With changing political landscape, outgoing state Sen. Rooney saw defeat coming

  • Tom Rooney, an outgoing Illinois state senator and a one-time Rolling Meadows mayor, said he's staying out of politics -- save for remaining involved in the Palatine Township Republican Organization.

    Tom Rooney, an outgoing Illinois state senator and a one-time Rolling Meadows mayor, said he's staying out of politics -- save for remaining involved in the Palatine Township Republican Organization. Daily Herald File Photo 2012

  • Tom Rooney

    Tom Rooney

Updated 11/18/2018 3:36 PM
Updated 11/18 to corect that Tom Rooney was appointed in September 2016

Outgoing Republican state Sen. Tom Rooney of Rolling Meadows is staying out of elected politics for now -- if not at least keeping a toe in his local GOP organization in an effort to build it back into a party of ideas, he said.

But Rooney, considered a moderate in some Republican circles, said he doesn't see an immediate path forward for the party in suburban elections. He attributed his recent narrow defeat at the polls to suburban dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump.


"Absolutely no doubt people had nationalized this election, and quite frankly I spoke to people at doors who said, 'Sorry, I'm not doing anything with an R,'" said Rooney, a Marco Rubio presidential delegate who even wrote in the Florida senator on the 2016 general election ballot. "The suburban vote is tough for Republicans at this point."

Rooney, who was appointed by local party leaders in September 2016 to fill the vacancy created by Matt Murphy's resignation, lost by about 3,500 votes this month to Democrat Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, a retired CVS Caremark executive and organizer of efforts to expand Cook County's minimum wage and sick leave ordinances into the suburbs.

The 27th District includes portions of Arlington Heights, Barrington, Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights and Rolling Meadows.

Soon after his appointment -- he beat out a field of fellow Republicans who sought Murphy's seat -- Rooney said he sensed the national political waves changing and predicted it could have implications for the 27th District.

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"I still remember driving home from watching returns in November 2016 and having a nasty feeling in my stomach: Wow, the landscape is completely upside down two years from now," Rooney said.

Rooney grew up in Evanston and roamed around Evanston Township High School with "Mr. Conservative" on his high school jacket, but said he realized later some of his views were moderate.

On guns, for instance, he was the lone Senate Republican to support state licensing of gun dealers -- a vote that got him the endorsement of the Arlington Heights-based Gun Violence Prevention PAC.

The former Rolling Meadows mayor is still active in the Palatine Township Republican Organization, where he serves as president.

"I'm a PTRO guy. I will stay with them. They're my friends, and we've got work to do," he said.


While he doesn't have immediate plans to run for state office, he also hasn't ruled it out. He has closed the door to running for office in Rolling Meadows, where he served as mayor from 2011 to 2016 and alderman from 2000 to 2009.

Instead, Rooney said, after his term ends in January, he'll focus his full attention on his day job: teaching.

For 20 years, Rooney has taught economics at West Leyden High School in Northlake. After being appointed to the state Senate, he taught full time in fall semesters and part time during two spring semesters, when lawmakers are regularly in session.

He returned to Springfield for a few days last week for the fall veto session.

"I feel since I got the mayor's chair, I'm a darn good teacher, but I used to be an excellent one," Rooney said. "Going back to being an excellent one will feel pretty good for a while."

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