CHAMPAIGN — In a candidates' forum Friday, voters heard from four people vying for two circuit judgeships and the two candidates for county executive of Champaign County.
Democrat Ramona Sullivan and Republican Roger Webber will face off this November for the seat formerly held by Judge Arnold Blockman, while Democrat Chad S. Beckett and Republican Randy Rosenbaum seek the seat formerly held by Judge Harry Clem. Meanwhile, Republican Gordy Hulten and Democrat Darlene Kloeppel both hope to be the first to fill a newly created county office.
"I want to help people; that's what I do," Sullivan, an assistant Champaign County public defender, said during the forum at the Champaign City Building. "I've been an attorney for 22 years, and I get paid taxpayer money. You can see online I get paid $57,000 a year, which is significantly less than what most of my classmates were getting paid the year we graduated, back in 1996.
"I'm not in this to get money. I'm not in this to get power. I'm not in this to get popular. I'm trying to help people, and that's what I have done every day at work for 22 years."
Sullivan said she has been active in bereavement ministry and music ministry at her church and regularly donates at the local blood bank.
Her opponent talked about his record since being appointed to replace Blockman.
"It has been suggested it is an uphill battle to run against a sitting judge, and I suppose, to a large extent, that is probably true," Webber said. "We get to wear the robe, we get our name in the paper if we are involved in a case. The counter side of this is we have a record that we have to defend.
"I've been doing this for four years now, and every case that I decide has two attorneys and at least two litigants, all of whom may come away from that hearing very, very unhappy or very angry. I think the fact that my overall bar approval rating is greater than 97 percent speaks very well of the way I have handled the job."
Webber also talked Friday about his work with Habitat for Humanity and the Kiwanis Club.
Beckett spoke of his lifelong affinity for the law.
"Since I was 5 years old, I knew what I wanted to do — to practice law with my dad," said the Urbana attorney. "My entire professional career has been in practice in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, and I have handled just about any kind of case here. You name it, I've been involved in it. I can bring that experience, that diversity, a way to challenge the status quo. I have represented diverse clients from all walks of life."
He said he has been active coaching a grade school basketball team at Holy Cross and working with the Boy Scouts of America.
His opponent touted his experience on the bench since being appointed to replace Clem.
"I've been a judge for two years, and I look forward to your support in November so I can continue what I have been doing," said Rosenbaum, who was appointed to Clem's seat. "I've been a lawyer for 25 years. I've been praised by lawyers and litigants for using common sense, and I would like to continue to serve in this fashion. I love helping people, and I think I have done a pretty good job doing it. I listen to everybody and treat them fairly."
Rosenbaum also talked about coaching Little League and working on Habitat builds.
November's winners will serve in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which includes Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie and Piatt counties.
Following the judicial forums, Hulten and Kloeppel took center stage to tell attendees why they want to become Champaign County's first county executive.
The new position was created by voters in a November 2016 referendum.
"I am excited to run to be your first Champaign County executive," said Hulten, the current county clerk. "I have significant amount of experience in local government and significant amount of experience in local involvement."
He said his three priorities will be "straightening out the fiscal management of Champaign County, building an economic development operation in Champaign County government, and working on an independent redistricting plan so we can return competitive elections to the Champaign County Board."
If elected, Hulten said he would work with the county board to limit partisanship.
"I envision the county executive as a regional cheerleader for economic development," he said.
"In the last election, voters said they wanted an elected leader who would represent all the county's residents, not just some special interest group or some geographic districts of the county," said Kloeppel, who spent 15 years as community services director for the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
"I am running for your first county executive because I am interested in finding solutions to the county's complex issues that residents feel are both informed and fair. The county executive will preside over the county board meetings, prepare the county budget, manage the administrative activities of the county and represent the county at negotiations and public events of all kinds. I want to assure voters that I have the formal education and hands-on experience to handle these duties with confidence and integrity."
She said she has started an executive "to-do" list after meeting with citizens in every community in the county.
"We need to take a longer range view and come up with a vision for a plan for the community," Kloeppel said.
The forum was sponsored by the Champaign County League of Women Voters, the Champaign County NAACP and The News-Gazette.