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Judy Baar Topinka dies early Wednesday after stroke

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has died, less than 24 hours after having a stroke.

A statement from her office says the 70-year-old Topinka died early Wednesday morning following complications from the stroke.

Spokesman Brad Hahn told The Associated Press that Topinka reported discomfort Tuesday morning and was admitted to a hospital in Berwyn, Illinois. After undergoing tests she appeared to be doing well overnight before suddenly losing consciousness Wednesday morning, Hahn said. She was pronounced dead shortly after 2 a.m.

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Topinka, a Republican, won a second term last month in a tough race with Democratic challenger Sheila Simon, the former lieutenant governor.

During the comptroller’s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a “skunk at a picnic” — a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.

Early Wednesday morning, Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement saying he’s “heartbroken.”

“Today is a sad day in the state of Illinois,” Quinn said. “I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka.

‪”Judy was a trailblazer in every sense of the word.” he said. “Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature. She left her mark on the state she has called home her entire life. Her leadership improved Illinois and paved the way for countless women in politics. “

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White called Topinka a “straight shooter who served Illinois with dignity.”

Like many, Sen. Dick Durbin said Topinka was “one of a kind.”

“In a political world of cocker spaniels she could be a bulldog taking a bite out of both Democrats and right-wing Republicans without missing a beat,” Durbin said in a statement. “She was a blue-collar, immigrants’ kid who lit up the room with her quick wit and boundless energy.”

Judy Baar Topinka speaks in 1998 at the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, the first national women’s rights convention. | Sun-Times file photo

Topinka had served as Illinois State Comptroller since 2011. Prior to that, she was state treasurer from 1994 to 2007. She was the first woman to hold the office.

Born in west suburban Riverside in 1944, Judy Baar Topinka graduated from Ferry Hall School, now known as Lake Forest Academy in 1962. Topinka entered Northwestern University and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Topinka began her political career when she was elected to the Illinois General Assembly to represent the western suburbs in 1980. In 1984, she was elected to the state senate, where she served for 10 years.

She launched a bid for Illinois’ governor’s seat in 2006, beating out Jim Oberweis and Bill Brady among others for the Republican Party nomination. She ultimately lost to Rod Blagojevich in the general election.

When she ran for governor, she told the AP that Illinois is “a miraculously wonderful place to live.”

But, she said, “I feel it’s being hurt and abused.”

“If I don’t stop it, I’d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don’t want to do that,” Topinka said. “So I’m running.”

President Bush campaigns with Judy Baar Topinka in Chicago in July 2006. | AP Photo

The Associated Press contributed to this report.