Primary to nominate successor for Urbana Dem's seat assured
URBANA — Less than a day after state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson announced she would retire at the end of her current term, there's already interest among Democrats and Republicans who would like to replace her.
"I'm sure there will be," Jakobsson said Wednesday. "We'll see who else throws their hat in the ring."
"The only thing I can say for sure," added Al Klein, head of the local Democratic Party, "is that there's going to be a primary.
"And at this stage, I imagine that people are checking with their friends, they're checking with their bank accounts, they're checking with their significant others and are deciding what to do. This is a serious race, and it should take someone with serious experience and probably access to some serious money."
Klein said that "when a seat like this comes open, serious candidates step forward from both sides."
Political strategists say the district is between 55 and 60 percent Democratic, even in off-year elections like next year's.
Jakobsson said she's backing Michael Richards, the Champaign County Board member who has managed her last two campaigns, to take her seat representing the 103rd House District, which includes most of Champaign-Urbana, except for chunks of southwest Champaign and southeast Urbana.
"I think Mike really understands this district. If he were to vote on the issues I've voted on in the past, I'm sure he would vote the same way. Our philosophy matches a lot," Jakobsson said. "He knows the district very well. He knows the things that people here are interested in. And I think his local experience serving on the county board will certainly help him recognize what needs to be done on the state level."
Richards, 34, said he spent Wednesday at his job with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and then went to work gathering endorsements, putting together a campaign team and planning a petition drive.
"No one should expect a coronation, but I'm certainly honored that Representative Jakobsson asked me to run to replace her," he said. "A lot of my county board colleagues are supportive, and many of the county party volunteers are supportive, but I've only begun to put together an endorsement list and see where people stand."
Richards said he would welcome a primary.
"I expect several people will come forward, and if they do, let's talk about Illinois government and decide who people think would be the best candidate," he said.
Online comments on news stories Wednesday made note of Richards' guilty plea to a misdemeanor DUI charge in 2011. His sentence included 18 months of court supervision.
"Anything in people's background is fair game," Richards said. "I want to have a discussion on the issues. People should look at the candidates and their backgrounds and their accomplishments, and make their decision on who they want to support."
Two Champaign firefighters — Pat Devaney and Andy Quarnstrom — said they're giving the race serious consideration.
"I've made some calls myself to see who's interested and who would be the best fit. I'm certainly considering it, but I haven't made a decision at this time. I need to talk to other Democrats in the district and my family," said Devaney, 42, who is president of the 15,000-member Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, and also lobbies in Springfield for the organization.
Quarnstrom, who was elected City of Champaign Township supervisor last April, said he's considering becoming a candidate.
"I'm leaning toward that, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made. I've only had 12 hours to take in the information, but it's something I'm considering," said Quarnstrom, 38. "I'm looking at the whole process and what it would take, while still being true to the supervisor's office."
Champaign County Board member James Quisenberry of Urbana said he's looking at the race, but added, "I don't think I'm a likely candidate, but I will talk to people to see who might be interested."
Unlike Jakobsson, Democratic state Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign said he isn't endorsing anyone at this point.
Among Republicans, Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said Wednesday that he is interested in the position.
"I just want to take some time to do my due diligence, consult people within my district, family and others. There's a lot of things to take into consideration at this time," said Kyles, who was re-elected to a second term on the city council in April, defeating Gina Jackson.
Other Republicans are looking into the race, local GOP officials said, but were caught off-guard by Jakobsson's sudden announcement Tuesday night that she would not seek a seventh term in the November 2014 election.
"Not to borrow a cliche, but I really do want to have more time with my family. That doesn't mean I won't be around, doing things in the community," said Jakobsson, 71. "It was a tough decision. I thought about it a lot."
Asked if she would complete her term, which will end in early January 2015, Jakobsson said, "Correct."
She said her health is "fine," and she and her husband, Eric, a member of the Urbana City Council, intend to remain in Urbana.
"I would not want to just sit. I want to have time for the family and other things I've been putting off. But I want to be active in the community in other ways," Jakobsson said.
Although there could be a number of candidates from both parties for Jakobbson's seat, several others said Wednesday that they're not interested, or are not eligible to run for the seat because of residency requirements.
In order to qualify to run, a candidate would have had to live in the 103rd District in November 2012.
Among the Democrats dismissing a run were Champaign Mayor Don Gerard, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing, Champaign school board member Jamar Brown, Champaign County Board Chairman Al Kurtz, county board member Josh Hartke, former Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite and former Champaign County Board member Brendan McGinty.
"Nobody has approached me, and I am currently keen on all we are accomplishing in Champaign," said Gerard.
"I've been a legislator before, and I really enjoy being a mayor more," said Prussing, who served in the House from 1993 to 1995.
Republicans who either said they weren't interested, don't live in the district or don't qualify because of the residency rule, include John Bambenek, who ran against state Sen. Frerichs last year, former Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden, Champaign City Council member Karen Foster and 13th Congressional District candidate Erika Harold.