With GOP backing, Kurtz named county board chair

With GOP backing, Kurtz named county board chair

URBANA -- Joining with 10 Republicans, Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz was elected chairman of the Champaign County Board Monday night.

Kurtz, a four-year board member, upset the Democratic caucus nominee for board chair, Michael Richards, also a Champaign Democrat.

It was the second time in the last decade that a Democratic board member worked with Republicans to become elected chair over the majority of the party's members. Eight years ago Urbana Democrat Barbara Wysocki was elected chair with the help of GOP board members.

This time all 10 board Republicans sided with Kurtz, as did Ralph Langenheim of Urbana and Astrid Berkson of Champaign.

Jon Schroeder, a Sadorus Republican, was elected the board's vice chair.

Richards predicted that Kurtz's selection as board chair would lead to division on the board, especially among the new board's 12 Democrats.

"We had a 12-to-10 margin and it was at a point where one selfish person could go make a deal with the Republicans and that's what happened," said Richards. "Al Kurtz has been a strong Democrat. I'm sorry to see him switch sides and become the Republicans' county board chairman."

He said "we've got a lot of angry people here tonight and I think that's going to continue."

"There are a lot of people in this room who feel betrayed by Al Kurtz and when the voters find out, we're going to have a lot of Democratic voters, especially in District 7, who are going to feel betrayed by Al Kurtz."

James Quisenberry, an Urbana Democrat, acknowledged that "there have been splits in our party before and they haven't necessarily gone well. We'll have to see how this works out."

Rather than a split in the party, Quisenberry said Kurtz's actions amounted to "a person going out and leaving the party to do this."

Kurtz, 72, said he challenged Richards because "Mister Richards was not qualified or earned this position."

"He's been on the board for six years and has not accomplished what I think I have accomplished," he said. "It was not against the party at all. I am a Democrat, first, last and always. I will absolutely follow the principles of the Democratic Party."

He said he didn't think Richards had a mandate from the Democratic caucus when it chose him last month. He noted that Richards got only seven Democratic votes on the first ballot Monday night.

"Obviously they still felt that he was not ready for this position," Kurtz said.

Kurtz said "there's been a split in our Democratic Party for a long time. We lost every single race in the countywide elections, very simply. All I can see is that within this caucus I will work to repair any of the problems that have occurred, and will put together a very strong caucus."

He denied that a deal was made to make Republican Schroeder the vice chair of the board in exchange for GOP votes.

"I didn't do anything. They came to me," he said. "I got phone calls from them. They were not happy with the choice of our caucus."

Kurtz said that up to that point "I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

"Their explanation was very simple: they wanted the best for the county."

John Jay, the Republican caucus chair, admitted that there "absolutely" were Republicans who urged Kurtz to challenge Richards.

Comments

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rsp wrote on December 03, 2012 at 10:12 pm

"We had a 12-to-10 margin and it was at a point where one selfish person could go make a deal with the Republicans and that's what happened," said Richards. 

I think this comment by Mr. Richard's tells us all we need to know about how ready he is to lead. Instead of one-party rule it's now shared between to two. If he feels that is "selfish" maybe he shouldn't be on the board. It use to be about public service, now it seems to just be about self-service. 

ronaldo wrote on December 04, 2012 at 9:12 am

It's been a long while since I've agreed with you on anything, but you're right on the money on this one.

Further, Mr. Richards comment, "There are a lot of people in this room who feel betrayed by Al Kurtz and when the voters find out, we're going to have a lot of Democratic voters, especially in District 7, who are going to feel betrayed by Al Kurtz." was very immature and schoolyardesque, and hopefully their constituency will read through it like a trashy romance novel.

County Board armchair observers alert:  Watch for Mr. Richards to recant or smooth over those remarks in the next year.

 

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 11:12 am

Quisenberry's comments were more judicious, but scenarios like this one tend to result in hard feelings.  It was ironic that Barbara Wysocki, who became chair under similar circumstances, was the candidate in one of the countywide races that Kurtz talked about the party losing.  From what I heard, at least one Democrat who still resented Wysocki actively helped Blakeman this year.  So there's some truth to what Richards said.

