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Hard-fought, big-bucks legislative race seems to favor Republican Brad Stephens, in a blow to Democratic rival — and Madigan

Republican Bradley Stephens faced Michelle Darbro in one of the priciest Illinois House races this election cycle — where Speaker Michael J. Madigan loomed large. But with most votes counted, Stephens reported a big lead.

Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens, left; Democratic challenger in Michelle Darbro, right.
Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens was facing a well-financed Democratic challenger in Michelle Darbro, who raised roughly $2.5 million with the help of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
Sun-Times

Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens has had a tough year.

COVID-19 has been pummeling his northwest suburb’s entertainment- and restaurant-based economy.

And he was compelled to put nephew Donald E. Stephens III on leave from his job overseeing the town’s police and fire department for reasons neither will publicly discuss.

But his prospects started looking up as he ran in Tuesday’s general election to keep his second public-sector job — as a Republican state legislator representing an Illinois House district that includes parts of the northwest suburbs and the Northwest Side.

Facing a well-financed Democratic opponent, Michelle Darbro, Stephens claimed nearly 59% of the vote with more than 97% of precincts reporting, according to unofficial tallies that might not include all mail-in ballots.

While Darbro’s camp wasn’t ready to concede late Tuesday, Stephens’ campaign portrayed the lead as insurmountable.

A firefighter-paramedic, Darbro is a political newcomer, but she had powerful backing in this race — from Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who’s also head of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Stephens — appointed to his Illinois House seat last year, and Rosemont mayor since his father, Mayor Donald E. Stephens Sr., died in 2007 — tried to taint Darbro with her ties to Madigan. He, after all, was implicated though not charged in a corruption case earlier this year involving the electric utility ComEd.

And Madigan worked hard to add to his Democratic majority in his legislative chamber by painting Stephens as an overpaid hack who hits up village contractors for campaign donations and keeps multiple family members on the municipal payroll.

Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who also heads the Illinois Democratic Party.
Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who also heads the Illinois Democratic Party.
AP

Three funds controlled by Madigan donated more than $900,000 to Darbro, with Madigan allies contributing much more. Overall, she raised roughly $2.5 million, a staggering amount for a state legislative contest.

Campaign committees benefitting Stephens — whose family has controlled Rosemont, virtually unchallenged, since its founding in the 1950s — raised more than $2 million since early last year.

Madigan loomed large over other still-undecided House races.

The 41st House District, which includes parts of Naperville and Warrenville, is represented by Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville resident who faced a challenge from Democrat Janet Yang Rohr. She also lives in the far west suburb, and her race was financed in part by $1 million from Madigan-controlled campaign funds.

Wehrli was among three Republicans to join a special legislative committee this year, digging into allegations by federal prosecutors that ComEd had hired Madigan’s associates in order to curry favor with the powerful legislative leader.

Rohr, who works for the investment data and research firm Morningstar, also serves on the Naperville Community Unit School District 203 board.

With about a third of the precincts reporting, Rohr had about 53% of the votes, according to unofficial results.

The 47th House District includes parts of Westmont, Hinsdale, Oak Brook and Elmhurst, home of the incumbent, Republican state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, also a member of the panel investigating Madigan. Her Democratic opponent is Jennifer Zordani of Clarendon Hills, who saw more than $700,000 pumped into her campaign by the Democratic speaker.

With about 17% of precincts reporting, Mazzochi had about 51% of the vote.