Republican incumbent Judy Baar Topinka edged out her challenger Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon Tuesday in the race for state comptroller, according to preliminary returns.
Topinka had garnered 50 percent of votes cast versus 45 percent for Simon, with 98 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.
It was a tense night for both candidates as they watched the lead swing back and forth.
“Now the numbers are turning the right way,” said Brad Hahn, Topinka’s spokesman, late Tuesday.
He said Topinka had done better than expected in Chicago. “We’re running 26 percent in Chicago, which is incredibly strong for a Republican.”
What’s more, Hahn said late Tuesday night more votes remained to be counted in Republican strongholds like DuPage County than in Democratic areas like Chicago. “So it looks like were in good shape.”
Simon conceded to Topinka late Tuesday night, congratulating her on a “race well run.”
In her victory speech, Topinka thanked her family, her campaign staff and the staffers in the comptroller’ office, which she called “the best darn office in the state of Illinois.”Topinka called her opponent a “great gal” and said Simon was “very, very gracious” when she called her to concede.
During her speech, Topinka reviewed her accomplishments, adding there is more work to do to make government “more efficient, more transparent, more accountable, easier for the public to deal with…”
“Ultimately, a fiscally conservative government is good government and that’s what we provide,” she said.
Elsewhere on the statewide ticket, Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White and Attorney General Lisa Madigan appeared to be on their way to easy victories over token Republican opposition. A month before the the election, Topinka, 70, of west suburban Riverside, was outpolling Simon by 18 points, but Simon had outspent Topinka by more than 3-to-1 since the primary, and the extra money spent may have been a factor in narrowing the gap.
Simon and Topinka both agreed that the comptroller’s office, which pays the state’s bills, should be abolished and folded into the state treasurer’s office.
But Simon had challenged Topinka for a lack of transparency on how at times she paid some businesses owed money by the state ahead of others.
Topinka responded that she uses “common sense” in the payments process to help keep essential institutions — such as hospitals and nursing homes — open, but that many situations are unique.
Simon also bashed Topinka on ethics for asking Gov. Quinn to help her son find a job and for allowing two staffers to collect large paychecks from a foundation formerly headed by Topinka while also working full time in the comptroller’s office.
Topinka has said her staffers do a good job and that she has not been active with the foundation for four years. She said her son is is a retired military veteran, whom she hoped the governor could connect to a job because of the governor’s close involvement with veterans.
Simon, 53, of downstate Carbondale, is the lieutenant governor of Illinois and is a former Southern Illinois University law professor and the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. She announced last year that she would not run again for lieutenant governor amid speculation that she would run for attorney general. But after Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided to run again, Simon set her sights on the comptroller’s office.
Topinka has spent time in the state House and Senate, served three terms as treasurer and made an unsuccessful bid for governor. Since winning the comptroller’s office in 2010, she says the state’s bill payment backlog has decreased significantly.
Contributing: Rummana Hussain