Once a Madigan donor, Stephens now says he's taking on speaker's 'corruption'
A political TV ad touting state Rep. Brad Stephens' candidacy says he's taken on Mike "Madigan's corruption," but longtime political observers know -- and the legislator who doubles as Rosemont's mayor admits -- he and his father before him have long had a friendly, or at least cordial, relationship with the powerful House speaker.
Campaign committees controlled by Stephens -- a longtime Republican and committeeman of the Leyden Township Regular Republican Organization -- have given $10,000 to Madigan and his committees over the last two decades, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. That includes $2,500 to Friends of Michael J. Madigan in September 2018 and $2,500 to the Democratic Party of Illinois in March 2014.
It also includes a $5,000 contribution to Madigan in August 2000, but Stephens said that came from his dad, Donald, the town's founder and mayor for 51 years until his death in 2007. The younger Stephens assumed the campaign fund when the elder died.
Stephens is quick to point out he's long supported candidates on both sides of the aisle. His political action committee gave a matching $2,500 contribution to the state GOP on the same date of the 2014 donation to state Democrats.
Madigan, as well as other General Assembly leaders, have regularly taken meetings with Stephens in the 13 years he's been mayor to discuss issues affecting the Northwest suburb. It was a relationship fostered by Stephens' father, and it led, for instance, to Rosemont securing an exit off the Tri-State Tollway at Balmoral Avenue for the Fashion Outlets of Chicago mall.
"Rosemont does a lot for the state of Illinois, and the state does a lot for Rosemont," Stephens said.
But Stephens said things changed in June 2019, after he was appointed to the 20th District state House seat. Now Stephens is in an expensive battle with Democrat Michelle Darbro to try to hold on to the seat, which has been in Republican hands for 47 years.
Stephens has more than $800,000 in his campaign fund, compared to Darbro's $2.2 million -- much of it from campaign committees controlled by Madigan and his allies.
"With Speaker Madigan, you're all good with him till you're against him," Stephens said. "Did I think he was gonna give me a pass? Hell no."
Stephens said he believes Madigan is pushing hard to pick up every seat he can to add to his 74-44 supermajority, amid calls from some in his own caucus to step down as speaker.
"It's not about Brad Stephens or Michelle Darbro," Stephens said. "It's about that seat, and making sure he has 60, with a cushion."
Like other Republicans, Stephens has called on Madigan to resign -- or at least give up his gavel -- 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.
Stephens' campaign has called on Darbro, a Chicago firefighter and first-time candidate, to "denounce Madigan and his crooked ways."
Darbro has said Madigan should step down if found guilty or proven to have committed any crimes.
If he wins, Stephens said he thinks he'll be able to work with Madigan and others across the aisle, despite the current campaign season that has seen negative mailers and TV commercials from both sides.
"That's what politics is. It gets nasty," Stephens said. "But at 7:01 (p.m. election night) and the votes are tabulated, let's get back to work."
The 20th District, centered on Chicago's Northwest Side, stretches into Rosemont, Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles and Schiller Park.