Guethle’s Glass House

by , posted on Friday, March 2nd, 2018 at 2:01 pm

As we are approaching this primary – one that most people agree is leading up to an historic wave election – I want to spend some time thinking about what it means to build the Democratic Party locally, how to recruit candidates, how to increase involvement, how to actually get and keep people enthused and engaged and out there going door to door, and perhaps most importantly, how to build a bench. I want to talk about how Kane County Democratic Chairman Mark Guethle is doing that job.

And I want to start by taking a tour of the career of a local Republican. Bear with me, and I think you will find the trip illuminating.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns began his political career when he ran for library board and won. Following that he secured an appointment to the Historic Preservation Commission, then the Plan Commission. Burns ran for city council in 1997 and won. From there he ran for mayor in 2001 and is currently serving his fifth term.

All of these are non-partisan local offices. But Burns has not failed to spend his time in local offices building a considerable network of political friends and supporters, and since he’s the mayor in Geneva, it should come as no surprise that these relationships were with Republican power brokers, and when he began running for higher offices, he ran in Republican primaries, and garnered some pretty impressive support from prominent local and state Republican figures.

When the not-yet-disgraced Dennis Hastert lost his position as Speaker of the House in 2008 and decided to retire from Congress altogether, Kevin Burns ran for congress in the IL-14 Republican primary, only to withdraw when Oberweis secured Hastert’s endorsement.

But that interrupted effort didn’t stop Burns from trying again. He ran in the 2011 Republican primary for Kane County Board Chair, and received the endorsement of no less than five Republican Township Chairs: Mark Wissing, Geneva, Ellen Nottke, Batavia, John Fahy, Dundee, Ken Shepro, St Charles, and Mike Kenyon, of Elgin, was also at that time chair of the Kane County Republicans. Burns duly expressed himself “honored” at their endorsements and talked about looking forward to working with them all. Randy Hultgren went door to door campaigning with Burns. Although Burns couldn’t quite secure Hultgren’s endorsement, he scored a really big coup for an up-and-coming Republican partisan, he got the Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady to chair his campaign. Burns ultimately lost that primary, but with clear ambitions for higher office, and party support that long-term and deep and wide, can anyone doubt we will see him running in another Republican primary one day?

And that’s how it’s done folks: run for library board, make some connections, impress some people in the local party with your potential, get appointed to a commission or two, make some more connections, run for alderman, make some more party-affiliated connections, run for mayor, make some more party connections, and try to make the leap out of local government with a slew of party officials backing and endorsing you.

Kevin Burns is a bit of a golden boy in local Republican circles, and, after all, it is their job to find players with potential to groom and then send on up to the big leagues. That’s an enormous part of a local party’s job, to build a bench to draw from when a seat opens up so they can call on that bench to put forward a candidate for a race where an opportunity has just opened up. It’s a critical piece in terms of local party building. If you are a local party official and you aren’t doing this, you aren’t doing your job. The Republican Party is good at this stuff, and has been grooming Burns for quite some time.

Having lived in the tri-cities for half a century, and having been somewhat tuned in to local news for at least half of that time, I was certainly aware of this, so perhaps you can imagine my surprise when the leader of one of the new Indivisible groups whose email list I had placed myself on invited us all to go out and distribute door hangers for Republican Stalwart Kevin Burns in last April’s municipal election.

My initial reaction was to double-check that this Indivisible thing was what I thought it was. Yep. Seemed pretty much allied to Democratic Party politics from everything I’d read everywhere. I responded to the Indivisible leader’s email, saying

Has Indivisible endorsed Burns? Why?

Must say it rather surprised me to see this email. I think of Indivisible, in general terms, as being Democratic leaning, and change-oriented

Burns is so entrenched in that office that he can’t be described as a change candidate, and also so entrenched in Kane County GOP that he’s definitely NOT Dem-leaning Same with Simonian I know.

But perhaps I have the wrong idea about Indivisible?

What are its goals and mission?

Again, when you have time, I’d very much appreciate some clarification


His response kind of floored me:

I can see how this might be a little confusing.

Kevin is actually being endorsed by the Kane County Democrats and is a registered Democrat. But of course all these local races are non partisan in that the candidates do not have to declare party affiliation. The Democratic organization is putting a lot of effort into helping him get re-elected. I just hung up with our Geneva Township Chairman to verify that cause you got me thinking. The various precinct committeemen are all working really hard to get his campaign literature out to the respective precincts.

