Last week’s meeting of the Sangamon County Democratic Party organization wasn’t what you would call one big happy family.

Last week’s meeting of the Sangamon County Democratic Party organization wasn’t what you would call one big happy family.

The gathering of precinct committeemen was sparser than usual because of the weather, but some controversies warmed things up.

Democrats haven’t made an endorsement in the race for Springfield mayor — which has a Feb. 22 primary fast approaching — or in any races in the April 5 general election, including those for Springfield’s aldermanic seats.

No action was taken on a simple agenda item to make endorsements in Wards 1 and 7. Springfield School Board member JUDITH JOHNSON, a committeeman who backs DORIS TURNER for Ward 3 alderman, objected to taking action in some wards if all candidates weren’t given the chance on the same day. The vote was deferred.

Some candidates did speak, although SHEILA STOCKS-SMITH was the only mayoral hopeful who attended.

She stressed her Democratic roots.

“I’m really the only true Democrat in this race,” she said. “I’ve been with you for years. …I ’ve walked precincts. I’ve staffed phone banks.”

And she noted that among her endorsers is U.S. Sen. DICK DURBIN, D-Ill.

The “only true Democrat” line led another committeeman to ask whether that was fair to Ward 3 Ald. FRANK KUNZ, another candidate for mayor. Kunz is a Democrat, but far from an organization man. He doesn’t seek party or union endorsements, he’s not a committeeman, and he wasn’t at the meeting.

Later at the gathering, committeeman DAVE PICCIOLI asked if he could speak on behalf of TIM TIMONEY, the party’s former chairman, who didn’t make the meeting. Piccioli announced, while Stocks-Smith was still there, that Timoney would be calling committeemen to see if they would be willing to stand in support of mayoral candidate MIKE FARMER at a news conference.

Farmer has voted in GOP primaries in recent years, but was hired by former Mayor TIM DAVLIN, a Democrat, to work for the city on economic development. Farmer has the support of Timoney and outgoing City Water, Light and Power general manager TODD RENFROW, another former Democratic county chairman. A third former head of the local party, BILL HOULIHAN, who runs Durbin’s downstate offices, accompanied Stocks-Smith to last week’s meeting.

The situation in Ward 3 is an odd one, because Turner, a member of the Sangamon County Board, is also first vice-chair of Sangamon County Democrats. But one of her opponents in the race, BILLY EARL, is second vice-chair. Also running are DAVID ESTES, who identifies himself as an independent, and JIM GASPARIN, the Republican choice.

Democrats aren’t scheduled to meet again until early March — after the mayoral primary.
JIM MOODY, the current party chairman, has tried to avoid some of these wrinkles, but problems still exist. For example, he has urged Earl and Turner to try to figure out which one should stay in the race. But that didn’t work.

Moody said he didn’t think what appeared from the outside to be disarray should be interpreted as weakness.

“I don’t know that the Republicans are so united,” he said.

Well, if they’re not, they’ve certainly put on a better facade. The party is backing MIKE COFFEY JR. for mayor and several candidates for aldermanic and other jobs. But Moody is right that in the mayor’s race, Republican MIKE HOUSTON has the support of some GOP operatives. And he can also argue, based on voting record, that Farmer is a Republican who worked in the administration of Democrat Davlin and has “some bipartisan support.”

Moody also noted that many labor organizations are represented in the Democratic party.
“People are sorting through what their positions are and trying to find out more about the candidates,” Moody said. “There’s just a lot of undecided people out there. There’s no consensus, and that’s the democratic process. We’ll get there when we get there.”

Support for Higgins
One new development in the Ward 7 aldermanic race: incumbent DEBBIE CIMAROSSA, who is not seeking another term, is endorsing MICHAEL HIGGINS, the Maldaner’s restaurant owner and chef.

“Through his continuous support of downtown revitalization, his role as a successful business owner, as a member of the MacArthur Boulevard Redevelopment Plan steering committee and many other community roles, he is a good choice,” Cimarossa said in a statement.

