(Chicago) Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the straight talking, tell-it-like-it-is politician who spent more than three decades in Illinois politics, has died unexpectedly at the age of 70.
Topinka's office says the Comptroller died early Wednesday morning at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, after suffering complications of a stroke.
Just last month, Topinka was re-elected as Illinois Comptroller and was preparing to be sworn in for a second four year term in January.
Topinka was anything but a poll-tested, cautious politician. She won support from both Republicans and Democrats for her straightforward speaking style, her fiscal conservatism, and her socially moderate views, including support for gay rights.
She was known to shop at flea markets, and she was an ardent dog lover. Judy Baar Topinka was first elected to public office in 1980 when she won an Illinois House seat from the Berwyn area. She was elected to the State Senate in 1984 and became Illinois State Treasurer in 1994.
In 2006 she lost the race for Governor against Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who is now in prison after being convicted of corruption charges. In that campaign she warned voters that Blagojevich was already under federal investigation, but she could not match his fundraising prowess, or a barrage of negative advertising he unleashed, featuring Topinka polka- dancing with then-indicted ex-governor George Ryan.
After four years out of politics Topinka was elected State Comptroller in 2010.
Politicians of both parties are offering words of praise for Topinka. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Judy had a passion for serving the people of Illinois that equaled her passion for life. For more than three decades, she brought a relentless work ethic, a determination to attack our state’s fiscal challenges, and a sense of humor and smile that brightened the day of anyone in her path. As the first woman to serve as Illinois Treasurer, she will always have a special place in the history of our state.
Governor Pat Quinn said, "Today is a sad day in the state of Illinois. I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka. As the first female Treasurer of Illinois and a longtime public servant, Judy was a trailblazer in every sense of the word."
Governor-elect Bruce Rauner issued a statement saying, "Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. Comptroller Topinka’s magnetic, one-of-a-kind personality brought a smile to everyone she met, and she had a servant’s heart, always only caring about what was best for the people of our state. Judy was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply. We offer our heartfelt condolences and prayers to her family, including son Joseph, as well as her talented and loyal team in the Comptroller’s office.”
Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin said “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my good friend, Judy Baar Topinka. Judy was supportive of me from the time I ran for school board in the western suburbs in the early 1990’s to now as House Republican Leader. She was a mentor and a tireless campaigner for so many of us. Whenever she entered a room all attention shifted to her because she was larger than life, and could always make us laugh. When it came to governing, Judy was a straight shooter who called it like it was. You knew where she stood on any issue, and could always take her at her word. She loved public service and wanted only the best for Illinois. She will be greatly missed.”
And, Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said of Topinka, "The Illinois political scene lost its Polka Queen last night and I lost a friend. Judy Baar Topinka was one of a kind,” said Durbin. “In a political world of cocker spaniels she could be a bulldog taking a bite out of both Democrats and right-wing Republicans without missing a beat. She was a blue-collar, immigrants’ kid who lit up the room with her quick wit and boundless energy.”
John Dempsey, 89 WLS News