DeKALB – Sycamore attorney Rick Amato plans to bring his tough-on-crime approach to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office when he takes over Dec. 1 after defeating incumbent Democrat Richard Schmack.
Early unofficial returns showed Amato, a Republican, with a commanding lead over Schmack with 58 of 65 precincts and all early and other votes counted. Amato led by more than 8,500 votes, or 61 percent of the vote. Schmack had 15,043 votes, or 39 percent of the total.
“I’m thankful for and humbled by the support from voters,” Amato said in a phone interview from the DeKalb Moose Lodge. “I look forward to serving them and making our community better.”
Amato, 42, campaigned diligently in the race to unseat Schmack. Reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections show he lent his campaign more than $46,000 in the past year, which allowed him to outspend his opponent. In addition to signs, mailers and advertising, Amato spent many afternoons and weekends going door to door to persuade voters to back him.
On the campaign trail, Amato touted his support from local law enforcement, including endorsements from unions representing DeKalb County sheriff’s deputies and the Sycamore police. He called Schmack soft on crime, and promised to ensure violent criminals are charged appropriately and to keep drug dealers out of drug court programs meant for addicts.
Amato said that his top priority would be to review the office’s policies and procedures, including implementing a robust felony review program to make sure violent offenders are charged correctly. He said it also would reduce “overcharging” so that the office could focus its efforts on prosecuting the most serious crimes.
Schmack said he was proud of what he had accomplished in four years in office, including helping to establish a mental health court, putting diversion programs in place and securing convictions in four first-degree murder cases.
Schmack, who became state’s attorney in 2011 after defeating Republican Clay Campbell, was criticized for his handling of the Maria Ridulph homicide.
In March, he disavowed the 2012 conviction of Jack McCullough for the 1957 slaying of Ridulph, a 7-year-old Sycamore girl who was kidnapped and killed in a case that drew national attention. Schmack said evidence proved that McCullough was in Rockford when Maria Ridulph was abducted from the corner of Center Cross and Archie Place. McCullough’s life sentence was vacated earlier this year by a judge, and the 76-year-old was released from prison.
“I’m especially proud of doing the right thing in the case of Jack McCullough,” Schmack said. “If that’s why I lost, then I’m very proud of that loss.”
When Amato takes office Dec. 1, he’ll face tough decisions on several controversial cases during his first few weeks in office, including the Jack McCullough case. He’ll have to decide whether to support or oppose McCullough’s petition for a declaration of innocence. McCullough is set to present evidence of his innocence at a hearing Dec. 5. Thus far, McCullough has had the support of the state’s attorney’s office, which made his path to freedom much easier.
Amato declined to comment Tuesday night on the case or how he will proceed when he takes office. He said he wasn’t in a position to do so.