 “Much like Alderwoman Cimarossa,” Higgins said in the same news release, “I will be an alderman who works hard for all of Ward 7 and her endorsement shows confidence in my vision to bring further new development and opportunities to our ward.”

This is more interesting than some endorsements because Cimarossa is a Republican and Higgins is a Democrat.

In response to the news, another candidate in the race, JOE McMENAMIN, said, “I’ll be a very active alderman, and many voters are seeking an alderman that will have lots of time to put into the job.” McMenamin is cutting back on his work as a lawyer and retiring from the military. He quit posts as Democratic precinct committeeman and head of the West Side Democratic Club to make it clear he’s running for alderman as an independent.

The third candidate in Ward 7, JOHN LAURENZANA — the GOP’s choice — said, “Debbie’s a private citizen. She’s entitled to her opinion. I wish her the best of luck as the outgoing alderman. Thanks for your service to the community.”

Edwards sends out letter
Springfield Mayor FRANK EDWARDS, who had been Ward 1 alderman and is seeking another term in that role, recently sent a campaign letter to Ward 1 voters, thanking them for understanding why he agreed to fill out the final four months of late Mayor Davlin’s term.

“Thanks to decades of service as a firefighter and as a commercial pilot,” he said in the letter, “when an emergency arises, I am trained to respond to it.”

Alluding to the untimely Dec. 14 death of Davlin, Edwards said an alderman had to “step up to the plate and serve our entire city during a critical time.”

“I thought it was my duty to respond,” Edwards wrote.

“Please know that I’m still deeply rooted in neighborhoods of Ward 1,” he continued. “In fact, the experience and knowledge earned as your mayor during the next months will help enhance the service I can provide to you in a potential third term as your alderman during the next four years.”

MIKE CREWS, a Marine Bank teller who is running against Edwards, spoke at the Democratic committeemen’s meeting last week. He said afterwards he doesn’t think Edwards should have accepted the job of mayor if he wants to be alderman again.

“It’s a full-time job being mayor, and he said he’s not going to have time to campaign,” Crews said. “If you want to be Ward 1 alderman, why not recuse yourself and focus on Ward 1 and the constituents that live in Ward 1 and not put your name forth to be mayor?”

Crews said he could understand if there were no other qualified people to fill in as mayor, but he said Ward 6 Ald. MARK MAHONEY, who is not seeking another term, “would have been a great candidate.”

Still, Crews said, “I hope he (Edwards) does a good job as mayor, for the betterment of our city.”
I remember when Edwards was fire chief, but I had forgotten, if I ever knew, that he was a pilot. Turns out he learned to fly and became an instructor while in the Air National Guard from 1969 to 1976. He later flew planes, sometimes on days off from fire service, for Roland Machinery in Springfield. Edwards said he also flew for Bunn Capitol, and when JIM EDGAR was running for his first term as governor, Edwards helped out flying then, too, usually in planes carrying support staff.

“I haven’t flown in probably 10 years,” he said.

Condolences
SAM GOVE, who died at age 87 Jan. 28 in Urbana, had a big influence on the study of a very complex thing — Illinois state government.

He was director emeritus of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois and directed the legislative staff intern program from 1962-73. Former Gov. Edgar, who was an intern, calls Gove one of his mentors.

Gove was also the founding chairman of Illinois Issues magazine, and was on its advisory board for 28 years. It remains a good source of in-depth information about Springfield’s key industry.

“Sam Gove has been a guiding light at Illinois Issues since he helped found the magazine more than 35 years ago,” said DANA HEUPEL, executive editor of the publication. “It was not unusual for him to write a note to me suggesting an idea or commenting on an article. More telling is the number of people who have implored us to live up to the standards that Sam set for us. We have tried to do that, and we will continue along that path.”

Gove is the namesake of the Samuel K. Gove Legislative Intern Hall of Fame to honor former interns whose careers have exemplified public service. Edgar, Illinois Auditor General BILL HOLLAND, former U.S. Rep. TERRY BRUCE, D-Olney, and state Sen. KIRK DILLARD, R-Hinsdale, are among inductees.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.