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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 01:49 pm

Coroner candidates prepare for election

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Left: Jerry Curry and Right: Cinda Edwards

After more than a year on the job, Cinda Edwards says that she has fixed the mess left in the Sangamon County coroner’s office by her predecessor Susan Boone, who was forced out of office amid scandal.

But Jerry Curry, the Democratic challenger for the post, says that he will give voters a choice between professionalism and politics come the Nov. 6 election.

“I just totally disagreed with the way the office was given to somebody,” Curry says. “We are giving the people the opportunity to select who they want to be their coroner.”

Edwards, the wife of Springfield Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, was named to the post by the county board in 2011 after top county officials, including county board chairman Andy Van Meter, sheriff Neil Williamson and state’s attorney John Milhiser urged Boone to resign. Boone’s critics said that the public had lost confidence in the office after a series of blunders by Boone, especially her handling of the 2008 death of Anakin Credit, a toddler the coroner said died of natural causes. The case was reopened by the state Department of Children and Family Services based on suspicions of child abuse, and the boyfriend of Credit’s mother is now facing murder charges.

When Edwards took over last summer, the coroner’s office operated largely on paper records. There was a Dictaphone on premises but no camera to document death scenes. Edwards, who remains an elected trustee on the board of Lincoln Land Community College, where she serves as the chair, says that she has computerized records and otherwise modernized the office so that she can easily track trends such as suicide and overdose rates, which are important public health issues.

Edwards dismissed any suggestion that her political connections, rather than her qualifications, put her in the coroner’s post.

“I think that’s totally untrue,” Edwards said. “I’ve turned around the coroner’s office, and we’re headed in the right direction and I’d like to continue on that.”

Tom Shafer, a perennial candidate for offices ranging from the Sangamon County board to the Springfield school board, got 43 percent of the vote running against Edwards in the Republican primary, a respectable showing that raised some political eyebrows.

“I think it tells you that I was so busy in this office turning this ship around I didn’t get out a lot,” Edwards said.

But Curry said the primary results demonstrate that the electorate isn’t comfortable with Edwards’ appointment.

“Republicans are not happy with the way the situation was handled,” said Curry, who owns a funeral home in Pawnee and is also executive director of the Mary Bryant Home for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Curry ran for coroner in 1996 and was defeated by Boone. He said his experience as an administrator and as a funeral director qualifies him for the coroner’s post.

“Everything I do in my life is to serve other people,” Curry said. “I know how to deal with families. I know what they’re needing.”

Curry, who said last week that he hasn’t started raising money, has not filed any records of campaign contributions with the state board of elections. He said he believes that he will spend as much as $18,000.

Edwards had nearly $12,400 in her campaign fund as of June 30. Where the bulk of the money came from isn’t clear. Since the third quarter of last year, Edwards has raised $26,250, with $21,970 of that amount from sources that were not itemized in reports filed with the state board of elections.

Under state law, candidates are not required to itemize contributions of less than $150. Edwards said that sources of her campaign cash have not been itemized because they have come in chunks of less than $150.

“The majority of what I get in a coroner’s campaign is going to be smaller amounts,” Edwards said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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