Will Paul Play in Peoria?: Mangieri slated for State Treasurer

by Mike Kroll

 

On Sunday the movers and shakers of Illinois Democratic politics met in Springfield to hammer out a slate for the 2006 election. Given that the Democratic party already controls all but one of the statewide offices and those incumbents are all seeking reelection the only real mystery to this meeting was who to run for Treasurer. In a press release issued Sunday night, the Democratic State Central Committee announced that Knox County State’s Attorney Paul Mangieri was their unanimous pick for the Treasurer’s slot.

“The unanimous support of the party means a lot to me and I am grateful for their confidence in me,” stated Mangieri in Galesburg Tuesday. “This whole thing has happened in a whirlwind fashion, quite a different feeling than my run for Lieutenant Governor four years ago. Then we faced an uphill battle just to get through the Democratic primary, while this time I have the full weight of the party behind my candidacy.”

Mangieri didn’t finish out that run four years ago, dropping out to challenge Republican newcomer Dale Risinger in an unsuccessful bid for State Senate. But during his nearly year-long quest for the Lieutenant Governor nod, Mangieri criss-crossed the state making impassioned speeches and meeting with both voters and local Democratic officials everywhere. Apparently those contacts made an impression; Mangieri’s name rose to the top of a list of downstate politicians under consideration for a ticket that is otherwise dominated by Chicagoans.

As the Republican’s sole statewide officeholder, three-term Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka would be a formidable opponent if she seeks a fourth term, but Topinka is also said to be considering a run for Governor. Either way, she is widely regarded as the strongest remaining Republican candidate for statewide office which sets up a very real challenge be it against Governor Rod Blagojevich or Mangieri.

Meanwhile, it is considered likely that some in the wide field of Republican gubernatorial hopefuls will be talked into other statewide ticket slots in an effort to avoid the kind of primary bloodbath experienced by both political parties in past years.

It’s not entirely clear who in the Democratic party was instrumental in putting Mangieri into consideration but we do know that his two key allies in getting slated were Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Mike Madigan (who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party). In the weeks leading up to the Sunday slating meeting, Madigan and party workers under him had contacted Mangieri asking that be present himself for consideration on Sunday. Mangieri was already well known to Jones following his 2002 State Senate race.

Mangieri and others have confirmed that Madigan and other party leaders felt strongly that a downstater was necessary to balance the ticket. Also key to Mangieri’s running has been his friend, and now campaign manager, Tim McAnarney.

“Paul impressed a lot of people across the state during the Lieutenant Governor’s race,” commented McAnarney. “While he may not be a household name amongst voters he is certainly not an unknown commodity within the party. Paul’s background as a lawyer in the Navy’s judge advocate office coupled with his career in private practice and as Knox County State’s Attorney have demonstrated well his intellectual and legal qualifications. He is also a man of acknowledged integrity and proven administrative skills. I know Paul and can assure you he will be an excellent candidate. He connects well with voters on both a personal level and as a dynamic and exciting speaker. Those are the kinds of qualities that made him an obvious choice of the party.”

“It is still very early in the process and I am working with the state party people to get my campaign organized and staffed,” explained Mangieri. “I loved the campaign four years ago and an sure that was what made this party slating a possibility. We ran an energetic up-close and personal statewide campaign without the power and resources of the party where I was able to meet with Democrats across the state. Most of those folks had never heard of a State’s Attorney from Abingdon but they remembered me well enough after we campaigned. In many ways I am a different sort of political animal but I have respect for the Democratic party and our key constituencies. I look forward to once again hitting the road to meet with voters across this great state.”

McAnarney stresses that this will be a different race in one key regard, this time Mangieri carries the full weight and confidence of the party into his campaign. “When you combine Paul’s political skills and personal assets with the strengths of the Democratic Party I think you end up with a formidable candidate regardless of who he runs against in the general election. Paul delivers a tremendous stump speech unmatched by anyone the Republicans are likely to put against him.”

Mangieri will be one of very few Knox County politicians of either party to run for statewide office and only three before him have actually held it. The once-formidable downstate Republican party boss, Omer N. Custer, was the last person from Knox County to attain a statewide elected office and it was also Treasurer — a position he won twice (1924 and 1928). Another Knox County Republican, Moses O. Williamson also served a two-year term as State Treasurer following the 1900 election. Before the Civil War, Democrat William McMurty of Henderson was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1848 and served for four years. The last Knox County resident to run in a general election for statewide office was Carl Hawkinson who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Lieutenant Governor four years ago. Shortly after that race, Blagojevich picked him as his homeland security chief.

Right now it isn’t known if Mangieri will face opposition in the March primary. Between now and then, he has to organize both a background campaign committee and fund-raising operation and start shaking hands across the state. McAnarney will be instrumental in the former with the way greased considerably by Mangieri’s status as the anointed candidate. As for direct campaigning Mangieri may well turn to his friend and fellow Knox County official, Sheriff Jim Thompson. While Thompson is up for reelection in 2006 neither he nor Mangieri faced opposition in their last campaigns and both are considered excellent grassroots politicians. Thompson accompanied Mangieri to the Springfield slating meeting and was actively working the room full of central committee people on Paul’s behalf.

“After the slating meeting was completed, I went up to [Democratic party] chairman Madigan to thank him for his support and asked him for advice on getting my campaign started,” quipped Mangieri. “He told me that neither thanks nor advice were necessary and instructed me to ‘go to work’ on the campaign trail.”