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Gary LaPaille, Former Illinois Democratic Party Chair, Dies at 68

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Gary LaPaille appears on “Chicago Tonight” January 28, 1998. (WTTW News)

Democratic state representatives to be ushered into a historically large super majority in the Illinois House next month may not realize it, but the chamber still bears the fingerprints of Gary LaPaille, who died Thursday at age 68 of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis , or ALS.

LaPaille lived his last years in the Washington, DC area where he worked as a lobbyist and political consultant.

But he was born and raised in Chicago, “the son of a Chicago 13th alderman” who, according to one 1992 article in the now defunct Illinois Issues magazine, “cut his teeth in politics as a teenager while office clerk of ward committee member (Michael J.) Madigan.”

The 1992 article stated, “LaPaille and Madigan to this day live within blocks of each other, and LaPaille regards Madigan not only as an employer, but also as a mentor, confidante, and even older brother. which he never had. Madigan is godfather to LaPaille’s only son, Joseph.

LaPaille would continue to serve as Madigan’s chief of staff into the early 1980s, when Democrats were the minority party in the House, helping Madigan in 1983 secure what would become his historic breakthrough as Speaker of the House for the first time of Illinois.

In 1990, LaPaille ousted state Senator Vince Demuzio of Carlinville to become the youngest chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. His role as chairman of the DPI continued until 1998 and through this position he was also elected vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

According to LaPaille Linkedin page, led the Illinois Democratic Party in the 1990s, which included President Bill Clinton’s “historic victories” in 1992 and 1996, arranging the election of United States Senator Carol Moseley Braun, who became the first African-American woman elected to the United States Senate in 1992; as well as programming and helping elect the first Hispanic elected statewide, Ada Lopez to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees in 1992. LaPaille also said he was a “driving force” in bringing the Democratic National Convention to Chicago in 1996, led the endorsement and election of United States Senator Richard Durbin in 1996, and “(led) Illinois for the re-election of President Bill Clinton, as well as many state and local victories during his tenure.” mandate,” according to his LinkedIn page.

In 1993, he served one term as a state senator.

“LaPaille says he learned from Madigan that a leader needs to handle problems and not let problems handle him,” reads then-state reporter Jay Fitzgerald’s 1992 article, quoting LaPaille as saying, “I think that’s what what Democrats have to do in the future, start talking about how to better manage money and use it better… the support base that you’ve always had: unions, women’s issues, minorities.So it’s a delicate balancing act that you have to make.

A Bridge of Care website it is littered with recollections from prominent Democrats, including Madigan who wrote “Dear Gary, I am very proud of you today, as always. You have enjoyed great personal and professional successes. You and Chris have raised three wonderful and exceptional children. With love, Mike.

Madigan’s wife Shirley Madigan posted that “you were like a son. I smile and laugh as I think of all the blessed and fun events we shared as a family.”

Others have pondered LaPaille’s political savvy and connections, from Chicago lobbyists Bill Filan who credits LaPaille for introducing him to then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton over drinks at the Palmer House, to the teachers’ union lobbyist in Gail Purkey boarding house.

“Every member of that original crew (you, me, Jenifor Klindt, Bill Filan, Gary Strell) was hired by Mike Madigan and the House Democratic leadership to help members face the challenges of being the minority party, of rearranging districts and prepare for single-member district elections in 1982. As our leader, you led the ever-expanding team as we fulfilled Madigan’s vision to provide support to House Democrats in this new landscape,” Purkey published. “What you helped create over those years was a foundation for a legislative and policy staff operation that is unparalleled, and you should be so proud of that work. You have pushed and encouraged the hundreds of employees you have supervised over the years to work harder and smarter, pay attention to detail and never forget to have fun!

The House Democrats structure is still based on the “issues” staff created by LaPaille.

According to posts in Caring Bridge magazine, LaPaille had been living with ALS for two and a half years.

His wife, Christine LaPaille, wrote that he died Dec. 1 “peacefully and surrounded by his family.”

“He was the most generous guy I ever met; he was the life of the party; he took care of everyone in the block; I owe my career to him. This is the Gary we all knew. I am blessed beyond measure because through him I have also experienced the joy of knowing all of you,” wrote Christine LaPaille.

For an obituary in the Washington Post, LaPaille is survived by his mother, Dolores, and three children, Joseph, Samuel, and Grace.

The family is asking that those who wish to honor LaPaille contribute a donation Gleason teama foundation founded by former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason that pays for wheelchairs and other assistive technologies that help people with ALS “live purposeful and productive lives.”

A visitation will be held on Thursday and a funeral mass on Friday, both in Maryland.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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