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Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 12:01 am

The premier downstate political strategist

KEITH LARKIN TAYLOR Sept. 10, 1948-July 10, 2013

KEITH LARKIN TAYLOR
A host of prominent Illinois politicos attended the July 16 memorial service for Keith Taylor. Among them were Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former Attorney General Neil Hartigan, former Senate President Tom Hynes and his son, former Comptroller Dan Hynes. The younger Hynes gave a moving tribute to Taylor, who had squired Hynes around downstate Illinois in his run for comptroller in 1998, and again in 2004 when Hynes ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.

Taylor was known for his love “bordering on mania” for the San Francisco Giants, his love of music, particularly The Beatles, his encyclopedic knowledge of history and politics, love of family, and his penchant for practical jokes. His knowledge of downstate Democratic politics was legendary, and his regular guy personality opened lots of doors downstate for Democratic candidates from Chicago.

By all accounts he was highly respected as a man of his word among friends and coworkers. His obituary read, “He is remembered as a tough but fair manager with a tremendous heart and whose word, once given, was considered as good as gold.”

Keith was born Sept. 10, 1948, in Springfield, the son of Vi and Bill Taylor. He became a Giants fan, according to his widow, Debby Hagan, in rebellion against his father and brother, who were big Cardinals fans. Keith was delighted when the Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012.  

David Weisbaum of Springfield and Keith were born the same week, but didn’t meet until fifth grade. They became good friends and went on to share adventures through high school.  Weisbaum conceded that they were not model students, in and outside of the classroom. Their parents sent them both to military school in Missouri to shape up. “We were not sent there because we were officer material,” Weisbaum said.

Keith and David were keenly interested in history and Illinois politics and worked on many campaigns over the years. “Keith was the premier downstate political strategist,” Weisbaum said.

Taylor earned a master’s degree in political studies from the University of Illinois Springfield. He was a voracious reader and his home was filled with hundreds of books on history, politics and U.S. presidents.

“Keith believed his vote made a difference,” his widow Debby Hagan said. “He knew old-style politics – walking in parades, putting out campaign signs. He started out at the bottom, and worked his way up.”

Keith and Debby met at the attorney general’s office, where both worked in the 1980s. Taylor had campaigned for Neil Hartigan in his successful bid for attorney general in 1982. He had also worked on numerous Democratic campaigns, including those of Alan Dixon, Mike Howlett, Dan Walker, and Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns for governor in 1982 and 1986, among many others.

As Dan Hynes was putting together his campaign for comptroller in 1998, Hartigan suggested Taylor to help Hynes in his first statewide campaign. They traveled all 102 counties in the state together. Taylor became Hynes’ chief of staff and good friend after Hynes’ election. Hynes gave a heartfelt eulogy at Taylor’s service, including these remarks:

“Keith was a public servant. He believed that government was good, and that working for government was an honor. He didn’t get into politics for power or prestige or self-advancement.... He had no tolerance for demagogues or phonies…. He was very decisive because he trusted his instincts, and his motives were always pure and direct.” (The entire eulogy can be found online on CapitolFax.com.)

Hynes stressed that Taylor was a leader and mentor in his office and tried to instill the following values in staff:

#1. Work hard. The way to get ahead is to be the first person at the office in the morning and the last one to leave at night.

#2. Start at the bottom and work your way up. There’s no room for prima donnas and no job is beneath you.

#3. Be loyal. Period. Keith believed in loyalty and would stay true to the bitter end.

“Keith had an encyclopedic knowledge of downstate legislators, county chairmen and precinct committeemen,” Hynes said, “as well as little factoids about each and every county and county seat.

“Keith came from that old school of politics that rested firmly on things like respect, loyalty and honor,” Hynes added, “things that have slowly faded away over the last decade of Illinois politics….We are all better for having known him.”

In 2008 Taylor was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was in remission until 2010, when it returned and slowly advanced into other organs. He died peacefully at home on July 10.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 29 years, Debby, daughter Abby Taylor Pfeiffer, sons Brodie, Andy and Dan, his brother Bill and his former wife, Carol Taylor Routman. Taylor loved being grandfather to Abby’s son, Frederick, born earlier this year. –Ginny Lee

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