Republican state rep says Democrat Madigan has ‘personal’ interest in beating him
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Springfield bureau chief firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2012 7:26PM
Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano speaks to his voters at a political rally at Alta Villa, banquet hall, Addison, October 24, 2012. | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times
Updated: November 29, 2012 6:42AM
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-than-certain 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 decade-long 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 McPier’s CEO at the time, Juan Ochoa.
Before 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 name-calling toward her, though he said the speaker 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 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.
Saviano, meanwhile, has attempted to counteract the speaker’s influence with cash, organizational support or endorsements from across the political spectrum, most notably from traditional Democratic-supporting labor unions like the Illinois AFL-CIO, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers and AFSCME Council 31.
Saviano also trotted out former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar, who campaigned with him last week and praised Saviano as a pragmatic lawmaker.
“I’ve known Skip for years. The thing I like about him, when it comes time and you need to compromise and make the tough deals, he’ll do it. He can work with Democrats. He can work with Republicans,” Edgar said. “I just think that’s a very important trait that’s missing a lot in the General Assembly. That’s how you solve problems.”