Tom Kacich: Frerichs could make history

Tom Kacich: Frerichs could make history

Not to get too far ahead of things, but state Sen. Mike Frerichs' likely candidacy for state treasurer raises a couple of potentially historic possibilities.

Frerichs, of Champaign, so far is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for treasurer. Although even he hasn't officially announced for the office, no other Democrat is as far along in a campaign as Frerichs, who has been raising money, giving speeches around the state and spent last week marching in parades in Riverside, Evergreen Park, Evanston and Oak Park. Each of those communities is at least 100 miles from Frerichs' district in East Central Illinois.

If there are any other candidates for state treasurer, they're lying low while Frerichs builds his campaign treasury to some point well north of $500,000.

Frerichs would be the first candidate for statewide office from Champaign County since Republican James Skelton ran (and lost) for state treasurer in 1978 against Democrat Jerry Cosentino.

If elected, Frerichs would be the first Democrat from Champaign County — covering some 180 years of county history — to win any statewide office (except for the University of Illinois Board of trustees).

He also would be one of only a handful of any county residents to win statewide office. There has never been a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state or treasurer from Champaign County.

When Illinois has auditors of public accounts (from 1818 to 1973), two Champaign County men, Republicans James McCullough and Lloyd Morey, served in the position. Vernon Nickell, also a Republican from Champaign County, was the elected superintendent of public instruction from 1943 to 1959. And there has been one U.S. senator from Champaign County, Republican William McKinley, from 1921 to 1927.

"I have seen lots of parts of the state that I would not otherwise have seen. Riverside, what a cute little town," Frerichs said of the hometown of State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a former state treasurer. "I saw Judy in the parade. She called me Mister Treasurer. I said, 'Oh, I have a ways to go.' But she said, 'No, no one's working as hard as you are. I see you everywhere. You're going to win this thing.'

"She said this face to face, in front of a lot of her staffers. She said, 'We're going to work together.' I just said, 'Judy, I'd be happy to.'"

Other events could still derail Frerichs' plans, such as a decision by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to not run for governor. If that were to happen, Democrats who had intended to run for a vacant attorney general's position might shift their attention to state treasurer.

"I think there are people who are taking and wait and see approach, to see who else might get in and what happens with Lisa and what happens with other offices," said Frerichs. "Sheila (Simon, the current lieutenant governor) has announced that she is going to run for something statewide. She just doesn't know what. In my case I'm pretty set on the office. I'm just making sure that everything is in line before making a final decision."

Frerichs said his decision whether to run isn't dependent on Madigan.

"There's one office I'm looking at and we're just doing our due diligence at this point," he said. "We haven't officially announced anything so it seems a little odd to march in parades and say, 'Hey, Mike Frerichs for insert office.' But it's still a good time."

On a related issue, Frerichs said no Champaign or Vermilion County Democrats have come to him seeking any kind of support or blessing to replace him in the Senate should he be elected treasurer (two years would remain on his term).

"No, because I think it's probably way too early, a little presumptuous, and were they to ask me I'd tell them the same thing, and that it would not be my position to give anyway," he said. "I don't get to name a successor. The county chairmen do that. And we don't know who will be making the appointment because there will be a party reorganization in both counties. It's possible Al Klein will be the chair in Champaign County again, but he still has to be re-elected between now and then.

Prussing campaign spending

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing spent about $7.18 for each of the 3,122 votes she got in two separate mayoral elections this spring, State Board of Elections records show.

Prussing, who closed her re-election campaign account last week, spent a total of $22,407 in the Democratic primary against Les Stratton and in the general election against Republican Rex Bradfield. She got about 65 percent of the vote against Stratton in February, and 62.5 percent against Bradfield in April, earning her a third term as mayor.

In 2009 Prussing spent $17,674 in a single, four-way race. That translated to $6.69 a vote.

This year Prussing's receipts included an $8,000 personal loan (of which she later repaid herself about $3,000); $2,000 from her husband John Prussing; $750 from Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 149; $500 each from Laborers Local 703, the East Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades and from the Southern Central Laborers Political League; $500 from the Stronger Illinois Committee, a Chicago-based, pro-union group; and $450 from Clem Balanoff, a former colleague in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Records show that Prussing spent most of her campaign funds on printing, postage, and television and radio advertising.

Bradfield has not yet filed a report documenting his campaign spending.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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