Indivisible hasn’t really endorsed anyone for these races. I’m just basically falling into line with what the Kane County Dems are doing in respects to who they have endorsed.

My next reaction was to call a Republican PCP of my acquaintance and ask something along the lines of “this may sound like a dumb question, but is Kevin Burns still a Republican?”

The answer was something like “Is this a trick question like the one about whether the pope is Catholic?”

I asked another one who said something about thinking Burns was even a Republican PCP, or at least had been in the past.

I then responded to the Indivisible leader with this:

It’s actually not possible to be “a registered Democrat” in Illinois. Or Republican. This is an open primary state. Only way you have to – or CAN – declare a party affiliation is to volunteer to be an election judge.

Or run as a precinct committeeman. My big confusion comes from the fact that I was pretty sure Burns was – historically- a Republican committeeman

But if you’ve checked with township dems my recollection must be faulty

And got this response:

He has been but the Kane County Dems are endorsing him. He voted in the Democratic Primary.

I then moved on to cornering Billy Malecki, the aforementioned Geneva Township Chair, at some march or the other (there were a ton of them about this time) and asking, rather gingerly, if he was aware that Kevin Burns was a Republican, and whether he had committed to switching parties, and if not why were the Dems endorsing him for mayor.

I got a lot of roundabout talk about how awful Burns’ opponent was, along with a mansplaining of the nature of non-partisan local elections, and the dire need to find all these excited and engaged new Indivisible volunteers something to do. It was a crazy hectic rally and someone else claimed Malecki’s attention before I had a chance to ask anything further.

Still baffled how it made sense for that “something for the new volunteers to do” to be helping a Republican mayor with higher political ambitions to solidify his resume by getting re-elected to his fifth term, I went home and mulled it over a bit and then received in the mail a mailer for Burns, paid for by “the Kane County Democrats” out of “the Kane County Fund.”

No, really, I am not making that up. Here it is:

I was myself at that point in time quite busy in a local election in another community, so personally much pressed for time, and enthusiasm was so high that I didn’t want to burst any bubbles when I didn’t have all the info, and that horse was out of that barn anyway, so I let it go until after the election, which was then only two or three days away.

After the election I emailed Kane County Democratic Chairman Mark Guethle.

Now Mark Guethle is not exactly new to party or local politics. He’s the political director for a union, he’s on the Board of Trustees of the Village of North Aurora, he’s a Democratic State Central Committeeman, he’s a Precinct Committeeman, and he is the Chair of the Kane County Democrats. I had to believe he knew who Kevin Burns was and who Kevin Burns runs with. I think I was holding out some hope that Guethle had actually talked to Burns and gotten a commitment out of him to party switch and some big announcement would be forthcoming. It would be a big get to steal one of their golden boys I guess.

Anyway, I was fishing for information. I don’t think I really made a secret of that. I reminded him where last we met, because it had been a while, and I asked him, basically, WTF? But I tried to do it politely, like so:

Good Morning Mark,

Lisa Bennett here. You may recall me from the Laesch campaigns in 2006, and 2008. We met several times when I was working on those.

I reside in Geneva and was, therefore, very aware of the recent hotly contested mayoral race here.

I have moreover known Kevin Burns – in passing, slightly – for quite some time. In any case I’ve know of him, and his politics in general, for decades.

I was therefore surprised when one of the Indivisible groups (I’m on most of their email lists) put out a call for volunteers to hang door-hangers for him the weekend before the election. I emailed them back, pointing out Burns is a Republican. The response I got was initially that he had switched parties, pulled a Dem ballot in the March 2016 primary.

I was shocked to my toes. Called a couple of Republican precinct committeemen of my acquaintance to ask them if this was true. They said it was news to them.

So I emailed back the Indivisible group, pointed this out, asked for verification, asked if Burns had committed to the local Dem party in some way.

The second round of responses I got were, essentially, that Burns is indeed a Republican, but that Simonian was so much worse that this was one of the races the party, at a county level, was pushing, as very important to Democrats, and that the Indivisible group was merely acting on the priorities set by the County Dems.

I was very busy with a local election myself, could see that the Indivisible group was as well, and decided to let it drop until after the election.

Now that we are after the election I decided to ask you, rather than going back to that Indivisible group.

What were the issues that led the Kane County Dems to prioritize the election of one Republican over the other? And, yes, I do know that it was a non-partisan local election. I have worked on those before as well. But I really do want to know: what do local Dems get out of this? What was the motivation?

