Suburban offices can be steppingstones to something bigger
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SPRINGFIELD -- As hopefuls for local offices shake hands and try to sway voters in the waning days of their campaigns, the winners on April 9 could be setting themselves up as future candidates for higher office.
For those who aspire to have a seat in the Illinois Capitol one day, serving as a suburban mayor or holding another local position could raise their profiles for subsequent campaigns.
"You have built up a network of people in your community," said state Sen. Pamela Althoff, a McHenry Republican and former mayor of the city.
The suburbs have sent a number of former local leaders to Springfield. Besides Althoff, state Reps. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines and Ron Sandack of Downers Grove are former mayors of their towns, as is Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park. Former state Rep. Sidney Mathias followed being village president of Buffalo Grove with 20 years in Springfield.
Others were either county leaders or local trustees. Those include state Reps. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton and Stephanie Kifowit of Aurora and state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake.
State Rep. Deborah Conroy of Elmhurst is a former school board member, and state Reps. David McSweeney and Sam Yingling served as township officials.
Althoff initially was appointed to her seat in Springfield, and she says she got some good advice from other lawmakers at the time.
"You either will love this, or you will hate this," Althoff said. "There is no in-between."
There also is a big difference between serving in the General Assembly and sitting on a village board.
Mayors in particular may have a lot of executive power locally. They're identified with the town they lead.
Legislating in Springfield doesn't come with any executive power, and getting things done takes a long process of coalition-building and deal-making.
"Being a mayor, you're already making difficult decisions in your town," Moylan said.
That may be partly why local officials in a lot of cases decide not to use their jobs as launchpads.
"I think that people have generally felt you can make the biggest difference at the local level," said Northern Illinois University political scientist Matt Streb.
"If you're the mayor of a major city, sometimes you see major city mayors being groomed for other offices. (New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg is a good example," Streb said. "But from a really local level, I don't think that you're necessarily seeing candidates for mayor or even mayors going on and necessarily translating that to a higher office."
Moylan did, but he points out that a suburban mayor's reputation also plays a part in whether he or she decides to run for another office. Holding prominent local positions can help voters get to know candidates and lift their political stars, but hopefuls' dreams could be dashed if voters think they did a bad job.
"It depends on what kind of mayor you are," Moylan said.
Political life in Springfield also comes with challenges that could be enough to persuade some local officials to stay put -- starting with the commute from the suburbs. It's far easier to mesh personal and political lives when the latter only requires a short drive to village hall. In addition, state reps face re-election every two years, making for more frequent election battles.
For now, candidates for local offices are focusing on the April 9 election -- even if they're eying other positions down the road. It'll be 2014 or later before it's known if this crop generates candidates for higher office.
"Everybody's reasons for getting into politics are different," Moylan said.
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