Barb6 wrote on December 04, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Why complain about voter suppression when Democrats do it themselves not registering the electorate or voting for the Republican candidate? !  What an outrageous lack of leadership, incompetence, and/or malevolence

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 4:12 pm

What we have here is a failure of TheRocket to launch.  We have some live video from Brookens last night.

johnny wrote on December 04, 2012 at 5:12 pm

And yet, Wysocki came closer than the other three who lost.  I still can't believe Smyth's meltdown; he should've had that in the bag.

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 9:12 am

A note to Michael Richards from the Champaign County Republicans:

 

 

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 am

The GOP YMCA Dance Party

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 am

Well played, madam.  Well played.

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 8:12 pm

jthartke wrote on December 03, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I can only say that Mr. Kurtz has less experience on the board than Mr. Richards, so his claim is incorrect on the experience point.  Secondly, Mr. Kurtz only got 5 votes in said caucus to Mr. Richards' 7.  Seems to me that the caucus clearly had more issues with Mr. Kurtz's nomination.

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 9:12 am

Josh, I saw your crying last night, let me translate your comment for you:

 

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 am

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 am

jthartke wrote on December 04, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Always glad to hear an opinion from the public. However, I do find it odd to be accused of childishness by someone who posts snide comments and lame memery from behind the mask of anonymity. And from your handle, I would assume that your joy comes mostly from a Republican minority sticking it to a Democratic majority, rather from any concern about which candidate was most qualified.  And I'll admit, they did that quite well last night.

And since I've reposted, I wish the NG had mentioned the entry of Mr. Schroeder into the race before the first vote was cast, then his sudden withdrawal afterward. Now, he happens to be the Vice Chair. The Republican party of Champaign County may be used to this kind of last minute candidate bait and switch, but the County Board is no place for it.

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 4:12 pm

No one has every accused me of being above spiking the football.  Also, stop crying.

 

Tom 1 wrote on December 04, 2012 at 5:12 pm

FARNEY is a cry baby!

johnny wrote on December 04, 2012 at 11:12 pm

What on God's green Earth does Farney have to do with this story?  He didn't even run for County Board recently.

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Nah, I think jhartke was more like http://youtu.be/aNUr__-VZeQ .  Do you think Al will get mad if CB members call him "Colonel Kurtz?"

 

ChiefIlliniwekForever wrote on December 04, 2012 at 9:12 pm

But the County Board is the place for the Democratic party to try and run the nomination process in a way that I seriously doubt anyone there had ever seen before?   

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 11:12 pm

And since I've reposted, I wish the NG had mentioned the entry of Mr. Schroeder into the race before the first vote was cast, then his sudden withdrawal afterward. Now, he happens to be the Vice Chair.

Yep.  Here was something else that tripped off my crap detector.

"I didn't do anything. They came to me," he said. "I got phone calls from them. They were not happy with the choice of our caucus."

Really?  Kurtz didn't line up votes beforehand, and two other Dems just happened to break from their party at the same time the GOP CB members decided to vote for him?  Riiiight.

ChiefIlliniwekForever wrote on December 04, 2012 at 9:12 pm

It took 8 ballots to break the 6 - 6 tie between Kurtz and Richards though.  Sounds to me like someone (Petrie from what I understand) got tired of the standoff and decided to end it by switching their vote.

wayward wrote on December 03, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Coincidentally, there was a nasty letter to the editor a few weeks ago that also commented on the Dems losing the contested countywides this year and blamed the party chair (http://img833.imageshack.us/img833/1158/kurtzf.jpg).  It was signed by a "Linda Morse" from Champaign.  There's nobody by that name on the voter rolls anywhere in the county, but a simple search yielded a "Linda Morse Kurtz" on Facebook who appeared to be Al Kurtz's wife (https://www.facebook.com/linda.m.kurtz.9).

Guess you just can't buy class.

Martino wrote on December 03, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Linda Morse is correct.  There was a gross failure of leadership in the Champaign County Democratic Party.  It was ridiculous to lose all those countywide races to Republican hacks and bureaucrats!  Al Kurz' Democratic credentials are sterling. 

wayward wrote on December 03, 2012 at 11:12 pm

So if "Linda Morse" felt so strongly about this issue, why didn't she have enough integrity to sign her current name to it, as the N-G policy requires?

Martino wrote on December 03, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Yeah, right  "wayward" 

wayward wrote on December 03, 2012 at 11:12 pm

That you, Al?

Martino wrote on December 04, 2012 at 12:12 am

Is that an echo or are you asking yourself a question?  I am a rank and file Democrat who is disgusted we didn't win contested countywide races or elect Dr. Gill. 

