The Triton race

Last week, Triton College board of trustees chairman Mark Stephens missed a good finish. In a lottery for name placement on the April 7 ballot, the 18-year incumbent, who’s running for a fourth sixth-year term, didn’t land one of the top three spotsFellow trustee Glenn Stam won the coveted top spot, followed by Thomas Hagle, Marie Caronti, Stephens and Julio Vargas.

Don’t expect Stephens to suffer another loss this spring.

Since 1991, when he spent nearly $70,000 to win a non-salaried trustee seat, Stephens has solidified his political and operational hold on the community college through a combination of strong fundraising, political networking and favor trading, and the assemblage of a small but loyal and well-paid core of Triton administrators.

Mark Stephens and his brother, Leyden Township Supervisor and Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens, inherited the business and political operation their father, Donald Stephens, built in Rosemont over 50 years, quite literally from a garbage dump to a gleaming, bustling nerve center focused on conventions, hotels and night life.

There are two primary ways to measure the Stephens brothers’ power: political boots on the ground and cash flow. A review by Wednesday Journal of hundreds of pages of nominating petitions recently filed with Triton and of hundreds more pages of D-2 Semi-Annual Reports of Campaign Finance data filed last month with the State Board of Elections shows, the Stephens brothers are the big dogs in Rosemont, at Triton and throughout Leyden Township.

Four towns stand out as central to Stephens’ control of the political process: Rosemont, which circulated 24 nominating sheets, Melrose Park (24 sheets), Elmwood Park (56) and River Grove (31). With help from those allies and some support in Proviso Township, they needn’t worry much about how they’re viewed by many of Triton District 504’s other 25 municipalities.

Not that Mark Stephens is invulnerable. He’s not, and he knows it. His hand-picked incumbent in the 2007 trustee race lost by nearly 3,000 votes to another out-of-favor 78-year-old incumbent with few workers and even less money. All the more reason to expect Stephens to take no chances this spring.

Mark Stephens doesn’t talk to the press, at least not to this newspaper, but he does make his goals known through sometimes rambling statements during Triton board meetings. Two things are clear. He says he wants higher enrollment – more “butts in the seats,” as he says – and the state to provide greater support, particularly for capital improvements. Most of all, though, it seems Stephens wants to maintain iron control of the school’s $70 million annual budget, with its jobs, contracts and the ability to do favors and convey power.

Money is power

In the five and a half years since winning a third term on the Triton board, Mark Stephens has raised almost a quarter million dollars. But that $248,000 is only a part of the story. Over the same 66-month period, Bradley Stephens’ Committeeman Fund (inherited in 2007 from their dad) raised over $3.25 million, and the Rosemont Voters League took in just over $1 million.

Mark Stephens is treasurer of both funds.

In the second six months of 2008 alone, the Bradley A. Stephens Committeeman Fund took in $404,350. The cash pours in from well over a hundred reliable sources, everyone from CBS Outdoor Advertising ($10,000) to Krimson Valley Landscaping of Roselle, ($20,000).

Businesses and unions and connected locals both dependent on and appreciative of the Stephens family provide equally reliable contributions, including from PACs formed by Teamsters, stage hands, iron workers, carpenters, ticket sellers and others.

That lush cash flow allows the Stephens brothers to be generous with people they favor. In just one Christmas season, the Stephens Committeeman Fund spent $11,750 on Christmas cards, another $17,238 on gifts. Several dozen politicians receive regular checks from the fund. As do dozens of local beneficiaries, such as youth sports and school teams – $14,400 alone to the Leyden high baseball team, $1,000 to Trinity High School, $1,500 to Dominican University, $3,000 to Leyden Senior Services, $1,000 to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In one case, a $10,000 check was cut to help pay one person’s medical expenses.

Whatever the motivation behind it, the money is genuine, as is most likely the appreciation and the widespread good will it engenders.

It’s also a large enough pile of money to allow the Stephens Committeeman Fund to reject a $10,000 contribution in January 2004 from Mark Stephens former Bomark partner and convicted swindler Nick Boscarino.

There’s also just plain good old parties. Every August, spending in the five figures goes to a Cubs rooftop fundraising party by Mark Stephens. Annual dinner dances net many tens of thousands of dollars from the committeeman fund. And tens of thousands more go to annual golf outings and the annual Rosemont Voters League picnic.

In 2006, a gala for Rosemont’s 50th anniversary cast at least three quarters of a million dollars, complete with a gold-leaf-embossed, hardbound full-color memory book.

The Stephens’ brothers intent is to convey power and prestige. All that money on the expenditure side of the ledger, of course, also goes to selected Stephens loyalists for such expenses as catering, drinks, printing and production costs, fundraiser prizes, transportation, cleanup, security and a dozen other services, further cementing the bond between the benefactors and the benefited.

It’s a family affair

Braile Inc. has no listed phone number, just the Byron Street address of Donald Stephens II, a brother of Mark Stephens and Bradley Stephens. Donald Stephens II is listed as the president and secretary of the business on Secretary of State corporate filings.

State Board of Elections filings show the Stephens committeeman fund paid Braile $726,000 from 1999 to 2008. For that money, according to the filings, Braile provides the committeeman fund “coordination of all fundraising events including but not limited to solicitation of contributions.”


No two non-Stephens family members are more trusted or more rewarded than David Houston and Grant Bailey. Since 2000, the two men have contributed nearly $240,000 from three businesses they own, and from their own pockets. Those three businesses, and the heft of their own pockets, are reliant on Rosemont.

In addition, two other men, business partners Ray Rosato and Isaac Degnen, have poured $216,000 into Mark Stephens’, Bradley Stephens’ and the Rosemont Voters League’s coffers.

In addition, over that time Rosemont-based law firm of Storino, Ramello and Durkin – which has offices next door to Bomark and where Mark Stephens, who has a law degree, serves in an “of counsel” capacity – gave over $83,000. Kusper & Raucci, Triton’s law firm, gave over $35,000.

Add to that the $120,600 that Mark Stephens’ Bomark Cleaning Services Corp. has thrown in and the total take from just that one small circle in just nine years is almost $693,000.


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