URBANA — Former state Sen. Rick Winkel of Urbana announced Wednesday that he is withdrawing from the race for Champaign County circuit court clerk.
His decision leaves Stephanie Holderfield of Mahomet as the only Republican candidate for circuit clerk, although Winkel's name will still be on the March 20 ballot.
"It's too late to change the ballot," Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said Wednesday. "Overseas and military ballots were sent out last week."
Winkel said he is taking on a new position at the University of Illinois as director of the Center for Public Leadership. It will begin this fall, he said, with a class of 30 to 40 "emerging leaders" from government and the private sector in Illinois. It is a universitywide initiative under the Institute for Government and Public Affairs.
Nearly a million dollars has been raised to begin the center, Winkel said.
"I have decided to direct a new center for public leadership at the University of Illinois. It is an initiative that moved unexpectedly from concept to reality over the last two months. It has the potential to be of great benefit to the public interest, and I want to devote my energy to making it succeed," Winkel said in a written statement.
"Thank you to the many people who have supported my campaign. I sincerely appreciate all you have done. To those of you who contributed to my campaign fund, I will fully refund your contribution," said Winkel.
According to his last campaign disclosure statement most of Winkel's campaign receipts were from $2,500 he had loaned his campaign fund.
Winkel said he would endorse Holderfield.
"She asked and I said yes," her said.
Holderfield said she that learned of Winkel's decision Wednesday after reviewing voice messages. Winkel called her Tuesday night while she was at a 4 1/2-hour-long county board meeting.
"It took me by surprise," she said. "I'm thrilled to not have a primary now, but I still need to campaign."
Winkel said that with his withdrawal, "I am permanently retired from active partisan politics."