Riverside’s very own Judy Baar Topinka is running for governor. She stopped just short of making a formal announcement of her candidacy Monday, but did acknowledge to reporters that she is circulating petitions to gain a ballot position in the March 2006 Republican primary.

Topinka, 61, is the Illinois State Treasurer and the former owner of The Landmark. She currently writes a twice monthly column for The Landmark which deals not with politics but with her life experiences as a Riverside resident.

Those Landmark columns were the basis Tuesday for a column by the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown who wrote that her multiple Republican opponents in the primary won’t have to send their researchers to scour the Landmark archives looking for controversy. Brown described Topinka’s columns as reflecting a “chatty gal-from-the-neighborhood style.” He also acknowledged that, unlike most columns allegedly penned by politicians, it is clear that Topinka actually writes hers. “No,” he wrote, “if you read Topinka’s columns, you have no doubt that she has written them herself, staying up late on Sunday nights to meet her Monday morning deadline.”

Topinka enters a primary race certain to be highly contested with four other announced competitors, mostly representing the GOP’s conservative wing. Topinka is described by most as a social moderate who favors abortion rights and opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Topinka is currently the only Republican to hold a statewide office, having been elected state treasurer three times. According to public opinion polls, Topinka enters the primary race as the frontrunner with both greater name recognition and as the only woman in the contest. However, she delayed entering the race for weeks, in part over concerns about being able to adequately finance a primary battle against wealthy GOP opponents such as businessman Ron Gidwitz or dairy magnate Jim Oberweis. If she were to win the March 21 primary, Topinka has also had concerns about competing against the $14 million campaign fund amassed by incumbent Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

Topinka told reporters Monday that she anticipates “a brutal” primary fight and general election.

?”Dan Haley