If this were 1806 instead of 2006, the political primary fight being waged in Champaign County Board District 9 in Urbana might be settled with silk gloves and sidearms at 20 paces. But instead of using pistols to dispose of their political foes, dueling Democrats are flinging epithets at each other for the right to run as Democratic Party candidates in the November general election.
This distasteful four-candidates-for-two-seats free-for-all, which is the epitome of what people hate most about politics, demonstrates once again that whoever said family fights were the worst fights was right on the money.
Challengers Robert Kirchner, who previously served a single term on the board before stepping down, and Lisa Bell, backed by party insiders, are campaigning as a team not only to run Democratic incumbents Steve Beckett and Barbara Wysocki off the county board but also right out of the Democratic Party for the unpardonable sin of disloyalty.
This battle was more than a year in the making, starting in late 2004 when Beckett announced that he could not support fellow Democrat Patricia Avery for another term as board chairwoman because the public deserved better. When most of their fellow Democrats lined up publicly behind Avery, Beckett, Wysocki and Brendan McGinty, another District 9 Democrat also targeted for extinction, formed an alliance with board Republicans to elect Wysocki to lead the 27-member board.
Although the candidates disagree on a few issues, that, in a nutshell, is what this election is all about.
Democrats to whom party loyalty is the first, last and only issue will vote for Kirchner and Bell. Those who believe the public interest, not party loyalty, is the paramount concern should support Beckett and Wysocki because they have shown, to their political detriment, that they have the courage to do what they think is right, regardless of what the party apparatchiks think.
The News-Gazette is endorsing Beckett and Wysocki for a couple of important reasons.
For starters, it's not good for county government to be degraded by the kind of hyperpartisanship driving the Kirchner/Bell campaign.
Some local Democrats, understandably, got their noses out of joint over the chairmanship issue. It was a unique situation. But the bottom line is that Wysocki is a Democrat who's performed her duties as board chairwoman far better than her predecessor. The public interest was served by the change in leadership. Isn't that what really matters?
Secondly, despite some Democrats' enthusiasm for a bloodletting, it's not really in the party's interest to run good people out. In a similar display, Republican purists foolishly did the same thing in 2000. The GOP purge worked in the primary, but the party lost its county board majority in the general election.
Democrats, like Republicans before them, discount a similar outcome as a possibility because of how they've drawn county board district lines. But voters tend not to be impressed by heavy-handed political maneuvers, and this one has the potential to cost Democrats their board majority.
Finally, Wysocki and Beckett are longtime residents who have served in a variety of endeavors.
A retired school teacher and longtime member of the League of Women Voters, Wysocki has well deserved reputation as a conscientious volunteer.
Beckett, a prominent local lawyer who teaches at the University of Illinois College of Law, has a similar record of civic involvement. The public should be pleased that individuals of such decency and dedication are willing to serve.
Those plaudits do not minimize in any way the resumes of Kircher, a lawyer, and Bell, a dental hygienist who is executive director of Central Illinois Dental Education and Services, a not-for-profit agency that provides free dental care to needy children in Champaign County who live outside of Champaign-Urbana. But unfortunately, in our view, they're running for the wrong reasons.