To the Editor:
The DeKalb state’s attorney Republican primary debate sponsored by the NIU College Republicans offered voters an informative exchange of views. Although the differences between the contenders were made clear, the most important differences brought to light were between any of these three and State’s Attorney Richard Schmack.
The candidates impressed upon voters the ways they’d improve upon Schmack’s tenure: increased engagement with and accountability to the community, more collaboration with and support of local police forces, and increased focus on the successful and timely prosecution of serious crimes.
In these ways, the Republican candidates made persuasive cases that they’d substantially improve upon the incumbent Democrat.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t important differences between the three Republican candidates. Charles Rea emphasized his experience – an area in which he makes a persuasive claim of superiority – as well as his plan to place two assistant state’s attorneys at the DeKalb Police Department and one at NIU.
Clay Campbell also touted quite lengthy experience and expressed a sense of duty to accomplish unfinished business from his previous stint in the office. Rick Amato countered charges of relative inexperience by highlighting his experience running and growing his legal practice, as well as the endorsements he has received from law enforcement.
There were several notable exchanges throughout the debate. When asked about the enforcement of marijuana laws, Campbell argued that cases involving these crimes shouldn’t always be prosecuted, to which Rea countered “we aren’t the legislature,” and that all applicable laws need to be enforced.
Campbell, in response to Amato’s statement that police need to be protected, asserted that the state’s attorney is responsible for protecting the entire community.
Each candidate presented himself well, leaving the voters a difficult decision. Rea’s verbosity, age and experience contrasted with Amato’s brevity, relative youth and energy, with Campbell sometimes acting as diplomatic mediator between the two. Although Campbell acquitted himself well, he seemed to fall short of the energy and conviction his opponents showed. And Rea, for all of his admirable conviction and experience, often had difficulty expressing himself concisely and was occasionally unfair in his remarks regarding his opponents.
To this observer, then, Amato emerged victorious from the debate in a close contest. He’ll need to continue to counter charges of inexperience, and he’ll need to persuade the community that, as Campbell effectively pointed out, the state’s attorney is the attorney for the entire community, and not just the police.
S. Adam Seagrave
Assistant Professor, political science
Northern Illinois University