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Mary Lee Leahy

Wednesday, Dec 12, 2012

* She changed Illinois forever

Mary Lee Leahy, the Athens resident and Springfield lawyer who took the Rutan case to the U.S. Supreme Court, leading to a 1990 decision banning most political hiring, died today following a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 72.

Leahy had been in hospice care at her Chicago residence, and died there at 5:30 a.m., said her sister, Maggie Cullen of Springfield. […]

Leahy was a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention that yielded the 1970 constitution. She and her late husband, Andrew, were two of five lawyers who worked to oust the 1972 Democratic National Convention Illinois delegation backed by then-Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, allowing a slate of independent candidates led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to be seated.

Her best-known case, Rutan vs. Republican Party of Illinois, was on behalf of the late Cynthia Rutan and four others who argued they were denied promotions or other advancement in state government because of the political patronage system. Rutan had said she was told she didn’t get a promotion at the old Department of Rehabilitation Services in 1983 because of her Democratic voting record. Most state positions are now officially covered by Rutan protection against political favoritism.

Mary Lee was an incredible woman. Smart, funny, tough and beautiful inside and out. She was a force unto her own and history followed almost wherever she went. I didn’t always agree with her, but I most certainly respected her, as did friend and foe alike.

There will never be another.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


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