Thanks for any insight you can give me,

In response Guethle promptly threw Malecki under the bus, like so:

It was a race the Geneva Democrats decided to get involved with. You can contact Billy Malecki the Geneva township chairman his number is listed on the Clerks website.

So I called Malecki and asked him some more questions, and then sent a follow up email to Guethle. Here it is:

Hi Mark,

I followed your suggestion and spoke briefly with Billy Malecki last night, and now have some follow up questions.

Billy says he brought the race up to you, and then you reached out to Burns. Is that accurate?

Also, someone told me before the election that Burns had pulled a Dem ballot in the 2016 primary. I checked his voting record last night and that does indeed seem to be the case, although he has previously voted R very consistently and for many years – well, and of course has run in Republican primaries for other offices.

When you did reach out to Burns at Billy’s request did you ask him if that was just an attempt to sway the Dem primary, or if he had actually switched parties? If so what was his answer?

I know that a mailer went out that was paid for by Kane County Dems – I have one that I received at my residence. Who made the decision to commit funds to Burns’ re-election effort? You? A committee? Malecki?

I know Indivisible Groups, and Geneva Township Dems were out canvassing for Burns the weekend before the election, and I know the race was brought up at the last Kane Dems meeting before the election as a priority.

What were the deciding factors in throwing Dem treasure and time behind Burns in this race? Was it an affirmation from him that he had switched parties? Or was it simply, as Billy said to me last night, that it was “a lesser evil thing?”

Any help you can give in answering these questions would be much appreciated.


To which Guethle responded in a much more lengthy way:

Thank you for being active in the political arena – and for your recent emails about the Geneva’s mayoral race. I can appreciate your concern and commend you for your dedication to important issues. Our country needs more like you. In that regard, we would like to see you attend Kane County Democratic Central Committee meetings. They are the fourth Tuesday of every month starting at 7:30 pm at the Government Center in Geneva at 719 S Batavia Ave. We are growing and on the move in Kane County!

“Reaching out to Burns” is not exactly how it happened. As I recall Billy had mention the Geneva Democrats were supporting Kevin at our monthly meeting. This was after other Democrats had already shared their concerns at a prior meeting about the mayor’s opponent who they described as a “Tea Party” type who maintained a “slash and burn” approach to city government. Billy had mention Kevin’s opponent would like to privatize city workers and impose a program of austerity with little regard for the average citizen of Geneva and that Kevin Burns was much more a moderate in this regard and, in fact, had voted as a Democrat in a recent election, as you verified in your letter. Also, I understand that Kevin started out as a Democrat in earlier times and some have asserted that rumor has it he switched parties only to be pragmatic considering the demographics in Geneva – although on this latter notion I am not sure. Regardless, Mr. Burns’ positions on good government closely paralleled one of a Democrat over the years and, compared to his opponent, was clearly the better choice for the people of Geneva.

Shortly after our meeting I attended a Democrat fundraiser where a few union leaders who were also in attendance had asked me about the Geneva mayor’s race. I indicated to them that local Democrats were supporting Kevin and that his opponent was in favor of privatization. Consequently, the union leaders asked me to reach out to Kevin and set up an opportunity to meet him. Billy gave me Kevin’s contact information which I then passed on to these union leaders and that is probably why Billy informed you that I had “reached out” to him. I can understand the confusion.

As a Trustee in North Aurora I am in a non-partisan elected role. All of the trustees, despite their political stance, move our village forward in a cooperative and cordial manner. Party affiliation does not weigh in on our decisions. In fact, generally speaking, party politics is not a factor when municipalities make decisions. We look at what is good for the village, not how our individual views impact on our efforts. I say this to reassure you that on higher levels, like the state and federal levels, supporting even a moderate Republican would be out of the question.

I met Kevin in 2001 when I was first elected as village trustee. Kevin, as Mayor of Geneva, Ed Hanson, as South Elgin Mayor and Lt Governor Quinn worked in unison – and we were the only elected officials to do so – to oppose the Power Towers down Randall Road (138kw lines) which would have been an eye sore and a health risk. Lt. Governor Quinn was out here many times, meeting with us and advising us. In the end, by working cooperatively together, we were successful in stopping Com Ed’s efforts.

Kevin once indicated to me that he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. A few years later I ran into him in Iowa City canvassing for Obama.