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 12:12 am

Oh, just curious.  But seeing as how your only commenting activity so far has been defending Kurtz in this article, I'll assume you're new.  The N-G allows usernames like "wayward" and "martino" in the comments section and online forums.  But when you write a letter to the editor, they require you to sign your real name to it.

Martino wrote on December 04, 2012 at 1:12 am

Let's not venture into the politics of patronymics.  Ms. Morse's criticism stands on its own merits; there are mechanics to winning elections.  Party leadership is not supposed to be a cerebral exercise. 

And what's wrong with supporting Al Kurtz?

rsp wrote on December 04, 2012 at 1:12 am

Okay, I'll dive in on the legalities on using two names. Ms. Morse is entitled to use either name as she wishes as long as it isn't for the purposes of commiting financial fraud. In fact my attorney informed me I could change as I pleased, although he didn't recommend that. Both names are her legal names. 

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 6:12 am

I didn't mean to imply that it was illegal, but I certainly found it misleading.  Kurtz and Klein don't like each other, and the letter was published after the Democratic caucus picked Richards for chair.  The writer generally uses her husband's name, and switching back to her maiden name just to write a letter attacking someone she and her husband don't like seems pretty sketchy to me.

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 7:12 am

OK, then let's look at the letter's merits, or lack thereof.  First, it points out that Habeeb recruited more precinct committeemen than Klein did, and claims that PCs are the "backbone" of the GoTV effort.  Actually, some precinct committeemen in both parties are recruited to vote for a particular candidate for party chair.  So they go to the convention, cast their vote, and then pretty much do nothing. 

There was in fact a coordinated GoTV meeting for the Democrats this fall.  I went to it, but don't remember seeing Al Kurtz or his wife there.  I also spent a fair amount of time volunteering for the Gill campaign this fall, and don't remember ever running into the Kurtzes there either, nor at any of the fundraisers I went to for the countywides.

There were a number of issues that contributed to Gill and the countywides losing.  IIRC, Kacich accurately pointed out that voter registration numbers in student precincts were down this year, which contributed to lower numbers at the polls.  That was a big area where we dropped the ball.  We also need to get more people involved with the party and get better at fundraising.

Blaming this fall's losses on Klein because there aren't a lot of Democratic PCs doesn't make sense.  There are certainly things we need to do differently in the future, but scapegoating an individual is worse than useless.  As I've said in other comments, I also found it misleading that the writer chose to sign it with her maiden name, even though she generally uses her husband's surname.

rsp wrote on December 04, 2012 at 8:12 am

It occured to me that if you want to bring up leadership and someone could easily turn it around and say isn't your spouse in a leadership position too, you might try to nullify some of that. Using a different last name would serve that purpose. Or it could be that she wants to have her own voice. Not just be seen as Al's wife. Maybe that's really the bigger issue. 

ronaldo wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 am

Boom!

+1

Martino wrote on December 03, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Hearty congratulations, Big Al !

EL YATIRI wrote on December 04, 2012 at 2:12 am
Profile Picture

I know Al and Linda personally.  I'm a political independent.  I'm confident Al will do a good job and happy that the dem leadership didn't get their way.

read the DI wrote on December 04, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Hope he has more success with the County Board than he did with Blimpie.

 

P.S. The videos are HI-larious!

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 04, 2012 at 3:12 pm

wayward wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 pm

thorx wrote on December 06, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Kurtz is just a giant tool.  End of story.

rsp wrote on December 04, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Boy! If all the county board meetings are this "animated" maybe all the members will be showing up. For every meeting they miss I think they should volunteer with some kids. Probably feel right at home. 

alabaster jones 71 wrote on December 04, 2012 at 10:12 pm
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It's idiotic that county elections are partisan in this state in the first place.

I am so sick of partisan hacks in our local elections in this county. People like Michael Richards, Josh Hartke, Gordy Hulten, Deb Feinen...the list goes on.  Partisan hackery in local politics is even more pathetic and useless than partisan hackery on the national scale.  At least, unlike the local hacks, the national hacks have the threat of their party's power structure and billionaire donors dropping the bricks on them if they aren't total team players.  I think the local partisan hacks, however, just have a real passion for groupthink and petty disputes.

I have little doubt that installing Richards as county board chair would make the board even more unnecessarily partisan than it already is.  I am thrilled that Kurtz won instead.

