Remembering that Southwest Gal, Judy Baar Topinka

Remembering that Southwest Gal, Judy Baar Topinka 5.00/5 (100.00%) 1 vote

By Ray Hanania

RayHananiaColumnBoxJudy Baar Topinka was one of the most energetic public officials I met. What a nice person. She was always smiling, even at moments of controversy. She was optimistic and always hopeful.

It’s funny to see the mainstream news media pretend to be her friend. They pretty much ignored her, except when she forced her way into the news. A few now fawning over her were at the frontlines attacking her with vicious accusations about her political friendships.

But that’s the news media and Topinka knew it. She had been professionally trained in journalism. A graduate of the Medill Journalism school, Topinka worked at the Life Newspapers and the Forest Park Review before buying the Riverside Landmark.

In 1981, Topinka ran for the Illinois House and won, representing the West suburbs, at a time when women in politics where breaking the glass ceiling. Jane Byrne was mayor of Chicago and when Topinka came to meet Byrne one day at City Hall, I was there and had a chance to meet her.

None of the other reporters bothered to cover the meeting, reflecting their disdain for anything Southwest or West Suburban.

I left journalism in 1992, just as Topinka was planning a run for Illinois Treasurer. In 1993, I helped her and her close friend Marty Kovarik with media, pro bono, because I liked their style.

My love for the Southwest and West suburbs gave me many opportunities to see her at events. Most recently, she led this year’s Houby Day Parade, a celebration the mainstream news media ignores of Czech and Slovak heritage and Fall Harvest. (Houby means mushroom). More than 20,000 people attended the parade on Cermak Road between Berwyn and Cicero, with only two reporters from small newspapers.

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, Gov. Pat Quinn, Cicero President Larry Dominick and Illinois Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka at the 2014 Houby Day Parade in Cicero

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, Gov. Pat Quinn, Cicero President Larry Dominick and Illinois Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka at the 2014 Houby Day Parade in Cicero

The Southwest and West suburbs have never been important to the Chicago news media, except, of course, when there is a controversy or scandal they could inflate to nudge their sagging circulations.

Topinka shared this disdain for the news media, but brushed them off as irrelevant.

“You just have to do the best you can. The people see it,” the tough lady said after another event the Chicago media ignored.

Topinka was the keynote speaker at the Muslim religious celebration, the Eid, July 28. She joined State Senator Steven Landek as Muslims gathered for their religious holiday, the Eid, at Toyota Park, where they spoke about tolerance.

There were more than 15,000 people crowded into Toyota Park, but only two reporters, of course.

The state’s leading Republican officeholder, Topinka often referred to herself as a “political mutt,” reflecting her “Reagan Democrat” political beliefs. She supported Gay and Reproductive rights. She walked in parades with Democrats, while championing Republican ideals, the party coat she wore proudly.

Topinka liked to shake things up, leaving life the same way. She couldn’t have picked a more controversial moment to leave for that “Polka floor in the sky,” between winning re-election and waiting to get sworn in, as the Governor’s Mansion changes hands from Democrat Pat Quinn to Republican Bruce Rauner.

And, how ironic how we lost both Jane Byrne and Judy Baar Topinka, only weeks apart.

Among names that surface as possible successors are her chief of staff, Nancy Kimme, and close ally Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman.

You will be missed Judy Baar Topinka, sitting in that little, unimposing Mini Cooper with that big smile and even bigger heart.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at [email protected]. Hanania’s columns are syndicated in the Chicagoland area in the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Regional News and the Palos Reporter newspapers.)

Ray Hanania

Blogger, Columnist at Illinois News Network Online
Ray Hanania is senior blogger for the Illinois News Network online news site. He is an award winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist who covered the beat from 1976 through 1992 (From Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley).

In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. He hosted a live weekend Radio Show on WLS AM radio from 1980 through 1991, and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM and shows on WSBC AM in Chicago and WNZK AM in Detroit.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. He currently is syndicated through Creators Syndicate and his column is feature every Sunday in the Saudi Gazette in Saudi Arabia. He has written for the Jerusalem Post,, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His Chicagoland political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News on several Chicagoland blogs including the and

Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

His personal website is Email him at: [email protected].