Saturday, January 15, 2005

Updated January 15, 2005 at 8:00 pm, revised on January 16 at 11:15 pm.
Andy McKenna, Jr. was elected this afternoon in Springfield, IL, with eighty-six percent of the weighted State Central Committee vote to be the new State GOP chairman, effective February 1, 2005. Jim Nalepa, who won the hearts and minds of many in the audience during the one hour or so public portion of the Republican State Central Committee meeting, came in second with fourteen percent of the Committee’s weighted vote.
Amid allegations of a backroom deal involving Andy McKenna and the Illinois Republican Party Finance Committee, some of which were the subject of questioning by State Central Committee (“SCC”) members of Andy in the course of their two hour executive session meeting prior to their vote, Andy McKenna received eighty six percent of the SCC’s weighted vote on the first ballot to become the State GOP chairman-elect.

In a surprise move, Steve McGlynn, withdrew during the executive session as a candidate, leaving only Andy McKenna, Jim Nalepa, John Cox and Jim Oberweis in the race for State GOP chairman. McGlynn withdrew because, although he was confident of significant support on the SCC, it was insufficient to win and it might have involved putting his supporters through some difficult political issues. Saying he did not want to put his supporters in those situations if he could not win, he withdrew, in what some of his colleagues described as a “class act.”

Nalepa’s fourteen percent of the SCC vote reflected the support of SCC members Maureen Murphy ((1st CD), Steve Meyer (7th CD), Steve McGlynn (12th CD) and Ron Smith (Hyde, 6th CD). Even if Bob Winchester (Shimkus, 19th CD) and Regan Ramsey (17th CD), who were thought to be in McGlynn’s camp prior to his withdrawal, had given their support to Nalepa, instead of Mckenna, Nalepa would have been way short of winning, achieving a total of about 25%. It was said that Dennis Wiggins (Hastert, 14th CD) would have supported McGlynn with his 8% [and perhaps Nalepa after McGlynn withdrew], but neither he nor his deputy could attend the SCC meeting and it is unclear whether he was able to vote by phone. Nevertheless, Nalepa, even assuming all of the above breaks could somehow go his way, needed two more big hitters to step up to make this race competitive and that never happened.

There was a second “feel good,” ballot to make it unanimous and Andy got the support of the entire SCC on that one. The party activists who showed up with dreams of Jim Nalepa, Steve McGlynn, Jim Oberweis or John Cox somehow upsetting McKenna [viewed by many as the non-reformer in the crowd] were disappointed with the outcome, although many did not know the numerical vote totals on the first ballot, as they were not disclosed by the SCC.

However, the Republican Party activists present were stirred by what was described as an extremely exciting speech by Jim Nalepa, who started by reminding the leadership that “this is a Republican meeting and it should start with the Pledge of Allegiance,” which he proceeded to lead the crowd to state.

Nalepa, it might be recalled, lost in a close race to former Congressman Bill Lipinski in the 3rd Cong. Dist. in ’94, when Riverside Township Committeeman and current State GOP Chair and State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka is said to have dual endorsed Republican Nalepa and his Democratic opponent, Bill Lipinski, apparently displaying what many describe as Topinka’s unique, agile deal making ability.

Andy’s speech to the SCC and the 500 or so party faithful in attendance was described as bland and made use of only three, or so, of his allotted five minutes. This was in contrast to Jim Nalepa, who apparently used every minute available to excite the crowd and connect with the SCC—so much so that many thought the speech alone might win it for Nalepa.

On the other hand, McGlynn, who [along with withdrawn state GOP Chairman candidate Gary Skoien] had been quite critical of Andy’s ability to speak on behalf of the Party to the press and his lack of political experience, before Andy was elected Chairman, said he saw Andy’s post election press conference and thought he handled it quite well.

When State GOP Chairman-Elect McKenna was asked at the press conference about how the Republican Party would be able to withstand the negative publicity from former Republican Governor George Ryan’s upcoming federal racketeering trial in March, Andy responded, “The people in the Ryan trial are not part of this party and we- this is a new way, a new day- a new day for us to move forward and we’re clear about what our priorities are and that’s what we are going to work on.” The activists in attendance found McKenna’s syntax and inspiration lacking but they were relieved to hear that Andy no longer considers George Ryan a member of the Republican Party.

Mr. McKenna has not returned our phone calls in the last month, so we are unable to say much about his plans as State GOP Chairman. However, John Dempsey of Fox News Chicago reported today that McKenna said his top priorities are fundraising, rebuilding the Illinois Republican Party at the grassroots level and, of course, trying to oust Governor Rod Blagojevich next year. Critics of Chairman-Elect Andy McKenna, Jr. were quick to note that Andy omitted any mention of using press conferences to highlight the corruption that is swirling around City of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, thought by many to be a, if not the, major leader of the Democratic Party in Illinois.
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