Bill Cellini timeline: A look at his life, career

Staff reports

But for a long-ago blizzard, William Cellini might never have catapulted to a position of statewide political influence.

As a freshly elected Springfield city streets commissioner, Cellini was in charge when the worst snowstorm in 50 years hit the city in January 1964. The cleanup went so well that Cellini wrote an article on how to clean up snow for Public Works magazine, a national publication, and breezed to re-election, drawing no opposition in the election of 1967.

By then, Cellini was already considered a man to be reckoned with in statewide politics. Here’s a look at his life and career.

Nov. 5, 1934: Born in Springfield. His father, William Cellini Sr., was a city police officer. His mother, Edith, was a cashier in the Sangamon County treasurer’s office.

June 1952: Cellini graduates from Lanphier High School.

June 1958: Receives bachelor’s degree in physics from Illinois College.

1958: Cellini runs unsuccessfully for Springfield police magistrate.

April 1963: Elected city commissioner. At 28, he is the youngest man ever elected to the city council.

January 1964: Cellini wins widespread praise for getting streets cleaned quickly after an epic snowstorm.

August 1965: Cellini is engaged to Julianna Maria England, then a reporter for The Illinois Journal-Register, precursor to The State Journal-Register. The couple marries on June 11, 1966.

Spring 1968: Cellini manages the gubernatorial campaign of John Henry Altorfer, a Peoria businessman. Altorfer loses the Republican primary, and Cellini then campaigns for Richard Ogilvie, who wins the general election.

January 1969: Ogilvie appoints Cellini head of the state Department of Public Works and Buildings, predecessor to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

March 1971: U.S. Department of Transportation issues report showing that Illinois met just one of 16 federal highway safety program standards.

Nov. 29, 1971: Chicago media report that Cellini has broken jobs down into segments worth less than $1,500 to circumvent state bidding requirements. The jobs were worth as much as $56,000. Cellini denies wrongdoing.

April 1972: State Senate unanimously confirms Cellini as the first secretary of the newly created Illinois Department of Transportation, putting him in charge of 10,000 employees and a budget of more than $1.5 billion.

1973: After election of Democratic Gov. Dan Walker, Cellini resigns from IDOT and becomes executive director of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association.

August 1976: Cellini, who coordinated Gerald Ford’s downstate campaign, seconds Ford for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention.

July 1978: Cellini seeks air rights from the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority so he can build a hotel next to the Prairie Capital Convention Center. The project, funded with a loan from the state, takes years to organize.

June 1979: State legislators approve a plan to lease the vacant Concordia Seminary from a Cellini-owned company and use it as a state prison training facility. Cellini closes several more leasing deals with the state in ensuing years, and by 1984, Cellini’s New Frontier Developments is leasing more square footage to the state than any other landlord in Springfield.

1985: A partnership led by Cellini purchases Evergreen Terrace, an east-side apartment complex. With the complex plagued by crime and a high vacancy rate, Cellini, saying he was losing money, sold it to a nonprofit agency in 1999, with the money coming from state and federal taxpayers.

1990: Cellini and Earl Deutsch, a Democrat, establish Commonwealth Realty Advisers, which manages real estate for pension funds, including the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System. Cellini has transferred his interests in the firm to his son and daughter.

1990: Cellini pays $50,000 for a state gambling license to open a casino in Alton. Three years later, Cellini and his partners take the casino company called Argosy public, with Cellini selling $4.9 million in stock and keeping shares worth an estimated $50 million. In 2004, a Pennsylvania company buys Argosy, and Cellini collects an estimated $63 million for his remaining shares.

April 1995: State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka offers to settle the outstanding debt on the downtown hotel for 25 cents on the dollar. The offer is eventually killed by state Attorney General Jim Ryan, who says Cellini and other investors must make good on their debt of nearly $20 million.

October 2000: U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a Republican from Illinois, filibusters for two days, demanding that federal contracting rules be followed as a condition for the state receiving money to build the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Fitzgerald spends hours reading newspaper clippings about Cellini’s lucrative deals with the state and points out that Cellini’s wife is a driving force behind the museum. Cellini responds by promising he won’t bid on museum work.

December 2003: Faced with a new law barring lobbyists or their spouses from serving on state boards and commissions, Cellini removes himself from the state’s list of registered lobbyists so that his wife can continue as chairwoman of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s board of trustees.

Compiled by State Journal-Register staff writer Bruce Rushton