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Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka Dies At 70

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 10, 2014 3:00PM

Judy Baar Topinka in 2004 (Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Judy Baar Topinka was as brassy, bold and colorful as the shock of red hair atop her head, and she had a common sense approach to connecting with voters that helped her succeed in the patriarchal world of Illinois politics. In her own way, Ms. Topinka was as much a trailblazer as Dawn Clark Netsch and Jane Byrne. Ms. Topinka died Wednesday morning of a stroke. She was 70 years old.

Ms. Topinka was born Jan. 16, 1944 in Riverside, raised in Berwyn and earned a degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She worked as a reporter and editor for several suburban newspapers before leaving to form her own public relations firm, which attracted a clientele of political candidates.

In 1980, Ms. Topinka launched her own political career with a successful run for the Illinois House of Representatives. She was elected to two terms in the House before being elected to the Illinois Senate in 1984. In 1994 Ms. Topinka became the first woman to be elected Illinois Treasurer and the first Republican to hold the post in 32 years. She would be re-elected twice to the office and became the first person to be elected to three consecutive terms as treasurer before deciding to run unsuccessfully for governor against incumbent Rod Blagojevich in 2006. She returned to state politics in 2010 with a successful run for comptroller and defeated Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon for re-election last month. She was one of a handful of Illinois Republicans to take a public stand in favor of subjects such as transparency in spending and marriage equality.

Ms. Topinka, who was divorced, is survived by her son Joe and granddaughter Alexandra Faith Baar Topinka.

The tributes from Illinois politicians to Ms. Topinka are pouring in. Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement on her passing:

Judy had a passion for serving the people of Illinois that equaled her passion for life. For more than three decades, she brought a relentless work ethic, a determination to attack our state’s fiscal challenges, and a sense of humor and smile that brightened the day of anyone in her path. As the first woman to serve as Illinois Treasurer, she will always have a special place in the history of our state.

Gov. Pat Quinn and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner also reflected on Ms. Topinka's passing.