Bernard Schoenburg: Gray wants to be county’s voice in 50th
BOB GRAY, president of the Citizens Club of Springfield who surprised folks recently by starting to circulate petitions to run as an independent for the state Senate, says he wouldn’t be running in the new 50th District if GRAY NOLL had won the Republican primary.
Noll was defeated March 20 by state Sen. SAM McCANN, R-Carlinville.
Gray has long been a Republican precinct committeeman, but didn’t vote in the primary. He told me that the possible run as an independent “was on my mind” when the primary came around. Under a new law, if he had voted in the partisan primary, he couldn’t now be an independent candidate.
Gray said the reason he wouldn’t have run against Noll is because they share a home county.
“Noll is a Sangamon County person,” Gray said. “That might be it as much as anything. … I just think I can represent the area better than Senator McCann.”
The Citizens Club, which Gray helped found, has been a rousing success, bringing together a bunch of capable and concerned citizens to meetings where programs are good and questions are smart. Gray’s role in starting the club was one of the reasons he was named The State Journal-Register’s First Citizen in 2009.
The club hosted a debate between Noll and McCann shortly before the primary. Gray said a committee planned the format, and he saw no problem with his club’s participation in the race while he was contemplating a run. But McCann sees it differently.
“It certainly is hard to call it a non-partisan, third-party citizens’ forum at that point … when the president of the group is obviously already contemplating an independent run,” McCann said last week. “I don’t know that it passes the smell test.”
McCann lives just outside the boundaries of the new 50th, but has talked about moving into the district. While Sangamon County has a large proportion of the district’s population, and “I’m going to be here in Sangamon County servicing Sangamon County,” he said, the district includes another eight counties. McCann’s current 49th Senate District covers 11 counties, he said, so he understands “how important it is to balance service” across a district.
As an independent candidate, Gray must collect 3,000 valid signatures to run for the Senate. A letter he sent out seeking petition-passing support uses some colorful language about the way things have gone downhill in Illinois.
“Unfortunately, the damage done in the last decade or so will probably take a couple of generations to undo,” he wrote. “If the United States needed an enema, the nurse would immediately look for Illinois.”
The letter continues that “we need decent and independent people” in the legislature, and now, “nearly all legislators are compromised by accepting special interest group funding.”
While he’s been a Republican and it is “probably a fair assessment” that he’s philosophically more a Republican than a Democrat, Gray said, “I think that we need people in there that are not beholden to either the leadership of the Republican Party or the Democrat Party.” An independent could “at least try to do something positive,” he said.
McCann also argues that Gray’s entry in the race could split GOP support and open the way for a Democrat — if appointed to fill what is now a ballot vacancy — to have a chance. If a Democrat is named to the ballot, Gray conceded, “I’d have to look closely at the whole situation.”
On a couple of issues, Gray said he is “very uncomfortable with abortion, but I have a pretty good belief in women’s rights,” so he doesn’t anticipate adding restrictions such as the need for a pre-abortion ultrasound.
“I’ve not looked at that very closely, but I suspect I wouldn’t be for that,” he said.
He does think he’d be for some sort of law to allow private citizens to carry guns.
As to the compatibility of his potential dual roles — president of the Citizens Club and a Senate candidate — he said, “The board and I will be discussing that.”
RUDY DAVENPORT, who co-founded the club with Gray, said as long as Gray is an independent, he views the candidacy as “a plus.”
“We believe in participatory government, and you just can’t do it on the sidelines, asking other people to make all of the hard decisions.”
But if Gray were to run as a Democrat or Republican, Davenport thinks Gray would have to step down or take a temporary leave.
Davenport said Gray did not consult with him before word of the possible run emerged.
“Like everybody else, I read it in the paper,” Davenport said.
ADRIAN DOTTS, who made his mark on Sangamon County’s political scene as a county board member and took on other roles in his life including running a restaurant and becoming a minister, died April 9. He was 60.
Dotts, of Springfield, had been on dialysis for some time and had suffered seizures after a head injury in a fall.
As a Democratic member of the county board, he was not a shy advocate. An anonymous letter he released to the media alleging problems in then-Sheriff BILL DeMARCO’s office back in 1992 was considered a factor in Republican Demarco’s loss that year for state representative to Democrat VICKIE MOSELEY — even though Illinois State Police found no evidence to back up the accusations.
Former Springfield Ald. FRANK McNEIL, who is still in the public eye as a talk-show host on WMAY-AM 6-7 p.m. weekdays, recalled how hard Dotts worked. Dotts was McNeil’s campaign manager when McNeil won his first aldermanic term in 1987, and McNeil helped Dotts on a couple of winning county board races.
“You would never find a better campaigner than Adrian Dotts,” McNeil said. “He was relentless, and he was tenacious. … Adrian believed that there wasn’t a voter he couldn’t convince to vote for him.”
McNeil said Dotts won some races that had seemed likely to go the other way.
Dotts had operated a restaurant for a time and then a barbecue stand. At one point, he joined the Evening Republican Club and worked in the secretary of state’s office.
Just within the last year, I enjoyed chatting briefly with Dotts as he working checkout at a home improvement store, and I have paused at least a bit to watch his ministry on TV. He was buried in Belleville.
Condolences to his family and friends.
Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or follow him via twitter.com/bschoenburg. His email address is