On Tuesday, April 4, Rockford, Illinois held a municipal election for mayor and city council. Democrat Tom McNamara, son of former mayor John McNamara (1981-1989), won in a landslide, with 68.3% of the vote. As usual, voter turnout was low, though a few thousand more voted than last time. Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) decided not to run for a fourth term, which was probably for the best given his contentious and scandal-ridden administration.
I was the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor of Rockford, winning 3,505 votes, or 18.32%. Republican candidates for mayor have not fared well in this predominantly blue collar, rust belt city. The last to come close to winning was Dennis Johnson, who got 34.83% in a four-way race in 2001. Gloria Cardenas Cudia, a wonderful and enthusiastic lady, got 4.07% in 2005, and John H. Harmon got 9.23% in 2009. This time, Brian Leggero was the Republican candidate. He received 3,043 votes, or 13.6%.
I supported independent candidate Rudy Valdez, an aerospace engineer and award-winning community activist. He got 16.5%. A fourth candidate, Ronnie Manns, garnered a meager 1.6%. I was disappointed more Republicans didn’t support Valdez, but not surprised. According to his voting record, Valdez is a Democrat, and his wife worked for the Morrissey administration. I voted for Rudy because I saw he was a reasonable and dedicated man, willing to work with all sides. He certainly had the experience, intelligence, and community pull to be an effective mayor.
Republicans had a chance to elect a well qualified candidate in the primary, but instead chose a perennial candidate with a mixed voting record and eccentric personality. Brian was once thrown off the ballot for failing to disclose a name change on his election paperwork. Recently, he successfully circulated a petition to have Cheap Trick inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been away from Rockford for several years, but I don’t understand why Tom McNamara was so popular in comparison to his main opponent, Valdez. He is an insurance salesman and one-term alderman with a M.S. in Non-Profit Administration. I suppose insurance salesmen would make great politicians, now that I think about it. But I suspect it has more to do with nepotism than anything else.
Despite repeatedly denying a desire to run, I knew McNamara was going to run for mayor as soon as he was elected alderman. His dad has been grooming him for the position since childhood. He was a bought-and-paid for corporate candidate backed by every special interest in Rockford.
In local elections, political parties matter very little–at least in Illinois. You have to look at who is beholden to whom. No one donates thousands of dollars to a candidate expecting no return on investment. Look at McNamara’s top 25 investors. The guy raised over $240,000 from unions and developers for a job that pays $110,000 a year. Is it any mystery who will be running the show?