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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 12:05 pm

Going on the record

A longtime Republican operative and a member of a local political dynasty step into the spotlight to become the next Sangamon County recorder

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Josh Langfelder: “You can’t bring a political philosophy to the recorder’s office.”

Don Gray's four-year-old no longer refers to him as daddy. "I'm now 'Don Gray for Recorder,'"Gray says. He estimates he's knocked on about 12,000 doors throughout the county and dropped about a dozen pounds and ruined a couple pairs of shoes in the process.

But any advertising Gray can get — even word of mouth by his son — will probably come in handy in his quest to fill the vacancy left by Mary Ann Lamm, a Democrat who held the office for 32 years. Gray is facing Josh Langfelder — a former chief deputy of Lamm's and, well, has Langfelder as his surname. Josh's father, Ossie, was mayor of Springfield and his brother, Jim, is the current city treasurer.

"I'll be bold in how I say it," says Gray, 35, a manager and owner of rental properties. "I don't think that Josh would be the Democratic nominee for recorder if it were not for the familiar last name and the cultivation of the political careers of his father and his brother. Nor do I believe he would have ever been the chief-deputy recorder without the help and assistance of his father."

Langfelder, a lifelong Springfieldian who attended Ursuline Academy and Lincoln Land Community College, rejects Gray's assertions. "My experience in banking dovetails with experience working in recorder's office," he says. "Yes, my name is a name in Springfield that's fairly popular because of my dad. I just think that with my experience, that's why I was sought," he says.

That's about as heated as this race is going to get. The contest is between a loan originator and a property manager over who will head up the office responsible for maintaining the official legal record of real estate ownership and other documents.

In addition to having served as a Lamm lieutenant, Langfelder says that in his job at Security Bank he interacts with the same people who frequently use the recorder's office — title companies, lawyers, construction firms, and appraisers –- and counsels customers through the recording process. In short, he already knows the office inside-out, he says.

Although he describes Lamm's office as the most efficient in county government, he would like to make some 21st century upgrades, such as implementing fraud-protection software that automatically conceals Social Security numbers and other sensitive information when documents are searched.

Don Gray: “Our democracy works best when we’re provided choices.”

Gray, a Palos Heights native who coordinated special events for state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka and worked on her gubernatorial campaign, would like to raise the profile of the recorder's office by speaking to groups of homeowners, senior citizens, and veterans, who record their military discharges with the office. He also plans to place every recorded document available online so that "people can do the research they need from the comfort of their home or office."

"That's already done," for a fee, through a Web portal called Tapestry, Langfelder says. He says that Gray's plan to implement a program that already exists demonstrates his limited knowledge of the recorder's office. "It helps being there. The know-how and the experience is just an advantage for me."

Gray believes he's worked harder, noting that he was not initially embraced the local Republican party. He drew the ire of local GOP chairman Tony Libri last year by participating in Springfield's St. Patrick's Day parade on behalf then-aldermanic candidate Barry McAnarney — a Democrat and a friend of Gray and his wife. At the time, he wasn't considering running for office nor did he live in Ward 10 where McAnarney was embroiled in a close contest against Tim Griffin, who eventually won the seat. It was the first time Gray wasn't walking for Topinka.

"So I decided to support a friend," Gray says. When no Republicans opposed Langfelder in the spring primary, Gray filed to be a write-in candidate. "Something wasn't sitting right with me that we were not going to provide a choice," he says. "Our democracy works best when we're provided choices."

Both Langfelder and Gray have joined the National Association of County Recorders in the meantime, although both men claim it is not out of presumptuousness but to remain abreast of current issues.

And each candidate also agrees that the recorder's office is among the least controversial in the county.

"You're not going to be a Democrat recorder and you're not going to be a Republican recorder. You're going to be the Sangamon County recorder and you're there to serve every single individual," Langfelder says. "You can't bring a political philosophy to the recorder's office and I think that's good."

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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