Robert Molaro, former state legislator, dies at 69

Championed horse racing industry, promoted animal welfare

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Former state legislator Robert Molaro, who once represented large swarths of Riverside and Brookfield, died of pancreatic cancer on June 15, 2020 at his home in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood of Chicago. 

Molaro, 69, served as a state senator from 1993 until 2002. After legislative districts were redrawn following the 2000 Census, he served as a state representative from 2002 until he resigned in the summer of 2008, a few months after a successful primary election.

His resignation paved the way for party leaders to select the then 29-year-old Michael Zalewski to replace him on the general election ballot, and Zalewski has served in the Illinois House of Representatives ever since. 

The timing of Molaro's resignation meant that Zalewski, who now calls Riverside home, didn't have to face a contested primary in his first run for office. 

Zalewski said Molaro, who founded his own lobbying firm after leaving the General Assembly, served as a friend and mentor to him. 

"He had a very good ability to listen and digest difficult issues and break them down and give you good advice on any number of topics. I'm forever grateful to him for everything he did for me," Zalewski said.

After Molaro's resignation greased the way for Zalewski to succeed him, Molaro told the new state rep that it was now up to him to make the most of the opportunity provided to him.

"He said, 'When you get this job don't just coast, and realize that a lot of people put in a lot of effort to put you in a position to succeed and you got to go out and earn it.' I tried to do that, but there's always more work to do," Zalewski recalled.

Molaro was most known for his work promoting animal welfare and his work to help the horse racing industry in Illinois. Molaro sponsored and passed laws banning shooting preserves in Illinois and outlawing the slaughter of horses for human consumption. 

In 2007 he also introduced a bill outlawing the consumption of foie gras, a liver delicacy that depends on force feeding ducks or geese, but never could round up the votes to get that bill out of committee.

Another quixotic cause that Molaro unsuccessfully championed was his attempt to ban aluminum baseball bats.

"He was an interesting guy, for sure," Zalewski said.

As a legislator and lobbyist, Molaro advocated for the horse racing industry in Illinois.

"He singled handedly, I think, saved the horse raising industry [in Illinois]," Zalewski said. 

He was also a thoughtful chairman of the House Judiciary/Law Committee who often was skeptical of the then-popular drives for penalty enhancements.

"He was not afraid to tell a colleague when he was chair of Judiciary/Law that if you didn't have any empirical data to back up a penalty enhancement, if you were just doing this for very limited reasons, you weren't going to get your bill called," Zalewski said. "That was unheard of in the 2000s."

Most of all, Molaro loved to get together and talk, often over coffee.

"Coffee for him was life," Zalewski said. "It was an opportunity to talk and listen and bond.

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