”
Landmark Editor Bob Uphues contributed to this report.