Stephens, Darbro trade barbs over ties to corruption

  • Michelle Darbro, left, and Brad Stephens, right, are candidates for Illinois House District 20 in the 2020 election.

    Michelle Darbro, left, and Brad Stephens, right, are candidates for Illinois House District 20 in the 2020 election.

Posted9/30/2020 5:10 AM

A longtime Northwest suburban politician and a first-time candidate backed by powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan exchanged barbs this week over their ties to alleged corruption and which of them could best represent the people of their district.

Republican Brad Stephens, the 13-year mayor of Rosemont who was appointed to the 20th district state representative seat last year, and Democrat Michelle Darbro, a Chicago firefighter paramedic, debated for the first time publicly during a virtual forum Monday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Park Ridge.


While not mentioning Stephens by name, Darbro repeated a theme present in her two TV attack ads that have aired in recent weeks: that she's a regular, middle-class person -- not a politician.

"Some of the career politicians that we see in Springfield seem to only care about themselves these days," Darbro said. "I feel that we need more regular people -- just regular hardworking people -- down in Springfield."

Stephens took a stronger tact against Darbro during the forum, then followed up in a news release on Tuesday.

"She was recruited by Madigan and as such she is now and always will be beholden to him and the corrupt machine which raises tens of millions of dollars that he funnels to people like Michelle so he can notch another vote for himself in his political belt," Stephens said Monday. "If she wins ... she will be nothing more than another of Mike Madigan's minions there to cast her vote for whatever he wants."

Stephens pointed to some $1 million Darbro's campaign received from campaign committees controlled by Madigan and his allies. That includes nearly $300,000 from Madigan-led state Democratic Party committees, as well as transfers from campaign funds of state legislators Greg Harris, Kathleen Willis, Natalie Manley, Michelle Mussman and Marty Moylan. Darbro has also received contributions from a mix of unions representing teachers, laborers and firefighters, according to state campaign finance records.

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By comparison, Stephens' campaign fund is about half as large as Darbro's, having received $184,000 from the state Republican Party and committees controlled by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin. Stephens also is bankrolling his campaign with $121,000 from his local political committees, and other donations from firms who regularly do business with Rosemont, including attorneys Ryan & Ryan, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, builders Degen and Rosato, and Northern Builders, records show.

Stephens on Monday said Madigan should resign, amid the federal probe that found ComEd bribed Madigan associates in exchange for the speaker's help in pushing through legislation favorable to the utility.

Darbro said Madigan should step down if found guilty or proven to have committed any crimes.

In response to Stephens' lengthy statement Tuesday calling on Darbro to explain her receipt of "dirty money" from Madigan, Darbro said Stephens is running his own "corrupt empire" in Rosemont, pointing to the award of government contracts to his campaign contributors.

During the Monday forum, Stephens compared his management of Rosemont to that of a CEO, overseeing a $200 million economic development operation that's attracted businesses large and small, including those in the entertainment district and Fashion Outlets of Chicago mall.

"I'm proud of what we've done and this district needs someone who understands firsthand how to attract and retain businesses, have a keen eye on economic development, and understand how we can market our region and state," Stephens said. "I do this every day of the week and I bring that unparalleled expertise to Springfield. ... This is not on-the-job training."

The 20th district, centered on Chicago's Northwest Side, stretches into Rosemont, Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles and Schiller Park.

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