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Wednesday, March 11, 2009 03:10 pm

Smith revives GOP club

Former party chair says leadership needs to lead

The Sangamon County Evening Republican Club, declared disbanded and dead about a year ago, will be resurrected just in time for Easter, according to several former party officers. Irv Smith, who chaired the GOP’s county-wide organization from 1983 through 2005, says he is revitalizing the social and fundraising organization because local Republicans lack direction.

“It’s just a rallying cry from me to Republicans,” he says. “We need to get behind our leaders and support them. But our leadership needs to get out in front and lead.”

Current GOP chairman Tony Libri, who Smith chose as his successor, is a colonel in the Illinois National Guard and deployed in Afghanistan until autumn. Rosemarie Long, acting party chair, was surprised to hear of Smith’s plans, and cited a list of signs pointing to a general GOP renewal, including successful elections at the city and county level, a new east side club, new headquarters, and the recent Lincoln Day Luncheon attended by more than 800. “I think it’s going good,” she says.

Smith decided to revive the club after party officials asked him to help with the upcoming township elections. Smith agreed to help, but only if he was given permission to run the campaign. That permission was not granted.

He won’t name the officials who sought his help and rejected his terms.

“The top echelon approved it, and when I said what my conditions were, the approval was not given,” Smith says.

Smith discussed his plans last Saturday at a local chili parlor where he regularly dines with other Republicans. Among the guests at his table were Claudio Pecori, who presided over the Evening club throughout Smith’s tenure as party chairman, and Jay Paris, representing his son-in-law Don Gray, who was the candidate for county recorder last fall. Smith hopes Gray will be elected president of the club.

The Evening Club was once a powerful fundraising arm of the party, with up to 1,400 dues-paying members. “It was not unusual for [a candidate] to get a $10,000 contribution from the club,” Smith says.

The club waned after Smith retired as chairman, and Pecori retired along with Smith. “He brought us to the table; we left the table with him,” Pecori says.

Pecori was succeeded briefly by Tim Griffin, who is now a member of the Springfield city council. It faded away around March last year.

Ward 1 Alderman Frank Edwards is scheduled to speak at the club’s first meeting, April 8 in Vinegar Hill Mall.

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