Politics in the Family: Tod Satterthwaite
By Jim Meadows
There are many roads to a political career, but for some people, it is a family affair.
Tod Satterthwaite’s political career includes three terms as mayor of Urbana, and a spirited if unsuccessful bid for the Illinois House. His father, the late Cameron Sattherthwaite, was a scientist with a lifelong interest in politics. He was a school board member in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
After moving to Champaign-Urbana in the 1960s, Cameron was the 1966 Democratic challenger to longtime Republican Congressman William Springer. Springer won re-election easily, but it was still an exciting time for 12 year old Tod Satterthwaite.
While they weren’t involved in formulating campaign strategy, Satterthwaite said he and his sibling enjoyed taking part in campaign activities, which included accompanying his father to county fairs.
“It must have been 12 or 15 counties,” Satterthwaite recalled. “So, we would go the county fairs with him during the summertime. We operated the mimeograph machine for him at home, and cranking out campaign material and so forth; and had some of the campaign key chains and stuff like that, we helped to give them out.”
Cameron Satterthwaite stayed active in politics, serving as a delegate for Eugene McCarthy at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and for George McGovern at the 1972 convention. But it was Cameron’s wife, Helen, who eventually won elections in Illinois. Mrs. Sattherthwaite was elected to the Illinois House on her second try in 1974, and served a total of 18 years in Springfield.
Once again, young Tod Satterthwaite was part of the campaign, where he learned a basic lesson about campaign work.
“My responsibility was to do door-to-door in a couple of precincts,” Satterthwaite aid. “And it was amazing, seeing the results after the election, how effective that door-to-door campaigning could be, compared to a precinct that hadn’t been worked.”
Satterthwaite eventually made his own bid for public office, winning election as mayor of Urbana in 1993. He said he modeled his campaign on the ones his mother had run for the Illinois House. As Satterthwaite puts it, “Urbana was smaller than a state representative district, but a lot of the campaign strategies were the same.”
Satterthwaite said his parents’ political background also gave him an advantage in making connections with local party regulars.
“You know, it is difficult for people that just start out, if you don’t know some of the precinct committee people in the party, whether Democratic or Republican, if you don’t know who have been active workers or volunteers, then it’s a little more hard to get your organization together,” Satterthwaite said.
Despite following his parents into politics, Tod Satterthwaite has not seen the next generation of the family show the same interest. Although he has no children himself, Satterthwaite is uncle to six nieces and nephews.
“I haven’t seen a single one that has shown an interest in politics,” he said chuckling.
Satterthwaite’s run as mayor of Urbana ended in 2007, when he lost his bid for a fourth term to the current mayor, Laurel Prussing.
Since then, he has moved to Champaign, and has stayed active in politics. He serves as a Democratic precinct committeeman, and ran unsuccessfully last year for his party’s nomination to the Champaign County Board.
This year, Tod Satterthwaite is helping Les Stratton as he challenges incumbent Laurel Prussing for the Democratic nomination for Urbana mayor.