Editorial: Stephens courts trouble serving as both lawmaker, Rosemont mayor

The Daily Herald has long taken a dim view of politicians - even some whom we've liked very much - who undertake to serve in more than one elected position simultaneously. We see that practice as fraught with potential problems - ranging from the accumulation of multiple public pensions to the consolidation of personal political power and the obvious prospect of conflicts of interest.

So, we have to repeat our objection and our concerns as Brad Stephens prepares to join the Illinois House of Representatives while continuing to hold down his $260,000-a-year full-time job as Rosemont mayor. Stephens, who heads the Leyden Township Regular Republican Organization, was appointed last week to replace Chicago Republican Michael McAuliffe, who resigned his seat in the 20th House District.

The legislative position is considered a part-time job. But, done well, it is a demanding one, as recognized in its $69,436-a-year compensation - along with per diems and potential additions for leadership posts. The conflicts of time and attention are daunting alone, but the potential for conflicts of interest are even more troubling.

Asserting that Rosemont generated about $90 million for Illinois in 2018 and received just more than $13.3 million from the state, Stephens confidently countered conflict concerns by declaring that "something that's good for Rosemont is good for the state." Many mayors surely would make the same claim about their towns, yet we cannot but wonder about the reaction if the mayor of Chicago - or for that matter any Chicago alderman or even a Cook County Board member - issued a similar claim as justification for holding down both a legislative and an elected local position. How can it not be a near certainty that the roles will clash? That issues won't come before the state body that a lawmaker could influence to strengthen his or her local political power or even to unduly place one local community's interests over those of others or of the state itself? At least one serious conflict already is brewing related to Rosemont. It may be up to a legislative committee to decide whether the Chicago Wolves are a professional team, thus opening the way for lucrative gambling options at Rosemont's Allstate Arena. Stephens clearly should not have a role, direct or indirect, in the decision, and may not, but his position as a lawmaker naturally raises concerns.

None of this should overlook the role Stephens has played in cultivating Rosemont's enviable vitality as a center for entertainment, tourism and convention business. He deserves credit for his work and his commitment. He is a successful mayor. He may well also prove to be a successful lawmaker. But if he is one, it will all too likely come at the expense of the other.

He promises "to err on the side of caution ... and be as transparent as possible" in serving these dual roles. That is a necessary start, of course, but it doesn't allay our fears.

Many previous suburban mayors have recognized the inherent challenge of serving their communities and their legislative districts equally. Democrat Marty Moylan and Republicans Sid Mathias and Tom Rooney, of Des Plaines, Buffalo Grove and Rolling Meadows, respectively, all acknowledged the problem and resigned their local office when appointed to the legislature.

Stephens and all elected officials facing a similar choice should do the same or reconsider whether serving in the legislature is really the right job for them.

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