As a rule the Kane County Democrats only support candidates when it is the will of the majority, as it was with the Geneva mayor’s race. Geneva Township Democrats were united in their support of Mayor Burns and we democratically decided to send the mailer. Calling it “a priority” is not actually how I saw the situation, although this may have been the attitude within the Geneva Township organization. Yes, it was important to the central committee to defeat a “Tea Party” candidate, but the Kane County Democrats were also heavily involved in other municipal races as well.

I hope this clarifies things and again want to extend my appreciation for you concern and dedication to important issues. If you have further questions, I strongly encourage you to attend the next meeting and meet other like minded citizens and share your questions and concerns with them as well.
Mark Guethle

Malecki, who had been copied on this exchange, chimed in as well:


Mark summarized the events accurately below.

I’d just like to add a few things.

After the November election, we had a huge increase in people wanting to get involved in their local politics. Some of these people reached out to the Geneva and Kane Dems office and also joined a variety of other groups like the Progressives of Kane County, Action for a Better Tomorrow, and Indivisible.

Since there is a lot of overlap with all of these groups, I’m not sure how they as a group decided to get involved with the local election.

Regarding the Geneva Dems, together, myself and several other precinct committeemen discussed what was happening and decided that we wanted to help support Kevin and certain other candidates for city council. Many of the newer committeemen were excited to be able to get involved and help on a campaign so quickly after being appointed. I viewed this as a good thing since many people seemed eager to make as immediate a difference as they could.

We didn’t present our efforts as partisan but felt that as Democrats we still have a voice on what we would like to see happen in our community. Our decision and our offer to help was vetted with all the candidates as well and there was not any push back. Some people like myself offered to help knock on doors and some of us delivered door hangers and signs as needed. I hope that the experience our new members had will translate into better things to come for us in the 2018 races when really have to fight for our Democrats.

As Mark mentioned, I hope you can find time to come to our meetings and help build the local party. We are now in the process of setting up a township meeting for Geneva separate from Batavia and St. Charles since we’ve had such growth in membership and enthusiasm. I’ll keep you informed and include you on the Geneva email list if you’d like.


I had a few more questions, and sent them:

Hi Guys,

I want to thank you both for your thoughtful responses – and for your invitations. Mark, I was able to attend the Kane Dems meeting last week and will do my best to attend them in future, Billy, I very much do want the dates of future Geneva Dems meetings, if you could add me to your list.

I do have just a few more questions that I hope you can help me with:

Billy, at the Kane Dems meeting I followed the comments from you and other Geneva Dems about the election closely and caught that you considered Kevin Burns and several aldermanic candidates to be “our slate.” Can you tell me who these aldermanic candidates were?

Mark and Billy, I do appreciate that this was a local non-aligned election. I live in Geneva, and lived in St Charles for decades before that, and understand that most of the population identifies as Republican, and if we did not vote for probable Republicans running as non-aligned candidates in these elections we would most probably have vacant city councils and school boards and park boards, etc. Having worked closely with such councils and boards I have met many dedicated local public servants who identify as Republicans.

That said, one of the things that concerns me with Burns is that he clearly has further, higher, political ambitions. He has run as a Republican in primaries for higher offices before. Had he lost this election, his political capital with the Republican party would have been damaged, and it would have damaged his ability to seek higher office as a Republican. Re-elected – by a decisive margin – he has a better chance of going on to run for County Board, or Congress, or state legislature, as a Republican. Did anyone, either at Geneva Dems or at County, discuss the possibility that working to help Burns achieve such a decisive victory might help his further political ambitions as a Republican down the road?

Mark, you say you met Burns canvassing for Obama in Iowa. Was Burns canvassing for Obama, or was that you? Just want to clarify.

Mark, did Geneva Dems pay for the mailer sent out in support of Burns? It says that Kane County Dems paid for it. If so, who approved that expenditure? And was it approved solely on the weight of the request from Geneva Dems?

Last, but not least, did either of you ask Burns directly if he considers himself a Democrat or a Republican? If so, what was the answer?

Thanks again for any help you can give while I am trying to get this clear in my mind,

It was at this point that Guethle kind of lost it and told me he was not wasting any more time on my impertinent questions. Or at least that’s how I read this:

As I said in my closing remark in my last response to your list of questions , ” If you have further questions, I strongly encourage you to attend the next meeting and meet other like minded citizens and share your questions and concerns with them as well.” Unfortunately, I have little time to satisfy every Kane County citizen’s curiosity. Were you more involved and were more rigorous in your commitment to the party I could afford a bigger investment in this email dialogue.

