COOK COUNTY - Cook County is home to 40 percent of Illinois' voting population, and the county's political organization is key to building healthy competition that affects public policy. Cook County's political party activity can make or break statewide candidates competitive outside the county's borders.
The past decade has been a tough one for the Cook County GOP. The leadership has changed hands five times, starting with the late Maureen Murphy to Gary Skoien, then Liz Gorman, Lee Roupas, Sig Vaznelis and now Aaron Del Mar. During that time two treasurers were listed on Illinois State Board of Election records - Maureen Murphy and Thornton Township GOP Committeeman Judy Diekelman. Diekelman resigned in at the September 15 2011 meeting and no treasurer is current listed.
With Cook County GOP's continuous shift in leadership since 2002, there's been waves of building the Cook County Republican Party, but overall, Cook County Democrats maintain advantage and control.
Illinois State Board of Elections' online records for Cook County Republican Central Committee (CCRCC) start In 2007, when former Palatine Township GOP Chairman Gary Skoien ended his term as Cook County GOP chairman amidst a family scandal and a family members' health crisis.
Orland Township GOP Committeewoman Liz Gorman succeeded Skoien and stayed for a year. ISBE records show Gorman raised $48,000 in 2007, conflicting with her claim that she pulled the CCRCC out of debt, raising $75,000. Whatever amount was raised, with the help of compensated fundraiser Paul Caprio, Gorman was able to hand over to her successor Lee Roupas an account balance of $0.00.
Palos Township's Roupas emerged as a comparably long-lasting chairman and a fund-raising machine. First elected in March 2008, the 25 year old parttime law student presided over the county GOP for nearly four years before resigning last fall.
During the first three years, Roupas raised an impressive $236,000 in donations and loaned the Cook County GOP over $18,000. In the months before he resigned, the CCRCC repaid those loans in full.
During 2011, CCRCC's funding fell off dramatically amidst an ethical controversy concerning the org's executive director. By the September 2011 Illinois State Board of Election filing, the group's donations amounted to only $7500.
When Roupas left his committeeman spot at Palos Township and stepped away from the Cook County GOP, Lemont Township Committeeman Sig Vaznelis assumed CCRCC's chairmanship. He was appointed by county township committeemen September 15, 2011 in a 3-way contest between Vaznelis, Palatine Township GOP Committeeman Aaron Del Mar and Wheeling Township GOP's Ruth O'Connell. Before the first vote, Del Mar dropped out of the race and handed his support to Vaznelis.
Vaznelis, who runs an engineering company, struggled during his 7-month tenure to unify and energize the Cook County GOP faithful. He failed to prime the organization's former donors to write checks once again, raising a reported total of $1750 from September 2011 to January 2012.
But in January of 2012, funding activity picked up shortly. Cook County GOP pulled in $4072 from the Illinois Republican Party's presidential straw poll proceeds. On January 6, Chicago investors Anne and Ken Griffin each wrote checks for $10,000 to the Cook County GOP. Rather than spend those funds on Cook County, though, two weeks later, the CCRCC wrote a check to the Illinois GOP for $17,500 for a "ticket purchase."
Other than the straw poll money and the Griffins' checks, Vaznelis brought in only one other donation - a check for $250 from Morrison Security Corporation a week before the March 20, 2012 GOP primary. Sean Morrison, the donating company's CEO, was at the time in an intense primary race challenging incumbent Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Dan Patlak. Morrison's check brought the CCRCC's account to $824 at the conclusion of the ISBE quarterly reporting period.
Cook County GOP reported no other donations during the first quarter until just two days before the CCRC's April 18th convention. On April 16, Sean Morrison - who Vaznelis had just appointed to become the Palos Township Committeeman to replace Lee Roupas - wrote another check to the Cook County GOP for $5000.
In April, Palatine Township GOP's Committeeman Aaron Del Mar was elected as the county GOP's new chairman, beating out Niles Township GOP Committeeman Joe Hedrick. Del Mar was supported by Liz Gorman and Hedrick was backed by Patlak.
During Vaznelis' tenure, Cook County GOP's executive director Dennis Cook was paid $1000 in January, February and March 2012 and Vaznelis charged the county $1179 for office rent before setting up county GOP headquarters at 15327 South 70th Avenue in Orland Park. Del Mar fired Cook after assuming the Cook County GOP chairmanship. Last week Del Mar told Illinois Review he was taking applications to fill the ED spot.
Money is known as the mother's milk of politics. Del Mar has a challenge ahead of him - 1. to break ties with a failed CCRCC past and 2. to encourage new Republican cooperation throughout Cook County. Roupas set a high fundraising benchmark for Del Mar, but he'll need to meet that and surpass it in order to kick CCRCC back into competition with the Democrats.
Cook County is crucial to Illinois' electoral future and it will be the CCRC's fundraising abilities, or lack thereof, that will set Illinois toward a new political path.