DOWNTOWN — Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza declared victory over Leslie Munger in the race for state comptroller Tuesday in a race widely seen as a proxy battle between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
With 92 percent of the vote counted, Mendoza led with 49 percent, or 2.3 million votes. Munger had 44.6 percent, or 2.1 million votes.
"We were outspent by millions by [contributions from] three billionaires, three billionaires who think that they can buy our political system," Mendoza said, adding that her victory had delivered the message that "the state of Illinois is not for sale."
Rauner was one of those billionaires, but without mentioning him by name, Mendoza said, "I also know how to deal with big bullies," adding, "I've tangled with some of the biggest, baddest politicians in this state."
Yet she also cited Judy Baar Topinka as a mentor and promised to work in a bipartisan manner in a state government divided by political parties.
Munger was appointed to the $135,669-a-year post by Rauner after Comptroller Topinka died shortly after winning re-election two years ago, but before she was sworn in for another four-year term. Munger, a Lincolnshire resident, was coming immediately off a defeat in a bid to be elected to the state House of Representatives, having lost to incumbent Carol Sente.
Tuesday's comptroller race was considered a special election to serve out the last two years of the term.
Mendoza thanked Munger on Tuesday night for conceding the race.
Munger was previously a brand-management marketing executive with Unilever Helene Curtis and before that worked for Proctor & Gamble and McKinsey and Company.
With the state facing a government shutdown in the budget impasse between Rauner and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, Munger was key to keeping the state at an even keel by paying what bills she could. But she was also criticized for her priorities in not fully funding home health-care workers and state-funded colleges and universities.
Mendoza promised to change that course Tuesday, saying, "I look forward to being an independent, truth-telling fiscal watchdog who will prioritize both the fiscal and moral health of this state."
Munger in effect disabled campaign donation limits late in September by accepting a $260,000 loan from her husband. At the time, Mendoza had more money in her campaign war chest, but Munger soon turned the tables in a big way.
She recently benefited from $2 million in direct contributions from Rauner and, according to state contribution records, she received $2 million from Uline Corp. executive Richard Uihlein and $3 million from Chicago Citadel hedge-fund owner Ken Griffin, then another $2 million from Griffin in October. She had $3.7 million on hand at the beginning of October, and reportedly funneled $3 million to the state Republican Party apart from the later $2 million she received from Griffin.
Mendoza was in her second term as city clerk, having followed Miguel del Valle into the office after he ran against Rahm Emanuel in the open mayoral election in 2011. Before that, she was elected six times as a state representative, and was the youngest member of the General Assembly at 28 when first elected in 2000.
Mendoza too was amply funded, but not to the level of Munger, according to state contribution reports. Her quarterly contributions report for the summer showed $1 million on hand, much of it from union groups, and since then she has received $500,000 in three deposits from the Madigan-controlled Democratic Party of Illinois.
Mendoza becomes the first Hispanic to be elected on his or her own to statewide office in Illinois. Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti is Hispanic, but was elected alongside Rauner.
Emanuel helped introduce her for her victory speech and praised that "we are a better city because of her."
Emanuel would appoint her replacement, with an unwritten proviso that it's become a traditional seat for a Hispanic. Aldermen Ariel Reboyras (30th), Joe Moreno (1st) and Raymond Lopez (15th) have been mentioned as possible replacements.
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