Republican state Senate hopeful Melendy has Democrat backing
In the battle to fill a Republican state Senate seat, Democrat McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks has a strong preference.
But Franks, a Marengo personal injury attorney, isn’t issuing a public endorsement of his favorite candidate, 49-year-old Lesli Melendy of Huntley.
That's because support from one of the area’s most prominent Democrat public officials won’t carry much weight with the Kane and McHenry County Republican Party leaders immediately charged with evaluating candidates to replace incumbent state Sen. Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles), who announced suddenly earlier this month she would no longer seek re-election in order to pursue other opportunities.
McConnaughay is expected to resign her seat this summer.
The Kane County GOP controls more than 60 percent of a weighted vote for the replacement, who will also likely fill the remainder of McConnaughay’s term. Kane County Chairman Ken Shepro has scheduled interviews with those interested in the seat for this Saturday with his decision likely to come shortly thereafter.
Other contenders include state Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee); St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte; former McHenry County board member Carolyn Schofield of Crystal Lake (defeated by Skillcorn in the 2016 primary election for his current House seat); state Rep. Steven Andersson (R-Geneva), who chose not to run for re-election after leading the contingent of House Republicans who voted for the 32 percent income tax increase in 2017; and attorney Laura Pollastrini of Hampshire, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2012 primary against state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton).
Skillicorn is being backed by Ives and grassroots conservative leaders.
Melendy is being backed by state Sen. Bill Brady, the GOP super-minority leader from Bloomington, and Gov. Bruce Rauner at the behest of McConnaughay, according to multiple sources.
The “Jack Franks Bill”
Melendy, who has served as McConnaughay’s chief of staff since 2013 and on the Huntley School District 158 board since 2017, has raised local GOP eyebrows over her support of Franks in Springfield as well as locally.
Last year, she shepherded through the state legislature what became known as the “Jack Franks Bill,” a measure requested by Franks that would have given him unprecedented control over McHenry County budgets and hiring.
The bill was narrowly tailored to apply to only Illinois counties “having a population between 300,000 and 900,000.”
“It basically turns him into the Mike Madigan of the McHenry County by giving the County Board Chairman the power to appoint all committee chairmen and determine who will serve on which committees,” wrote former state Rep. Cal Skinner (R-Crystal Lake).
The bill, vigorously opposed by state Rep. Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) and state Rep. Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) as well as 20 of 24 McHenry County board members, passed with mostly Democrat support, thanks to the lobbying of Melendy and its sponsor, McConnaughay.
Rauner vetoed the bill in January.
This spring, Melendy launched a campaign for McHenry County board against Franks’ chief Republican critic, board member Michael Rein, a Woodstock chiropractor.
Rein defeated Melendy by just 11 votes.
Franks is widely suspected of having orchestrated Melendy’s campaign.
Melendy was endorsed by the Operating Engineers Local 150 labor union, longtime Franks-backers who have even picketed the businesses of board members opposing him.
A Chicago-based political vendor tied to Franks and House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago) printed mailers attacking Rein, claiming they were from the “Illinois Integrity Fund.”
And Melendy’s campaign funding largely came from Democrat-aligned interests, including Local 150; Dan Shomon, a former campaign aide of President Barack Obama; and Plote Construction of Hoffman Estates, which has donated to Chicago Alderman Ed Burke.
Shomon, a lobbyist, has given more than $50,000 to Democrat candidates for office since 2007, including former Gov. Pat Quinn; openly socialist Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar; Cook County board President Toni Preckwinkle; and beleaguered state Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), recently accused of sexual harassment.
In campaign advertisements, Rein described Melendy as a “RINO” or “Republican in name only.”
Melendy is a Rolling Meadows native; she graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.
Her term on the Huntley District 158 school board ends in 2021.