Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens, the current face of one Republican political dynasty, is taking steps to succeed another in a move that would instantly make him one of the most intriguing figures in Illinois politics.
Stephens says he’s giving serious consideration to filling the vacancy created by the recent resignation of state Rep. Michael McAuliffe, the only Chicago Republican in the Illinois House, and while it’s not a done deal yet, Stephens makes clear: “For the most part, I’m in.”
Should he win the appointment, Stephens says he would hold both offices at once, a rare double dip that is apparently allowed under Illinois law. Bridgeview Mayor Steven Landek, a Democrat, has doubled as a state senator since 2011.
But there is no other town in Illinois quite like Rosemont, the puny village of 4,000 people near O’Hare airport that punches like a heavyweight in the political world because of its unique role as a government-controlled economic engine fueled by its convention, entertainment and, more recently, retail offerings.
And that would translate into there being no state representative quite like Stephens, whose influence in Springfield would be magnified far beyond that of any typical first-term lawmaker.
I’m not saying that’s either good or bad, although on the surface it would seem to be good for Rosemont and possibly for Stephens himself.
Not that I quite understand why he would want to bite off the slog to Springfield to be one of 118 voices in a Democratic-controlled chamber controlled by House Speaker Mike Madigan. I doubt he’s motivated by the $69,000 legislative salary he’d be adding to the $260,000 that Rosemont already pays him.
“Everybody who calls says I don’t know if I should congratulate you or send you to a shrink,” Stephens allowed.
But Stephens, 56, says he’s not doing it for any of the aforementioned reasons, but rather to benefit the Republican Party because he believes he would have the best chance to keep the seat in GOP hands in the 2020 election and beyond.
“Not to sound corny, I think it’s probably the right thing to do,” said Stephens, who also cites aspirations of finding a solution to “the pension thing.”
If Stephens truly wants the job, and all indications are that he does, it would pretty much be a done deal.
The vacancy must be filled by a weighted vote of the Republican committeemen whose wards and townships comprise the legislative district. Between McAuliffe, the 41stWard committeeman, and Stephens, the Leyden Township committeeman, they control more than half the weighted vote.
Stephens indicated he expects to have McAuliffe’s support.
“I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I have a great relationship with McAuliffe. …I think we have a strong organization that has always worked with Michael and with his father before him,” Stephens said.
McAuliffe succeeded his father, Roger, a longtime state representative who died in 1996. Between them, the two Northwest Siders represented the district for 46 years.
Stephens’ father, Donald E. Stephens, founded the village in 1956 and ruled for 51 years, building it from nothing and surviving two federal indictments in the process, both of which ended in acquittals.
When Donald Stephens died 12 years ago, Brad Stephens took over, adding a successful fashion outlet mall and entertainment complex to Rosemont’s longtime mainstays, the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Allstate Arena and Rosemont Theater.
“We run it like a business,” Stephens said.
That they do. Some would say like a family business.
Family members populate the village payroll and receive government contracts to provide services at the venues.
Grateful village vendors helped Donald Stephens create a fundraising juggernaut that he long brought to bear on behalf of Republican officeholders.
Although Brad Stephens currently has less than $100,000 in the various political campaign funds he controls, there’s little doubt he could refill the coffers as necessary.
“We can raise money. We can put bodies on the street,” Stephens told me.
More important is Stephens’ unusually strong (for a Republican) relationship with labor unions.
“For the most part, Rosemont is pro-union,” Stephens said, ticking off a long list of unions with whom he is friendly.
It’s even possible Stephens’ labor support would convince Democrats to give him a pass in 2020 and draw a more favorable GOP district for him by 2022.
“I think I’m a practical thinker and somebody who can see both sides of an issue,” Stephens said.
For those who want to know where it all ends, I have news.
Stephens said his kindergarten son was recently asked by his teacher what he wants to be when he grows up.
“Mayor of Rosemont,” he said.