That said, I would like to address an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent since the election of a clown to our Presidency. People are outraged. This has generated much enthusiasm for many to get involved in the political process. This is something I have dreamed of for years, especially since living in Kane County where, as you also indicated, many people vote Republican. However, this zealotry and, by some, this demand for perfection is unrealistic, counterproductive, and divisive. What the Democratic Party needs now is UNITY! Not antagonistic bantering.

Although in an ideal world, of course we should demand perfection and the ideal candidate ‘should’ be elected, but in our imperfect world we have to compromise and shoot for the best candidate who is in any given race at the time. This concept of compromise is even more necessary in our current (imperfect) political system.

The political process is a give and take compromise most of the time and your issue with the Geneva Mayoral race, which was one of those compromises given the demographics of Geneva, is currently in the past. I suggest that for our future benefit you employ your zealous energy more productively and join our organization as a committeeperson. You could then use this position to share your views within your precinct with the voters. I think this is a much better use of time and energy than asking challenging questions via email. To be honest, being a precinct committeeperson would require a time commitment from you but it is most important to expend your energy and to share your political philosophy with your neighbors in the period leading up to an election.

Unfortunately, due to my schedule and time constraints, I can not continue to address your concerns via email. Please attend the next meeting and I will be happy to discuss any political concerns you would like to address.

Mark Guethle

Well of course he talked about the unity thing, which to me has started to take on the same sort of meaning as that meme that goes “they only call it class warfare when we fight back” because they truly only start to talk about unity when they’ve screwed over the “base” again and they want us to shut up about it and just give them our money already and go knock on the doors they tell us to knock on.

Me, I am much better at what Guethle calls “antagonistic bantering” than I am at keeping my head down and accepting that my local Democratic Party leaders know best when they’ve taken decisions to elevate lesser-evilism to some new height wherein we are furthering the career prospects of Republican Golden Boys.

Remember how it’s supposed to be done? You find that woman or man who has talent and skill and ambition and whose heart is with your party, and get her to run for library board, propose her to the mayor as a good choice for a commission appointment, back her in an aldermanic run, introduce her to party leaders, and then, when she’s experienced and has built a resume, and when the right opening comes along – oh, say, maybe when two Republicans are ripping each other to shreds and disgusting all the residents in a local mayoral race – you help her run for mayor and a few years down the road you help her launch herself into the higher reaches of party politics.

Unless you are Mark Guethle. Because what you do if you are Guethle, rather than find capable young Dem prospects to bring up through the ranks, is use your position of authority to expend donor dollars, and direct newly engaged volunteers who are counting on your knowledge of the local political landscape to guide them, to elect lesser-evil Republicans, and then defend that by decrying their greater evil opponent’s anti-union and far right proclivities.

Then you turn right around and have the brazen hypocritical nerve to send out a hit piece accusing your opponent in an election of supporting Republicans because he pulled Republican ballots, as a private citizen, not a leader of his party, in a primary when he was urged to do so by a speaker at a Dem meeting in order to block an anti-union tea partier in a race with no contested Dem primary:

But maybe I should expect this sort of UNITY from someone like Guethle who has made it clear that he is sick of “this zealotry and, by some, this demand for perfection is unrealistic, counterproductive, and divisive” much like his buddy Mike Madigan, who is similarly pushing UNITY in the form of smear mailers. I call them buddies because I just got a robocall – literally while I was typing the first sentence in this paragraph – urging me to vote for Guethle for Democratic State Central Committeeman that was paid for by “Friends of Michael J Madigan.”

I’ve reached out to both Guethle and Janko for comment on that hit piece, and will post a follow up if I get responses. I’ve had a brief conversation with Janko, who promised a more detailed emailed response, but despair of any response from Guethle, for, as we all have learned, he has “little time to satisfy every Kane County citizen’s curiosity” and especially not mine because I am not rigorous enough in my commitment to the party to have earned the privilege of wasting his time with questions.

I guess it’s just as well that I don’t really need those responses to convince me we need new party leadership.

Here’s Pete Janko’s website. He’s running against Guethle for State Central Committee.

Here’s the Facebook page for Adrien Aaron who is running against Guethle for PCP.

You can help Kane County Dems by helping them out.

Zealously yours in UNITY,


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