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Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Medill ’66, Dies at 70

Topinka was a journalist before embarking on a long public career

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, died at age 70 Wednesday, Dec. 10.

Topinka recently was reelected for her second term as comptroller in a public career that spanned more than three decades.

After graduating from Medill in 1966, Topinka worked as a reporter and editor for suburban Life newspapers, where she was known for her advocacy journalism. “Covering politics and local issues motivated her move into politics — she said she could ‘do things better,’” according to a Chicago Tribune obituary (Dec. 10).

In 2006, Topinka became the state Republican Party’s first woman nominee for governor but was defeated by Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

“In an era of politicians who are wedded to the party line, coiffed and packaged to sell to voters, colorful and outspoken Judy Baar Topinka spent three and a half decades thinking, acting and speaking outside the box,” according to the Chicago Tribune obituary.

In 2010, after being defeated in her run for governor, she made a political comeback in winning the state comptroller’s office -- making her the first woman in Illinois history to hold two statewide elected constitutional offices. She had previously served as state treasurer for three terms.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar hailed Topinka as a “master politician,” in the Chicago Tribune obituary.

“On Election Day, she was a Republican, but after the election she was there to help everybody,” Edgar said in the obituary. “And if she had a point of view that didn't agree with so-called party doctrine, she still had that point of view. She wasn't going to be dictated to by the party. She was basically, I think, what is a successful Republican in Illinois — a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.”

In the beginning of her political career, Topinka was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives and then to the Illinois Senate.

“Judy was an institution in Illinois politics,” President Barack Obama said in a statement, adding, “She was blunt, pragmatic, unfailingly cheerful and energetic, and always willing to put politics aside to find common-sense solutions that made a difference for the people of Illinois.”

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