Patrick Botterman loved taking on the Machine

March 12, 2008

Mark Brown, Sun-Times

‘He didn’t want to work for no thieves’

Patrick Botterman wasn’t your typical political consultant. For one thing, he wasn’t in it for the money.

Instead of angling for the big payday that goes with representing a candidate with deep pockets, Botterman actually picked his clients based on what he thought they might accomplish if elected — or how much trouble they could cause for those in power during the process.

His particular delight in life was sticking it to the Cook County Democratic Machine, rarely a profitable career path for a Cook County Democrat such as himself.

Accordingly, Botterman’s candidates lost more elections than they won, and to make ends meet between races, he confided to friends that he occasionally took jobs on the loading dock of a package delivery service.

But even before he dropped dead of an apparent heart attack Monday afternoon on a downtown sidewalk, the 44-year-old Botterman had established himself as something of a legend in local independent politics.

He was the fierce competitor willing to go toe-to-toe with the most powerful ward bosses, the guerrilla warrior who could run a campaign with minimal financial resources, the savvy strategist with a feel for the concerns of the common voter — and too much of an idealist to represent any candidate in whom he did not believe.

I suppose that makes him sound like a saint, which isn’t true either, but he was a cut above, and some of the rough edges get sanded down when you die young.

Botterman had some significant wins, the most recent of which was last year’s election of Ald. Scott Waguespack in the 32nd Ward, which ousted Ted Matlak and the vestiges of the old Rostenkowski organization.

A year earlier he managed the winning campaign of state Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), a breakthrough for suburban Democrats.

And before that, he helped engineer Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s first election victory, when she was still a party outsider.

But in keeping with his character, Botterman then backed Brown’s opponent when she ran for re-election — deciding she had strayed too far from her promised reform path.

Friends say Botterman was always just as proud of the campaigns that fell short but did their best.

His death took everyone by surprise. He had no known health problems, exercised regularly — biking and walking — and didn’t smoke.

While nobody disagreed with my observation that he was wound a little tight, they said he wasn’t the kind to keep his frustrations bottled up either, sometimes expressed in legendary fits of temper.

Botterman took his latest loss hard, but not that hard, said Waguespack. In this year’s Democratic primary, his candidate for Congress, Mark Pera, was clobbered by the incumbent, Rep. Daniel Lipinski. Waguespack said Botterman was bothered more by the margin than the loss itself.

Some of Botterman’s opponents probably dismissed him as a fringe operator, and by their standards, maybe he was. But they also had to know that if he was on the other side they were going to have a fight on their hands.

“He didn’t mind being on the outs with powerful people. He prided himself on his independence,” said Chicago lawyer John Schmidt, whose ill-fated campaign for Illinois attorney general put both of them on the outs with one of the most powerful Democrats in Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan, the father of the winning candidate, Lisa Madigan.

Botterman occupied a peculiar vantage point for an outsider: He’s the elected Wheeling Township Democratic Committeeman, which gave him a vote on the Cook County Democratic Central Committee.

He inherited the spot from his mentor, the late state Sen. Eugenia Chapman, for whom he started work when he was still in high school. He was also an elected member of the Harper College Board of Trustees.

Botterman was born and raised in Arlington Heights, the seventh of eight children, and still lived there in a modest apartment.

“If he’d have been willing to make some compromises, his career might have been more lucrative. He wouldn’t do that. He had to believe in the candidate,” said Mike Mannino, a former campaign co-worker now in public relations.

Echoed political gadfly Frank Coconate, a Botterman friend: “He had a criteria for a candidate. He didn’t want to work for no thieves. He wasn’t looking for the millions. He liked the game for the game.”

On the night of Waguespack’s victory, Botterman declined his invitation to come to the platform to share in the credit.

If he was reading this now, he’d be squirming from the unwanted attention.

He was the fierce competitor willing to go toe-to-toe with the most powerful ward bosses.