The race for DeKalb County state’s attorney is probably the most contentious countywide race on the November ballot.
Republican incumbent Clay Campbell was elected in November 2010 and already has survived a challenge from Republican Sean Smith in this year’s primary.
Democratic challenger Richard Schmack announced his candidacy for state’s attorney in May after being caucused in by county Democrats.
The two have clashed on a number of issues, most recently the circumstances surrounding the recent resignation of John Farrell, the former chief civil assistant in the state’s attorney’s office.
Farrell resigned Oct. 12 citing health issues, but county officials say it was discovered that he lied to county officials about the status of a zoning case the county lost in 2011, and that he said that his wife died in January, although records appear to show she voted in March.
Although Campbell has accused him of engaging in negative campaigning, Schmack said he has not brought up personal issues. Schmack says people expect a challenger to point out what he would do differently than an incumbent.
“You have to contrast the job you think you can do with the job the incumbent is doing,” he said. “I don’t think that’s negative. I think that’s the nature of a political campaign.”
Schmack has been an attorney for 32 years, working in private practice for much of that time. Before that, he was a prosecutor in the state’s attorney’s office and has been the village attorney for Kirkland.
“I feel that I have the broad level of experience that will enable me to run this office and, I think, do a better job than Clay,” he said.
Campbell – who has tried cases in DeKalb County for more than 20 years and was a defense attorney before being elected – said a critical part of his job is developing relationships with victims’ families and seeking justice for them. He said it can be difficult to justify putting politics before the responsibilities of the job.
Having spent two years as state’s attorney and building relationships with law enforcement officials, “I think the continuation of those relationships will serve to make our community safer,” Campbell said.
Prosecutors have been working hard, handling three murder trials in less than two years, he said, including that of Jack McCullough, who was found guilty last month of abducting and killing Sycamore girl Maria Ridulph almost 55 years ago. Witnesses and family members of Ridulph have lauded Campbell for having the courage to bring the case to trial and win a conviction.
The office now faces the upcoming trial of William “Billy” Curl, which is set to begin Dec. 3. Curl is accused of killing NIU student Antinette “Toni” Keller in Oct. 2010.
Campbell is one of the attorneys handling that trial, and said the office tries to avoid disruptions – like a change in the state’s attorney’s office – before such complicated trials.
“I think it is vital that the team that we assembled to prosecute the case against William Curl, the idea that, you know, politics would intrude a month before such an important prosecution is an unfortunate thought,” he said.
The state’s attorney is the county’s chief legal officer, not a law enforcement officer, Schmack said. He is involved in criminal prosecution, but also represents county officials in legal matters.
Schmack said Campbell has made comments in the past regarding things outside of his authority, including stopping the expansions of the county courthouse and landfill. The state’s attorney doesn’t have the ability to do those things, Schmack said, and shouldn’t make such promises.
“My idea is to return this office to what it’s supposed to do,” including provide sound advice to county officials and defend the county in court, he said.
To Campbell, drug and gun trafficking are two important issues to focus on, and criminal activity in the northwest quadrant of DeKalb is of particular concern. Northern Illinois University’s proximity to Chicago seems to draw people who sell heroin, shoot guns and burglarize apartments, he said.
Officials are working to revamp the county’s major case squad, a group of top police investigators and prosecutors, Campbell said, and improving safety in and around the university is a subject of ongoing discussion.
“I think it’s important for people to know we are seriously engaged in confronting those problems head-on,” Campbell said.
He said he’s proud of the number of people the state’s attorney’s office has diverted from the court system, by focusing on drug counseling and entrance into the military, and the amount of money that has been directed to community programs such as Safe Passage and Crime Stoppers through payments from those who come through the court system.
Schmack said he’d like to see the state’s attorney’s office more strictly prosecute traffic and driving under the influence cases, which he said pose a significant threat to public safety.
He said he’s concerned about the number of DUI cases in which those who enter pleas are not serving the suspension that’s mandated by law or having breath alcohol ignition devices installed in cars.
“That’s just not the way that should work,” Schmack said.