Embroiled in scandal, state Sen. Terry Link resigns

  • State Sen. Terry Link speaks at an event in Waukegan in 2015.

    State Sen. Terry Link speaks at an event in Waukegan in 2015. Daily Herald file photo

  • State Sen. Terry Link, an Indian Creek Democrat

    State Sen. Terry Link, an Indian Creek Democrat

 
 
Updated 9/15/2020 9:54 AM
Editor's note: Link's term was set to expire in January 2023.

Veteran state Sen. Terry Link, a once-powerful Lake County Democrat whose legacy has been tainted by a federal tax evasion charge and ties to a corruption scandal, is resigning Saturday.

The resignation is effective at 9 a.m., Link said in a two-sentence letter delivered late Friday afternoon to the secretary of the Senate, Senate leaders from both parties and other officials.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Link, 73, of Indian Creek, couldn't be reached Friday. He has represented the 30th District since 1997.

Link had been Lake County Democratic Party chairman for 28 years, too, even longer than he was a senator. But he resigned the party post late last month, about two weeks after being charged with tax evasion in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Federal prosecutors said Link falsified his income on his return for 2016. Link reported his total income that year was $264,450 even though he knew his income "substantially exceeded that amount," according to the charging document.

The tax charge followed media reports identifying Link as the unnamed senator who cooperated with the FBI and wore a wire to trap then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago in a federal bribery case. Arroyo has pleaded not guilty.

Federal documents indicate the person who cooperated falsified tax returns and helped the FBI to get leniency. Link repeatedly has denied he was the FBI source.

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After the charge was announced, many Lake County politicians on both sides of the aisle demanded Link resign. The term expires in January 2023.

The 30th District covers much of eastern and central Lake County and a small part of northern Cook County, so it falls to new Lake County Democratic Party Chair Lauren Beth Gash and Wheeling Township Democratic committee representatives to appoint Link's successor in Springfield.

If Link had stepped down sooner, a special election to fill the seat would have been scheduled on Nov. 3, the same day as the general election. Friday was the deadline.

Link's timing didn't sit well with state Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat who represents the neighboring 31st District and was among the legislators who'd called for Link to resign.

"I want people to choose their elected officials, not a party," Bush said. "This just continues the distrust that is out there with the public."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gash couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

In a statement, Senate President Don Harmon said he looks forward to "welcoming and working with a new senator from Lake County."

Link, who served for a time as assistant Senate majority leader, had a tremendous impact on Illinoisans and Lake County residents through the legislation he championed.

He successfully campaigned to ban smoking in indoor, public places as part of the smoke-free Illinois effort more than a decade ago, and he recently pushed to add vaping to the ban.

Link also backed a plan giving 17-year-olds who turn 18 before a November general election the ability to vote in the preceding primary election.

But Link's greatest legislative legacy might be his successful efforts to expand legalized gambling in Illinois and bring a casino to Waukegan.

Link spent much of his career ardently campaigning for both, and last year a gambling expansion bill he sponsored was signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. It authorized an operation in Waukegan.

Link also unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Waukegan in 2013 while living in that city.

Link's partisanship runs deep. An unabashedly proud Democrat, he's often butted heads with the county's Republican leaders.

In 2013, he pushed legislation that would have created an appointed Lake County Election Commission to oversee elections -- a job long handled by the county clerk, who was a Republican at the time. That proposal was signed into law but ruled unconstitutional by a judge and struck down.

Link denied responsibility for the plan's creation but was the only Lake County senator to support it.

In 2017, Link backed a plan to make the county board chairman elected by voters rather than by the panel's members. Again, the board chairman at the time was a Republican. The bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, also a Republican.

And yet, Link often worked well with Republican legislators. During his 13 years representing the Mundelein area in the House, former Republican state Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. teamed with Link to push many bills through their respective chambers, including gambling legislation and the smoke-free Illinois effort.

"He has a lot of remarkable accomplishments that no one can take away from him," said Sullivan, now a Libertyville resident and independent government consultant.

Even so, the tax charge is "a stain on (Link's) legacy," Sullivan said.

In an interview earlier this year, Bush called Link "the original Lake County Democrat."

"He was elected at a time when there simply weren't Democrats in this county, and (he) worked to build an entire party through sheer force of will, determination and hard work," Bush said.

On Friday, Bush said Link's resignation is "a really sad way to see his career end."

"But it's the right thing to do," she said.

This isn't the first time Link has been tied to scandal.

In 2008, two campaign workers were charged with faking dozens of signatures on the senator's candidate petitions. Later that year, Link was formally accused of breaking state election law by not including payments to those campaign workers on his financial disclosure paperwork.

Link denied wrongdoing in the fake-signature case and threatened to sue the Republican Party leaders who brought the financial-disclosure complaint against him.

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