All in the family: Pols keep working to get relatives elected to office

If this sounds like an echo of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who used his influence in 2002 to help elect his daughter Lisa Madigan attorney general, that’s because it is.

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House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Westchester.

Seth Perlman/AP

Albert Einstein wasn’t the only person to believe in the theory of relativity.

Over the years, relatives of politicians and insiders keep turning up on the ballot for elected positions in Illinois. It’s not a practice that average people find confidence-inspiring.

Most recently, as Robert Herguth reported in the Sunday Sun-Times, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch is working to get his wife, ShawnTe Raines-Welch, elected a Cook County judge. He is going door-to-door to collect signatures from registered voters to place her on the June 28 Democratic primary ballot, sources said.

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If this sounds something like an echo of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who used his influence in 2002 to help elect his daughter Lisa Madigan Illinois attorney general, that’s because it is. Lisa Madigan went on to serve four terms.

Then there is lawyer Chloe Pedersen, also running for judge in the same judicial subcircuit. Pedersen is the niece of Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, whose husband is the former mayor of Maywood. Also running for judge in that subcircuit is Nicholas Kantas, whose lobbyist wife Maren Ronan is a daughter of heavily connected former state Rep. Al Ronan.

This is not to say that candidates helped into a public post by a relative who already holds office would not do a good job. And sure, people whose families are steeped in politics are likely to feel inclined to run for office themselves. It’s just that seeing names from the same families popping up all over the ballot leaves a sense that insiders are first in line for elected positions. And that other politicians might feel pressured to support them because of officeholders’ clout.

What happens to someone who has a court case with political implications if it come before Raines-Welch? The district in which Raines-Welch is running includes some south, west and northwest suburbs that partly fall within Welch’s legislative district.

Voters had hoped for a breath of fresh air after Madigan left Springfield. But what the public is seeing now looks more like what people are used to in this state — elected officials engineering ways to get their relatives elected.

Look around, and you’ll see a number of family members of elected officeholders who got elected as well, now sharing at least part of the same electorate. Among them: Melissa Conyers-Ervin was elected state representative and then city treasurer while her husband, Ald. Jason C. Ervin, was the sitting alderman of the 28th Ward.

John P. Daley got a job as Cook County Board commissioner in 1992 when his brother, Richard M. Daley, was mayor of Chicago. State Rep. Michael J. Zalewski was elected in 2008 while his father, Michael Zalewski, was a Chicago alderman. Luis Arroyo Jr. was elected to the Cook County Board in 2014 while his father, Luis Arroyo, was a state representative.

In 2004, former U.S. Rep. William Lipinski managed to get his son, Dan, appointed to replace him. Dan Lipiniski served eight terms in Congress. He lost to Marie Newman in the 2020 Democratic primary.

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In 2006, Todd Stroger replaced his father, John Stroger, then Cook County Board president, on the ballot. John Stroger’s serious illness was concealed from voters. Todd Stroger served one term, losing to Toni Preckwinkle.

In the true tradition of Cook County politics, the Stroger deal included moving Ald. William Beavers to Cook County Board commissioner and filling his aldermanic seat with his daughter, Darcel Beavers. In 2007, Darcel Beavers was replaced as alderperson by Sandi Jackson, for whom her then-husband U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. spent $200,000 on billboards, mailers, phone banks and professional staffers.

When a relative of an elected officeholder runs for office, it’s hard to know when favors are called in, when arm-twisting goes on in the background, when a tacit quid pro quo is invoked. No one should be surprised if it doesn’t sit well with voters.

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