A little bit of recent Springfield political history made it into the June edition of Vanity Fair magazine.

A little bit of recent Springfield political history made it into the June edition of Vanity Fair magazine.

GAIL PURKEY, who early in her career worked for the state and retired in 2010 after more than 20 years as communications director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, was prompted to write a letter to the magazine after reading a story titled “West Wing Babies” in the April edition. It talked of the inspiring influence of the TV show that ran from 1999-2006 and dramatized life in the White House under a progressive president.

“Reading JULI WEINER’s article took me back to Springfield, Illinois, where I was part of a group of politically involved women — legislators, lobbyists, policy experts, labor leaders — who gathered weekly to eat carryout Thai food and watch The West Wing,” Purkey wrote.
“Our world was made right once a week,” Purkey wrote.

She also referred to helping elect President BARACK OBAMA.

“In 2008 we worked hard for a presidential candidate from Illinois who touched that idealistic core in us,” she wrote. “The West Wing didn’t influence just twentysomethings. Our group of middle-aged women was reminded once again by this remarkable television show why we had become political activists in the first place, and why we must continue.”

So, who were these people?

Purkey says they would usually gather in somebody’s room at the Inn at 835, and some men were in the mix at times as well. People she recalled being there included former state AFL-CIO President MARGARET BLACKSHERE; former state Sen. CAROL RONEN of Chicago; former state Rep. JUDY ERWIN; state Sens. JEFF SCHOENBERG of Evanston and SUSAN GARRETT of Lake Forest; House Majority Leader BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE of Chicago; ROCCO CLAPS, director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights; LEO SMITH, husband of state Sen. HEATHER STEANS, who had been a lobbyist; former Senate secretary LINDA HAWKER; and lobbyist LORETTA DURBIN, wife of U.S. Sen. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill.

Oh, and the food was sometimes Thai from Magic Kitchen, but other options, including pizza, sometimes filled the bill.

“One time, we even got Saputo’s,” she said.

Purkey, an East St. Louis native, was raised in Granite City and got a journalism degree from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. She worked for the Equal Rights Amendment and did advance work on the 1980 campaign of President JIMMY CARTER, later working for Illinois House Democrats and the Illinois Arts Council. She joined IFT in 1988, and now lives in Chicago with her husband, retired English teacher DAVE KONKOL, who taught at Thornridge High in Dolton.

On “West Wing” nights, she said, “the conversations were just ricocheting off the walls, and then, the second the show started, it was dead silence — and we entirely focused on being in that world for that one hour.”

And yes, Purkey said she’s planning to volunteer for Obama’s re-election campaign.

Durbin helping Gill
It appears that Sen. Durbin is on board with the campaign of the Democratic nominee for U.S. House in the new 13th District, DAVID GILL.

Durbin’s name is the first to appear in an emailed invitation for a Springfield fundraiser for Gill coming up June 6, though the Senate is expected to be in session at the time, which will keep Durbin away.

During the primary campaign, Durbin backed Greene County State’s Attorney MATT GOETTEN to get his party’s nomination. But Gill won a slim victory in the new district that includes all or parts of 14 counties.

Gill and Durbin had breakfast May 12 at the Bob Evans restaurant on the city’s southeast side, said MIKE RICHARDS, campaign manager for Gill, before both spoke at a meeting of the Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association.

Durbin said “he wants to be helpful to the campaign,” Richards said, and that included the June 6 event, which is from 5-7 p.m. at Café Moxo and has a base ticket price of $50.

Richards, by the way, moved up from consulting as a campaign spokesman during the primary to becoming Gill’s campaign manager for the general election.

Richards, 33, is a Lincoln native now of Champaign who graduated from the University of Illinois there. He’s been on the Champaign County Board since 2007.

He said the new 13th congressional contest will be “one of the top races in the country.
“So it’s going to be fun for political junkies,” he said.

Richards was political director for Democrat ROBIN KELLY in the 2010 general election race that saw her lose the state treasurer contest to Republican DAN RUTHERFORD. He’s also been serving as political director for state Rep. NAOMI JAKOBSSON, D-Urbana.  He earlier worked on President Obama’s U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns, and he worked for then-presidential hopeful DICK GEPHARDT in 2004 in New Hampshire.

In 2009, he was campaign manager for a slate of labor-backed  candidates for Decatur city offices. The mayoral candidate in that group, STEVE DANIELS, lost to Mayor MIKE McELROY, who is also now the Republican candidate in the new 48th Senate District, which includes part of Springfield.

Richards also worked doing intergovernmental relations for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and in the press office of the state Environmental Protection Agency.

Poshard honored
The Springfield-based Illinois Coalition for Community Services last week presented its Paul Simon Community Service Award to Southern Illinois University President GLENN POSHARD.

“For almost four decades he has been committed to bringing jobs, quality education, and adequate, accessible health care” to people of southern Illinois, a statement from the group said.

Poshard was a legislator and member of Congress before becoming SIU president, and the not-for-profit Poshard Foundation, which he founded with his wife, JO, raises more than $100,000 annually to fund care for abused children and other victims of domestic abuse.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or follow him via twitter.com/bschoenburg. His email address is
bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.