After not filing to run for the Illinois Senate in December, Champaign lawyer A.J. Ruggieri was recently slated by the Champaign County Republican Party to run against Democratic 52nd District incumbent Scott Bennett.
What does he offer voters in Champaign and Vermilion counties that Bennett doesn’t?
Ruggieri, a 42-year-old member of the Savoy Village Board, won’t say because he can’t say — military regulations discourage it.
A major in the Illinois National Guard, Ruggieri has been on coronavirus-related assignment since March. He said any campaign rhetoric is “going to have to wait until I come off of active duty.”
When will that be?
“I don’t know,” he said, noting his status is “as the situation dictates.”
Ruggieri is one of a handful of additions to the November ballot in Champaign County that have been or will be made by the local Democratic and Republican parties.
The only big spots left to fill are the Democratic and Republican slots for Champaign County treasurer.
The shotgun resignation of Democratic incumbent Laurel Prussing in January created this odd circumstance. Prussing, who served long tenures as both county auditor and Urbana mayor, was elected treasurer in 2018, part of an electoral sweep of county offices by local Democrats.
But unable to do the work and overwhelmed by the office’s responsibilities, Prussing ended her brief and controversial tenure by resigning after little more than a year in office.
Champaign County Board Chairman Giraldo Rosales appointed Democrat Marisol Hughes to fill Prussing’s post, presumably positioning her to run in November to fill the two-year balance of Prussing’s original four-year term.
But local Democrats have not committed to slating Hughes for the post and are actively soliciting applications from others interested in becoming the party’s candidate.
At the same time, Republicans, still shell-shocked from their 2018 experience, failed to find a treasurer candidate to file candidate petitions. Now, like the Democrats, they’re looking for someone to run.
“We have a couple of interested people right now,” said Dee Shonkwiler, the new chairman of the Champaign County GOP.
He said local Republicans feel like they can win the office back “because it’s been a mess” that has attracted considerable public attention.
Among the potential GOP candidates is John Bambanek, a cybersecurity expert who has expressed confidence he could clean up the backlog of problems that built up during Prussing’s tenure.
Mark Shelden, the incumbent county recorder of deeds who is seeking re-election, is assisting in the GOP search for a treasurer candidate. He said the parties have until August to slate their candidates and there are “likely to be others who show interest.”
The GOP found its candidate for county auditor, settling on former county board member Gary Maxwell. He’ll take on incumbent Democrat George Danos, who was elected in 2018 to fill out the remaining two years of former auditor John Farney’s term.
Farney resigned as auditor to accept appointment to the then-vacant treasurer’s post. But he was defeated by Prussing that November. Whoever wins the Maxwell/Farney contest will have a four-year term.
Republicans were unable to find an opponent to take on longtime Democratic State’s Attorney Julia Rietz.
The GOP also failed to find a candidate to take on state Rep. Carol Ammons, who represents a district that encompasses Champaign and Urbana.
The lock of GOP interest was no surprise because the House district was drawn to give the Democratic candidate an overwhelming advantage.
With respect to the county board, Republicans filled two open slots in Districts 5 and 10.
In District 5, incumbent John Rector changed his mind about not seeking re-election. He didn’t file in December, but neither did any other Republican in the west and southwest Champaign district.
So Rector said he felt it was important to “step up and serve our community a few more years.”
A self-described “young 62,” Rector said he anticipates a tough race against Democratic challenger Jordan Humphrey. He pointed out that he won in 2016 by just 38 votes.
In District 10, located in southeast Urbana, Republicans are backing Mike Kobel, a University of Illinois retiree. He was the crash-rescue-specialist coordinator at Willard Airport and has an extensive background in emergency services, including six years as chief of a volunteer fire department.
He will face Mary King, who won the March Democratic primary.
It remains to be seen how local Democrats will proceed with the treasurer slating because the party is divided between two leaders who both claim to be chairwoman.
Ammons asserts she was elected at an April 15 party convention, ousting incumbent Maryam Ar-Raheem. Ar-Raheem claims she was elected at an April 22 convention.
Ammons, however, appears to be asserting control over party business, while Ar-Raheem has said nothing and taken little action. Ammons is now presiding over the treasurer slating.
That issue also reflects a party divide. Rosales, who appointed Hughes, was one of four incumbent board Democrats who lost their primary contests in a purge led by Ammons’ wing of the party. So it’s open to question whether local Democrats, now led by Ammons, will be willing to slate his appointee or choose someone closer to her dominant wing.