SPRINGFIELD – State Rep. Bill Black's decision to not run for state Sen. Rick Winkel's 52nd District seat clears the way for other Republicans who had been interested in the race.
They include former state Rep. Tom Berns of Urbana and Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden.
Both men told The News-Gazette on Monday that they were exploring senate runs, but neither has made a final decision.
"I certainly am interested, but I want to talk to community leaders and see what they are saying about who they think would be the best person to represent our area over in Springfield," Shelden said.
Although the season for circulating nominating petitions has begun, there is time to make a decision, he said.
"I think within a couple of weeks everything will have worked itself out, but I don't think there's any crisis mode here," Shelden said. "We need to get the party unified behind the best candidate and then move forward."
Champaign County Republican Chairman Steve Hartman predicted that there would be no primary for the 52nd District Senate seat, and said the party would likely come to consensus on a single candidate.
"My guess is that you'll probably see either Mark Shelden or Tom Berns step up, and speaking as the Champaign County Republican chairman, I can say that either potential candidate would run a strong campaign and we would be very happy to support them," Hartman said.
Berns said he was still consulting with family, friends, supporters and business associates, but plans to decide whether to run within the next week or so.
"I've been given some indications recently that I will be encouraged to do that, and will try to evaluate this as quickly as we can and move forward on a decision," he said. "In some respects, this was all a surprise from both Rick Winkel and Bill Black."
Winkel, the Urbana Republican who succeeded Stan Weaver, announced in late August that he planned to step down when his term ended in January 2007. - Black had immediately expressed interest and was considered the most likely candidate until his announcement Sunday that he would seek re-election to the House instead.
"When you weigh everything as unemotionally as possible, if the voters give me a chance to go back to the House, that's where I think I can be the most effective," he told The News-Gazette on Monday.
Black, a Danville Republican, has served in the House since 1984, where he is now deputy minority leader. Black said he's not prepared to give up that seniority.
"... Had I been fortunate to have the voters elect me to the Senate, I'm viewed as the new kid on the block and I leave the House, where I have significant seniority," he said. "I don't think I would have been in that position in the Senate, because your seniority doesn't transfer."
Black, who turns 64 in November, does not believe he would be willing and able to serve the decade or more to achieve the same standing in the Senate that he already enjoys in the House.
"It really boils down to the seniority I have, the relationships I have in the House. I think it would have been fascinating to serve in the Senate, but it just didn't come together, so you make your decision and you go from there," Black said.
On the Democrat side, Champaign County Auditor Mike Frerichs has announced his candidacy for the 52nd District Senate seat, which includes Champaign, Urbana, the eastern half of Champaign County and all but the top portion of Vermilion County.
Black, who is also Vermilion County Republican Chairman, said Berns and Shelden both would be strong, credible candidates for the Republican nomination, as would former state Sen. Judy Myers of Danville.
Myers said Monday that she's leaning against a run, but said, "I haven't totally ruled it out."
"I don't know whether Judy would be interested in getting back into public service at this point in her life, but I certainly wouldn't count her out if that's what she wants to do," Black said. "She's an indefatigable campaigner."
Winkel did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.