May 12, 2010
BY DAVE McKINNEY Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief

SPRINGFIELD --The state's budget meltdown did not prevent the wives of two Democratic lawmakers from landing six-figure state paychecks thanks to Gov. Quinn and the Illinois Senate.

The spouse of Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Chicago) nearly doubled her state salary when Quinn named her to a $117,043-a-year spot on the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

The governor also appointed the wife of state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) to another term as chairwoman of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, a position that will pay her $104,358 annually.

"Carrie Zalewski and Lynne Sered are qualified individuals whose experience and professionalism made them the best candidates available," Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said.

Gov. Quinn appointed the wives of two Democratic lawmakers to state positions that pay six figures. (AP)

But one lawmaker, Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), raised a stink about the appointments on the floor of the Illinois Senate.

"This smells of typical pay-to-play politics in Illinois. It's inappropriate or unethical for powerful politicians' spouses or family members to be receiving high-priced salaries on state boards or commissions," Duffy said. "These board members get a pension on top of everything else. They're going to be paid for life by taxpayers."

Duffy was roundly condemned by Democrats, who tried to discredit him by circulating two fund-raising letters he sent out bearing the state seal even though the letter clearly stated it was paid for by Duffy's campaign.

Sen. Louis Viverito (D-Burbank), who was Carrie Zalewski's Senate sponsor, accused Duffy of being on "the wrong track when you personally attack someone because they're related to someone. That is totally, completely incorrigible to me to do that."

Schoenberg's wife, a lawyer who once was a staffer on the National Labor Relations Board, was appointed to the state education panel in 2000 by former Gov. George Ryan and had been confirmed unanimously on two previous votes. Last week, Sered was confirmed by the Senate 45-1; Duffy was the lone dissenter.

"Her extensive accomplishments, credentials and personal qualities speak for themselves. I'm very proud of her and know she'll continue to do a terrific job in her role as board chairman," Schoenberg said.

Until November, Zalewski's wife was an environmental compliance attorney with the Illinois Department of Transportation, earning $61,200 a year, her husband said.

"My wife is an independent person who wants to pursue her career aspirations regardless of the fact that she is married to an elected official," said Zalewski, son of Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd).

"She is well-qualified to be a member of the Pollution Control Board and, as a new mother, has a strong, personal passion for preventing environmental contamination and upholding the law," Zalewski said of his wife, who was confirmed 44-5 by the Senate.