Octopus salad. Buckwheat blinis. Fresh Maine sea urchins. These are not the kinds of menu items normally found in the capital city.

Here in Springfield we have dishes like the horseshoe, which consists of a hamburger on a piece of Texas toast, covered in a mound of French fries and then topped with a tangy cheese sauce.

But we'll get back to the food in a moment.

On Sept. 2, a the Illinois House took up Senate Bill 1229, which would have banned the state's largest employee union from going on strike or being locked out. Instead, if the governor and the union declared an impasse during contract negotiations, an outside arbitrator could be brought in to pick a winner.

Gov. Bruce Rauner worked hard to beat back the bill, saying an unelected arbitrator shouldn't get to decide an issue that could cost the state billions of dollars over time.

It was among the more dramatic days in recent legislative memory. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, needed every one of his members — 71 — to overcome Rauner's veto of the legislation.

Among those who showed up was the late Esther Golar, a Chicago Democrat who could be counted on to vote against the Republican chief executive. She was very ill. She was wheeled into the Capitol and then had to leave for a visit to the hospital. She showed everyone her dedication to the job. She passed away on Sept. 21.

Meanwhile, one Democratic member could not be found. Rumors were caroming off the marble floors of the statehouse that state Rep. Ken Dunkin was in New York. Others said he was taking the train from Chicago to Springfield and was delayed.

In the end, the "no strike" measure fell short by three votes. Madigan put the blame squarely on Dunkin, who was indeed in New York that day.

Many people wondered what exactly Dunkin was doing when his colleagues like the late Esther Golar were making sacrifices to be in Springfield.

That's where the food comes in.

According to newly filed campaign finance records, it appears as if Dunkin — at some point that day — ate at a seafood restaurant called Aquagrill in the SoHo section of Manhattan.

The menu includes dishes like "Truffle Crusted Casco Bay Cod with Wild Mushroom Ravioli, Roasted Hen of the Wood Mushrooms and Creamed Spinach in a Truffle Mushroom Sauce."

A Yelp review notes this about the place: "I actually felt like I was on vacation during my weekday lunch at Aquagrill. They had all the windows opened up to bring fresh air and breezes into the restaurant, and when I closed my eyes, I could imagine being in the Mediterranean instead of NYC."

Campaign records show Dunkin paid for two tabs at the restaurant that day — one for $122, the other for $53.

Records show he also went to an Irish pub on East 11th Street. He charged numerous taxi rides and subway rides to his campaign account.

On the following day — amid the hubbub of reaction to his absence — records show Dunkin paid for a meal at Hu Kitchen, also in Manhattan.

It must have been just a breakfast or lunch because the bill was a mere $15.

Among the menu items at Hu is the Grandmaster Veg, which is a grain and dairy-free lasagna that includes carrot, green cabbage, cashew, housemade marinara, garlic and chili flake.

Dunkin defended himself after the attacks, telling Chicago Tonight that Madigan knew he was going to be out of town on the day of the vote.

"They knew damn well I was going to be gone," Dunkin said.

And now we know what he ate when he was gone.

Lock ’em up 

The standoff between Rauner and Democrats over the budget has triggered a number of wacky ideas from lawmakers, including state Rep. Sue Scherer's proposal that all members of the House wear black when they reconvene Nov. 10.

State Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, added her proposal to the mix on Wednesday.

Since the fiscal year began without a budget in place, Morrison wants to require the governor and the four legislative leaders to meet publicly at least once per week to negotiate.

"These are extraordinary circumstances, and we are in need of extraordinary measures," Morrison said.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


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