ROCKFORD, Ill. — For a brief time Thursday, a Rockford hotel and water park took on a circuslike atmosphere as a band of runaway Wisconsin legislators milled about the lobby and parking lot, a news chopper hovered overhead and a TV reporter chased after a leprechaun.
It was enough to make Bernie Thiteca, who owns a local factory, order up a second glass of white wine at the hotel bar, bemoaning the invading Wisconsinites who brought such chaos across the border into Illinois.
'I think they're traitors,' Thiteca said of the protesting Democrats who fled their state to prevent a Republican-backed vote that would slash Wisconsin public worker pensions. 'Whether you're GOP or Democrat, doesn't matter. Never leave the battlefield.'
Employees at the Clock Tower Resort, a sprawling facility just off Interstate Highway 90, were prepping for the night's main event, the Chocoholic Frolic, when the legislators showed up, followed swiftly by a media horde, according to witnesses.
A hotel official said the politicians never checked in and left around mid-afternoon. But they were there long enough for a couple protesters to catch up, including one who stood in the resort's circular entrance drive holding up a 'Don't Tread On Me' sign.
'I went up to him and said, 'What are you doing? People are coming here for a chocolate event,' ' said a security guard who declined to give his name.
The bartender at the hotel bar said the resort's Irish pub was preparing for St. Patrick's Day and had a person dressed as a leprechaun. When a TV reporter asked her if she'd talked to any of the legislators, she told him to ask the leprechaun, and the reporter swiftly chased down the costumed character.
Once the lawmakers left, locals seemed unsure where they might have sneaked off to. Some believed they were still in Rockford, but a sampling of other nearby hotels and eateries came up empty.
Nothing at the Holiday Inn. No sign of cheesehead senators at the Hilton. Big Al's Bar wasn't a hideout either, and the locals there seemed politely disinterested.
Back at the resort's bar, Thiteca said he hoped they had returned to Madison to fight for what they believe in.
'I think they should stand up, whether they're right or wrong,' he said. 'You never leave the battlefield.'
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