 

jthartke wrote on December 04, 2012 at 11:12 pm

If you think partisanship had nothing to do with what Republicans did voting for Kurtz, then you are making a very poor judgement call.  And the idea that anyone who is involved with party politics is a hack is misguided and misinformed. Also, again you have the mask of anonymity, but I don't know that you know me well enough to call me a hack.  I'm a writer...so maybe I'm a hack there...but not a political hack.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on December 05, 2012 at 12:12 am
Profile Picture

Get off the Internet if you don't like anonymity, buster.

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 05, 2012 at 8:12 am

GOP Dance Party wrote on December 05, 2012 at 8:12 am

I've seen your facebook feed, you're a partisan hack.  Don't kid yourself.

wayward wrote on December 05, 2012 at 11:12 am

rsp wrote on December 05, 2012 at 12:12 am
  1. The Board shall be presided over by a Board Chair who shall be selected by the Board from among its members at the Organizational Meeting, for a term of two years. 

Now that's just what I thought. Selected by all the members. It's not supposed to be one side picks someone ahead of time and tells the other side about it. No discussion. Otherwise why have a board? Are half the voters going to be represented and half not? 

wayward wrote on December 07, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Traditionally, the majority party caucus has selected the chair.  This isn't some new backroom operation invented by the Democrats -- it was apparently that way when the GOP had the majority as well.  But maybe there needs to be a different approach.

Why not have the entire county board do iterative runoff voting with secret ballots?  Each round, the lowest vote-getters are eliminated until there are two remaining candidates.  The secret ballots would make it less likely that people could be rewarded or punished for their votes.

rsp wrote on December 07, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I'm also starting to wonder if the voters should elect the chairman but I really don't think they would do a better job. They voted for this bunch. If they can't get along maybe the voters share the blame. 

wayward wrote on December 07, 2012 at 9:12 pm

The issue with having voters select the CB chair is that there'd have to be a special election shortly after the regular one, and that would be expensive.

This year, there were only 4 members of the Democratic caucus who put their names forward -- Langenheim, Petrie, Richards, and Kurtz.  Langenheim has a lot of experience, but he also seems to have a hard time consistently staying awake during meetings.  So he's a non-starter, IMHO.  Petrie's enthusiasm and interest in urban planning would have made me at least seriously consider her, but I'm not sure whether she lined up votes ahead of time.  Richards and Kurtz likely did, so the caucus (and ultimately the CB) ended up choosing between them.

Kurtz started out not exactly well-liked by a number of Democrats, and the CB chair election heightened the animosity.  One problem with this is if things don't go well, they can say, "Well, he was the GOP's choice, not ours."  So there's less incentive to cooperate with him.  Secret ballots might reduce that problem, and also eliminate external pressure to vote a certain way.

ChiefIlliniwekForever wrote on December 08, 2012 at 2:12 pm

The majority party caucus selects their nominee for the board chair, but the chair is elected by the full board.  Usually, the nominee picked by the majority caucus ends up being elected as chair, but not always.  The same thing as what happened with Kurtz, happened when Barb Wysocki was elected board chair.  3 D's went with the 12 R's to elect Barb chair.

wayward wrote on December 08, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Yeah, I know, but this is the second time in recent history that the candidate selected by the majority caucus hasn't won in the full board election because of lack of support by his/her own caucus.  So I'm questioning what the point is of having the caucus select a nominee in the first place.  Why not open the process up to the full board from the beginning?  Let anyone from either party who wants the job be eligible, and then have a series of votes where the lowest vote-getters are eliminated until there are two finalists?  If it had come down to Kurtz v Richards as it did, Kurtz would have gotten it.  But if it had been Kurtz vs Schroeder, who knows what would have happened?  Making the ballots secret would make arm-twisting and back room deals a little harder.

cpiusweibel wrote on December 08, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Wayward, Having secret ballots is not compatiable with the Open Meetings Act.  I think that secret ballots actually would make so-called "back room" deals easier.

wayward wrote on December 08, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Thanks, Pius.  I stand corrected.  Secret ballots appealed to me because it seemed like they'd make it harder to reward or punish members for their votes.  But if they violate OMA, that idea would be a non-starter.

It bothers me that the system allows a member to benefit from being part of the majority caucus while at the same time working with the other party to subvert his/her own caucus's vote.