Topinka remembered as honest, tough at memorial
With tales of her unrestrained honesty to wisecracks about her fiery red hair, late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka was remembered by top elected officials, former office holders and citizens Wednesday as a trailblazing leader.
Roughly 1,000 people, from governors to union officials, attended the event, which was more celebratory than somber. A gospel choir sang. Portraits of polka-loving Topinka playing the accordion, campaigning and posing with family lined an entrance. Even her dogs, Jack and Nora, attended.
"What a tribute. Now, Judy might look at this crowd and say 'That'd be a helluva fundraiser,"' former Republican Gov. Jim Thompson joked before telling attendees that the way to honor her legacy was for both parties to work together.
Topinka died last week after suffering complications from a stroke. Word of the 70-year-old's death resonated beyond state political circles. She was among the few Republicans to support same-sex marriage and enjoyed backing from unions. The memorial was held at facilities for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.
While a successor has yet to be named, subtle references to the process cropped up during the nearly three-hour service, where outgoing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner shared a stage.
There have been conflicting notions about how long a Quinn appointee could stick. Topinka won a second term in November. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has said Rauner has the authority to name a four-year replacement once in office, but she's also advocated for a 2016 special election. Others have brought back the idea of merging the offices of comptroller and treasurer.
Quinn hasn't indicated what he'll do. On Wednesday, he praised Topinka's long public career as state lawmaker, former treasurer and state GOP leader.
"She volunteered for very difficult and challenging assignments throughout her life," Quinn said. "There's a hole in the hearts of the people in our state."
Rauner described receiving a mysterious package in the mail which turned out to be cookies from Topinka, something he said illustrated her thoughtfulness. The Winnetka venture capitalist -- who was targeted heavily by unions during the blistering gubernatorial campaign -- also highlighted Topinka's bipartisan approach and sense of humor.
"Right now Judy's up in heaven, looking down on us and smiling that we're all here together," he said. "I'll bet too she's probably chuckling a little bit to see me, standing talking in (a) Local 150 hall."
Rauner has floated Topinka's longtime aide, Nancy Kimme, as a potential successor. But neither Rauner nor Kimme addressed the issue Wednesday.
Kimme, though, presented a list of the top things anyone in heaven would need to know about Topinka -- her love of estate sales, adopting pets from animal shelters and going off script at public events.
"If I tried to soften her wording on issues, she'd wave me away saying, 'I don't use weasel words, I'm gonna to just say it,"' Kimme said. "She always loved to play to a full house so she would have been delighted today to see everybody here."
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