Ex-state Rep. Mulligan recalled as fearless advocate for women, gays, disabled

 
 
Updated 1/7/2015 10:46 AM
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  • Rosemary Mulligan

    Rosemary Mulligan

  • Former Republican state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan served 20 years in the Illinois House. She died Tuesday.

      Former Republican state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan served 20 years in the Illinois House. She died Tuesday. Gilbert Boucher | Staff Photographer

Longtime suburban state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a straight-talking, trailblazing Republican legislator who championed the rights of women, gays and people with disabilities, died Tuesday. She was 73.

Friends and colleagues did not know what caused her death, but the news of her death came as a shock. While her health had been slipping in recent months, she wasn't seriously ill and had moved into the independent living area of Oakton Arms retirement community in Des Plaines just a few months ago, said longtime friend Terry Cosgrove, president and CEO of Personal PAC.

"It's a real loss for the people of Illinois," Cosgrove said. "She got so much done with so little -- no personal money and little pay. All she had was her commitment to work as hard as she could."

Mulligan served in the Illinois legislature from 1993 to 2013 representing Des Plaines, Park Ridge and the surrounding areas. She was a member of the Des Plaines Public Library Board, having recently been reappointed.

Mulligan's friends recall her tenacious spirit, wicked sense of humor, chronic lateness and insistence on speaking her mind, no matter what people thought.

Mary Ann Irvine remembers Mulligan once spoke at a fundraising event, and rather than read the prepared notes, she delivered a speech that started with, "Let me tell you what it's really like in Springfield."

"She told the truth no matter what it made her look like or what it made anybody else look like. She was 100 percent honest. There was no spinning the story," Irvine said.

Mulligan was known in Springfield as a budget expert who specialized in services for the disabled and others in need. Mulligan often gave passionate speeches on the House floor on the topic.

"Rosemary was a fierce advocate of women's health issues and protector of our most vulnerable citizens," House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement. "Rosemary took the time to really understand the state budget, and she was never afraid to ask the tough questions on behalf of Illinois taxpayers. She was a passionate fighter."

In a discussion about a senior-living program in 2007, Mulligan accidentally called then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich a "blithering idiot" in a microphone she had meant to cover with her hand.

She both apologized for saying it and stood by the idea.

"It was my fault. I shouldn't have said it," Mulligan said.

"Do I think he's a blithering idiot? Yeah. Do I think he knows anything about the budget? No," she said.

Mulligan left the Illinois legislature in 2013 after she missed a deadline to get her name onto the primary election ballot and then-House Republican Leader Tom Cross backed Republican Susan Sweeney of Park Ridge for the spot. Mulligan attempted a run as a write-in, but Sweeney won the primary.

Mulligan, who supported abortion rights, honed in on women's issues when she crossed party lines and backed Democratic former Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan for the legislative seat he still holds.

"She was a leader for women's rights," Moylan said.

Mulligan attended Harper College in Palatine to become a paralegal and found work at BPW, a professional businesswomen's organization in Glenview. While she was attending a women's rights rally in front of Park Ridge village hall, a speaker shouted to the crowd, "One of you has to step up and beat Penny Pullen!" who at the time was a conservative legislator in their district.

"Rosemary just thought, 'I could do that,'" Irvine said.

The race between Pullen and Mulligan was so close that election officials ended up counting hanging chads, flipped a coin at one point (Mulligan won), and took the recount to the Illinois Supreme Court where she was deemed the winner. The case was later cited in the close Bush-Gore presidential election.

"Mike Madigan spent all kinds of money to defeat Rosemary after that, and he never could," Irvine said.

Mulligan went on to spend another 20 years as a state legislator. She was behind a lot of trailblazing legislation, including the first bill in the country to outlaw female genital mutilation and a bill to force hospital emergency rooms to give rape victims information about emergency contraception. Her fierce advocacy of LGBT rights helped pave the way for marriage equality, Cosgrove said.

"Everybody told her she was crazy ... but she didn't give up. She was fearless. She was afraid of no one," Cosgrove said. "She really was one of a kind."

Friends say her toughness was born out of a tragic story. Mulligan's father was murdered in 1967 while selling insurance in the Chicago housing projects. She attended the trials for the five men, all under the age of 20.

"It made Rosemary strong and fearless," Irvine said, and added to her determination to help impoverished youths and support gun violence and education programs.

Mulligan was divorced twice. Her first husband was killed in a small plane crash after their split, Irvine said.

Mulligan is survived by her brother, two sons and two granddaughters. A public memorial service is being planned sometime in January.

"Rosemary was an energetic bridge-builder who made Illinois a better place," Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. "She will be greatly missed."

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner also praised Mulligan's work.

"Rosemary was a tireless advocate for her district, a defender of the taxpayer and a champion for Illinois women," Rauner said in a statement Wednesday. "She was a true public servant whose legacy will continue to guide us for years to come."

• Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this story.

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