September 3, 2003


For all politicians, the next campaign begins the day after the last campaign. So it is not surprising that a prime topic of conversation and speculation among legislators and politicians in Springfield during the 2003 session was who would run for Illinois treasurer in faraway 2006.

According to Springfield sources, it is a foregone conclusion that state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, the only Republican in statewide office, will run for governor in 2006. It's also deemed certain that all the state Democratic incumbents -- Governor Rod Blagojevich, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Comptroller Dan Hynes (unless he is elected U.S. Senator in 2004) -- will seek re-election.

That makes the presumably open treasurer's post the only game in town for a horde of ambitious Democratic legislators, as well as for 2002 loser Tom Dart. But, quite surprisingly, that field will not include state Representative Lou Lang (D-16) of Skokie. Lang, age 53, a 16-year veteran of the Illinois House, is the chairman of the House Gaming Committee and is a vigorous advocate of gambling expansion and of the issuance of new riverboat licenses. That's hardly the kind of issue that rockets one to statewide prominence or captures the public's imagination. It does, however, capture the gaming industry's attention. And, if one seeks statewide office, the gaming industry could reciprocate with hefty donations.

But Lang, who toyed with running for comptroller or treasurer in 1998 and who announced for governor in 1999 and spent 2 years crisscrossing the state -- but then dropped out due to fund-raising difficulties -- has undergone a reality check and has ordered his priorities. "I wanted to be governor," Lang said. "I raised $2 million. If I had raised $20 million, I would be governor."

"I have no current interest in being treasurer or comptroller, and I have no plans to run statewide in 2006," Lang added, although he acknowledged that he has an "extensive network" of contacts around the state and that "a lot of county (Democratic) chairmen would support me if I ran again" for statewide office.

At present, every state office holder is from Cook County, and every Democrat is from Chicago. Thus, according to Springfield sources, Blagojevich prefers a Downstate Democrat for treasurer in 2006, and there's already a big field, including state Representative Jay Hoffman (D-112) of Collinsville, Blagojevich's former Springfield roommate and close advisor; Julie Curry, Blagojevich's deputy chief-of-staff and a former state representative from the Granite City area; and Larry Woolard, the assistant director for economic development for southern Illinois and a former state senator from Far Downstate Carterville.

Also in the mix is Tom Dart, a former state representative from Chicago's Far Southwest Side, who ran against Topinka in 2002, getting 43.3 percent of the vote and losing by margin of 396,965 votes in a year when every other statewide Democrat was winning. Dart, also a former Blagojevich roommate when they served in the House, expected a choice state job such as director of the State Police or head of the department of law enforcement after his defeat, but none materialized. Dart then got a post with the Cook County sheriff.

The attitude among Democratic legislators, and reportedly among Blaogjevich and his advisors, is that one bad race doesn't merit another and that Dart is not a statewide factor in 2006. Expect Dart to run for Cook County sheriff in 2006 if incumbent Mike Sheahan runs for County Board president.

The early outlook: Expect Blagojevich to back Hoffman for the treasurer's post in 2006, and expect the governor to appoint Curry to the comptroller's vacancy should Hynes be elected senator.

"I'm very happy in my current job, and I will run for re-election in 2004," said Lang, who is one of the six assistant House majority leaders. As to whether Lang could rise to the House speakership, that possibility is contingent upon the retirement of 19-year Speaker Mike Madigan, age 61, and a decision by House majority leader Barbara Flynn Currie, age 63, not to attempt to succeed him. According to Springfield sources, when Madigan quits, if it is in this decade, Currie is a cinch to succeed him, becoming Illinois' first female speaker. If Madigan hangs on for another 10 years, Currie may by then have retired, and Madigan's succession would be wide open.

As of now, Lang is preparing for a primary contest in 2004 -- which is unusual. Lang was appointed in 1987 to replace Alan Greiman, who resigned to become a county judge. Lang faced attorney Ira Silverstein in the 1988 Democratic primary, and he triumphed by just 267 votes. Silverstein came back to win the 8th District state Senate seat (which now encompasses the House districts of Lang and Democrat Ralph Capparelli) in the 1998 primary over 39th Ward Committeeman Randy Barnette, and Silverstein was renominated without opposition in the 2002 primary.

Lang was unopposed in the seven primaries from 1990 to 2002, but that will change in 2004, when he is likely to be opposed by attorney Michael Moses, who resides in the 50th Ward. Lang's district includes Skokie south of Main Street, all of Lincolnwood most of the West Rogers Park 50th Ward, east to Ridge, between Howard and Granville. Silverstein and Moses both live in the 50th Ward, where the primary vote accounts for roughly 40 percent of the 16th District.

Lang said he expects the support of Silverstein and Alderman Berny Stone (50th), the ward's Democratic committeeman, in 2004. Moses ran against Stone in 1987 for alderman, getting 31 percent of the vote; he also ran for state representative in 1988 and lost the Republican primary.

Lang discounts rumors of an ideological and geographic rift among North Shore Democrats. It will be recalled that Lang, who is closely allied with Niles Township Democratic Committeeman Cal Sutker, backed Barnette over Silverstein for senator in the 1998 primary (as did Sutker), and that Lang and Sutker backed state Senator Howie Carroll for the open 9th U.S. House District seat that year. Carroll lost that race to state Representative Jan Schakowsky of Evanston. That amounted to two embarrassing losses, especially since Carroll, who was then the 50th Ward Democatic committeeman, won Niles Township by an anemic 4,254-4,182 margin. Conversely, in Evanston, Schakowsky's base, she swamped Carroll by 7,660-954.

And the embarrassment got even more embarrassing in 2002, when Evanston attorney Larry Suffredin, with the backing of Schakowsky and other Evanston and Chicago politicians, challenged the venerable Sutker for his post as Cook County commissioner, a job he had held since 1994. Lang was Sutker's campaign manager, but the 79-year-old incumbent had a traumatic year: He was unopposed for re-election as committeeman, a job he has held since 1974, getting 10,477 votes, but he was upset by Suffredin for commissioner, losing 20,994-16,657. Sutker won Niles Township 7,410-4,852 but lost Evanston 2,542-7,724.

 Is the Sutker-Lang base in Niles Township eroding? Lang doesn't think so. Sutker's ally, George Van Dusen, is Skokie's mayor. "There is no opposition," said Lang. And, according to Lang, there are no developing dynamics in the presidential race. In other words, what if the Schakowsky-Suffredin wing opted for Howard Dean and the Sutker-Lang group backed Dick Gephardt or John Kerry? That would set up another great fight in 2004. "No (presidential campaign) has contacted us yet, and I think Jan is a great congresswoman and I support her enthusiastically," Lang said. Lang does not foresee an Evanston-Skokie presidential proxy war next March.

The early outlook: Unless the Schakowsky-Suffredin faction publicly backs Moses and works especially hard in the 50th Ward, Lang will win renomination easily. That won't happen unless they latch on to the Dean campaign. And even then, Lang looks unbeatable in 2004. As for 2006, take Lang at his word. He wanted to be governor, and that door is closed. And, without the governor's backing, he won't win for treasurer. So Lang will stay put for a long while.

On another local political matter: Mike Lappe, the 16th District police neighborhood relations officer, has decided not to run for 45th Ward alderman in 2007. Lappe filed in 2003, but his nomination petitions were challenged by attorneys hired by Alderman Pat Levar, and Lappe withdrew before the election. By 2007, Lappe will be close to police retirement age, and he has decided that he doesn't want to face an arduous 2007 campaign against Levar, or embark on an aldermanic career.