The race for DeKalb County state’s attorney has been without a doubt the most hotly contested of the local fall election season.
Republican incumbent Clay Campbell is facing a challenge from Democratic challenger Richard Schmack. Both candidates have practiced law for decades, and both have prior experience serving in the office – Campbell as state’s attorney and Schmack as an assistant state’s attorney.
But they have staked out very different territory during the course of this race.
In his two years as state’s attorney, Campbell has proved willing to shake things up and pursue courses of action that others might not because they are difficult or risky.
Many key players in the successful prosecution of Jack D. McCullough for the 1957 abduction and murder of 7-year-old Maria Ridulph cited Campbell’s determination to push that case forward as a major factor for justice finally being done after 55 years.
When it was revealed that a group of Northern Illinois University employees had been recycling university-owned scrap materials and keeping the proceeds in an off-the-books account known as the “coffee fund,” Campbell announced his office was closely following the investigation. Charges since have been brought against nine people in connection with that investigation, and Campbell lists improving safety and transparency at NIU as one of his priorities if he wins a four-year term.
Campbell also says he will be personally involved in prosecuting William “Billy” Curl, who is accused in the 2010 slaying of NIU student Antinette “Toni” Keller. That trial is scheduled for December, and Campbell argues the prosecution could suffer if he is replaced.
He also cites drug, gun and gang crime as among the biggest threats to public safety.
But Campbell’s maverick tendencies can cut both ways. He campaigned in 2010 saying he wanted to stop the expansion of the landfill south of Cortland, but as state’s attorney, his office was charged with defending that decision.
Some questioned his motives when he decided the DeKalb County Drug Court would not take new applicants almost immediately after Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled against the state in a rape trial against McCullough.
Stuckert had worked to bring the drug court to DeKalb County; the timing of Campbell’s move led to speculation that his actions were retaliation for Stuckert’s verdict.
The underlying principle of Schmack’s campaign is that he is not Campbell.
Schmack has taken pains to say he will not seek to influence policy or to effect broader change within county government.
His slogan has been “to do the job right,” and he has vowed “to be an advocate for and adviser to county government in a collaborative, nonconfrontational way.”
He considers traffic accidents – and impaired drivers – to be the biggest threat to public safety, pointing out they are much more common than violent crime in DeKalb County, and says that as state’s attorney he would take traffic court more seriously and seek sterner punishments for DUI offenders. If they thought about it, most people probably would agree that they’re far more likely to be hurt in a car crash than by a gun-toting, drug-pushing bogeyman.
Schmack values professionalism in the office and was the person who brought to light that John Farrell, Campbell’s chief civil assistant, had lied to county officials about a zoning case that had been settled in court. Schmack was the lawyer for the landowner that won the court fight, but Farrell had told county officials the case was on appeal.
He has questioned why Campbell did not know this, and why Farrell was let go under the pretense that he had “serious health issues” when the county had demanded his resignation.
The oddity of this race is that it’s the challenger, not the incumbent, who seems like the establishment candidate.
Schmack did not run in the Democratic primary. He entered the race in May, a little more than six weeks after Campbell staved off a challenge in the Republican primary.
Although promises to do the job right and be a nonconfrontational advocate and adviser are well-intended and sensible, they do little to stir the souls of voters, many of whom have real concerns about real street crime that occurs here.
What’s more, there are many people who think that sometimes the establishment in this county needs to be confronted on certain issues, and aren’t looking for someone who wants to just get along in a level-headed, nonconfrontational way. Schmack has proven willing to criticize Campbell; would he be as willing to criticize others in the public eye?
Both candidates have strengths they would bring to the state’s attorney’s office. On Tuesday, we will learn which the voters prefer.