They Remain Loyal to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Labor Unions and Civil Rights, but These Days, in Their Conservative Corner of Kane County, Red Floyd and Mike DeStefano Feel like the Last Two Democrats

By Knopper, Melissa | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 12, 1998 | Go to article overview

They Remain Loyal to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Labor Unions and Civil Rights, but These Days, in Their Conservative Corner of Kane County, Red Floyd and Mike DeStefano Feel like the Last Two Democrats


Knopper, Melissa, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Melissa Knopper Daily Herald Staff Writer

Driving on Route 25 through Carpentersville, Red Floyd and Mike DeStefano find themselves flanked by thickets of Republican election signs: "Barrett for Kane County Board"; "Bobbie Ward for Kane County Clerk"; "Arthur Allan for Judge."

The two old friends glance at the signs but say nothing. They know they're hopelessly outnumbered.

Yet, despite advancing age and decades of discouraging election results they keep the faith. In their brown minivan, they stay on course toward the Democratic Party's monthly meeting in Geneva. Red, 74, has been Dundee Township's party chairman for years. He admits, a little sheepishly, that this year he forgot to file in time to get on the upcoming primary ballot, but Mike, 82, did remember, and will undoubtedly take over the chairman's seat this year.

And so Red and Mike will continue to battle on against the legions of powerful Republicans who dominate this conservative corner of Kane County. Some of those Republicans call Red and Mike the last Democrats in Dundee Township, the only two still loyal to Franklin D. Roosevelt and his notion that government ought to help the most vulnerable Americans.

They're not really the last Democrats, of course. Democrat Mary Lou Kearns keeps getting herself elected Kane County coroner, and currently is running for lieutenant governor of Illinois.

And both Red and Mike claim several residents of Dundee Township have confessed to them a secret allegiance to the Democratic Party.

But at times these two old stalwarts certainly feel like the last of a breed. Membership in the township's Democratic party has dwindled to practically nothing, and new members remain as elusive as ghosts.

Yet, Red and Mike continue to fight. What else can they do? If they dropped out of politics, no one would promote the ideals they embrace; no one would support their vision of a government dedicated to the people instead of the powerful.

"We're in the minority," Mike admits, "but we still want to stick to what we believe in."

Old friends

The two old Democrats spend most of their time together these days. They go on trips, share meals and watch out for each other.

"Sometimes we fight like married people," Red says.

Like old married people, they have come to resemble each other. They both, for example, favor blue-plaid flannel shirts, gray sweaters and warm jackets.

But like old married people, they also endure each other's irritating quirks. Mike is talkative and charming, with a perpetual twinkle in his eye. A native of Chicago, Mike proudly recalls his Italian heritage and refers to himself as a paisano. In public, Mike is outgoing and talkative, a flirt who still calls women "sweetheart" and "honey." Once, when he and Red went to breakfast, nearly an hour passed before they ate because Mike kept running into people he knew from his 17 years as a Kane County board member.

"He knows everybody," Red says with exasperation.

Red, on the other hand, is quiet and more reserved. He's a Glenn Miller fan who loves to twirl his wife Lois across the dance floor. He volunteers as an elementary school tutor, helping children learn to read.

And instead of a twinkle in his eye, Red wears a deep furrow between his eyebrows - a sign of the stubborn toughness at the bottom of his personality.

"He's steady as a rock and his head is as hard as that rock I just mentioned," Mike says. "He's one fine, straight arrow. It's tough to get him to change his mind."

Similar backgrounds

Their political beliefs brought Red and Mike together 25 years ago, and those beliefs were shaped by similar backgrounds.

Mike's father worked long hours as a gandy dancer for the railroad, and later as a factory worker. He also raised cows and vegetables to provide a little extra food and cash for his family. …

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