Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: A Senator's Ex-Wife Scorned

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    NBCChicago.com

    In the summer of 2010, during the early part of Mark Kirk’s campaign for U.S. Senate, Ward Room received an e-mail from Kirk’s ex-wife, Kimberly Vertolli, about some photos.

    Vertolli recently filed an Federal Election Commission complaint against her former spouse for campaign finance irregularities which got us thinking about the exchange.

    Mark Kirk Speaks

    [CHI] Mark Kirk Speaks
    The Illinois Senator has been silent with the media since a January 21, 2012 stroke impacted his life. Kirk released his first public statement on May 8, 2012. (Published Tuesday, May 8, 2012)

    At the time of her correspondence in June 2010, Vertolli offered us a photograph of a Kirk aide, Dodie McCracken, a woman she said had a “Svengali-like” influence over her ex-husband and billed it as "incriminating." She also gave an interview to Chicago Magazine in which she slammed her ex-husband as a poor choice for senate, and said she wouldn't vote for him. 

    Ward Room didn’t run the photo, because it wasn’t news. It simply showed McCracken pointing angrily at a camera.

    Shortly after Vertolli contacted us with an "incriminating" photo, and we declined to use it, she joined the Kirk campaign as a paid aide, and her tune changed.  

    “Kimberly,” I e-mailed her at the time. “Last week, you were offering us a story about Dodie McCracken. Now, you've joined the Kirk campaign. Why the change of heart?” 

    She didn't respond. 

    Later that year, in October, I e-mailed Vertolli to tell her I’d written a blog post surmising that Kirk would be the best pick for Senate. She e-mailed back, thanking me effusively, and assuring me her ex-husband would make a great senator. That's the last we had heard of Vertolli until now. 

    The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that Vertolli received $40,000 for performing 83 hours of legal research for Kirk for which she was hired after attempting to peddle the photograph. Her salary was paid after the campaign ended, with a check made out to Athens & Sparta LLC, a company of which Vertolli is the only employee.

    “I was doing real work,” Vertolli told the Tribune. “But I do think the motivation in actually putting me on contract was to try to, was to get me to be quiet about my misgivings about McCracken and get my energy focused on helping Mark win.”

    The Tribune story from Tuesday reports that McCracken was Kirk’s live-in girlfriend from June 2011 to this January, and that she received $143,000 for her work on his campaign. NBC Chicago has not verified the nature of the relationship between Kirk and McCraken.

    Vertolli's complaint to the FEC alleges Kirk broke the law by writing the checks to The Patterson Group, a Wilmette ad firm, which then passed it on to McCracken, paying her as a subcontractor, essentially the same way he paid her. 

    It may be that Vertolli is a woman scorned. But, if the Tribune is correct in reporting that Kirk and McCracken were romantically linked, then Kirk made himself an easy target for her wrath by employing his girlfriend on political campaigns.