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Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 12:01 am

A new sheriff in town?

The race is on to replace Williamson

 Rosemarie Long likes fundraisers. As chairwoman of the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee, she says she enjoys getting out and seeing people.

But Long has been conspicuously absent at fundraisers for candidates for sheriff, arguably the biggest local prize on the March 18 primary ballot.

“As chairman, I won’t go to any of their fundraisers,” Long says.

Asked whether undersheriff Jack Campbell or retired sheriff’s lieutenant Wes Barr will win, Long gives, well, the political answer – she doesn’t know. But she sounds genuine.

“I wish I could say,” Long says. “I do not know – everybody asks that. Nobody seems to know.”

There has been no divide in the party over the sheriff’s race, Long says, but that’s because the party isn’t endorsing anyone after an August poll of 600 voters showed a statistical dead heat.

“It was a tie between them,” Long says. “My one concern is what’s best for the Republican Party. I knew if we selected one over the other, there would be a large division, and I didn’t want that. … If the poll would have shown one over the other, we would have endorsed.”

A veteran of the Marine Corps, Barr emphasizes his military service and service to the community. He’s been active in charities ranging from Toys For Tots to Habitat for Humanity and was named Springfield’s First Citizen in 2007 by the State Journal-Register. He has bolstered his name recognition with scores of yard signs that started going up immediately after he announced his candidacy last June.

Campbell, by contrast, didn’t start putting up yard signs in earnest until recently. He says that’s both a strategic and practical decision – there is no point, he says, in putting up signs during the summer that would stand little or no chance of surviving an Illinois winter.

“I don’t think that’s the best use of donated money for your campaign,” Campbell said. “I also think they become part of the landscape – I think people get irritated by them.”

There may also be an element of keeping powder dry, given that Barr has proven a more successful fundraiser than Campbell, whose biggest contribution has been a $20,000 check from his mother. Even with that, Campbell has trailed Barr in the money department, with more than $51,500 raised as of the end of the last reporting period in October and nearly $33,200 left. Barr had raised nearly $60,000 and had nearly $38,400 in his account as of October. Since then, he has received $9,000 in contributions that were reported as they came in because each exceeded $1,000.

The deadline for filing quarterly financial reports with the Illinois State Board of Elections came after press time. Barr declined to say what his reports would show but said he’s pleased with fundraising and his campaign’s status. Campbell also said he’s happy with fundraising efforts as well as four polls by his campaign that have shown him in the lead, most recently within the past month.

Barr, who has done polling of his own, also sounded confident.

“We are right where we anticipated being,” he said.

Campbell, a protégé of sheriff Neil Williamson, who is retiring, has been the county’s de facto sheriff for six years. He’s been in charge of day-to-day operations and is, as much as Williamson, the department’s public face who answers questions from the media and appears on public service announcements.

The candidates differ with respect to educational requirements for deputies. Campbell favors maintaining a requirement for a college degree or combination of college and military experience while Barr believes the department should consider candidates with military experience but no college education, as is the case with the Illinois State Police and the Springfield police department.

Campbell is eager to campaign on the record of Williamson, who was elected in 1994.

“The fact that he has selected me to fill in for him should give the public a lot of confidence,” Campbell said. “They’ve trusted him for 20 years. They can trust him one more time.”

Campbell applauds Barr’s volunteer work.

“He’s done a lot of good for the community,” Campbell says. “The thing is, it has nothing to do with running the Sangamon County sheriff’s office.”

Barr, however, said the county is ready for new blood at the top.

“I think people are ready for a change of leadership in the department,” Barr said. “My opponent has been in that position for the last six years. I think it’s time for new leadership. There’s a majority of people in the department who would like to see new leadership. My position is, we do have room for improvement.”

Long says she’s looking forward to election day.

“Then we can get full-force behind whoever wins,” the party chairwoman says. “We think so highly of both of them.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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