Striving for support: Erickson and Pickrel vy for GOP county clerk nod
by Mike Kroll
Let's face it, the upcoming Illinois Primary holds little draw or excitement for just about anyone except the crowded field of candidates hoping to replace Senator Peter Fitzgerald, voters in troubled school districts and two Republican guys competing for the opportunity to complete former Knox County Clerk Marc Wong's term. As hard as it may be to believe it was a mere 15 months ago that Wong beat Democrat Steve Buck by 41 votes and launched what most area Republicans anticipated would be a highly promising career in politics. Those hopes evaporated when Wong was arrested for theft and forgery less than three months after his election.
When Wong resigned his office last November, prior to pleading guilty to some of the charges in December, state statutes mandated that an election be held to fill out the remainder of Wong's four-year term. Three candidates filed petitions including Democrat Buck and two Republicans: Alan Pickrel and Scott Erickson. Following a caucus of Knox County Republicans in December Erickson was appointed by Knox County Board Chair Sally Keener to serve as County Clerk until December. On March 16th Pickrel and Erickson face off to see which will compete with Buck in the November general election.
Both men were born and raised in Galesburg, married and are fathers. At 34 Erickson is a decade younger than Pickrel, married to Carrie and proud father to Nathan (4) and Elaina (2). While Scott was born at Cottage Hospital his family moved to Knoxville when he was in third grade and he graduated from Knoxville High School in 1987. He attended Knox College and graduated in 1991 with a political science degree. Prior to his appointment he worked for almost five years as a field marketing representative to Illinois State Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka. Erickson has never before held elected office but he did run once unsuccessfully for a county board seat.
Pickrel graduated in 1977 from Galesburg High School and married his wife Julie five years later. His daughter Megan is 16, attends GHS and is learning to drive. Alan recently began a new job with Mechanical Services Incorporated as inventory controller. Prior to that he was district manager for Herr Petroleum's assortment of gas stations and convenience stores throughout the area. Pickrel's second term on the Knox County Board will be up this November and he is currently the chair of the Public Safety Committee overseeing the sheriff, courthouse and Mary Davis Home.
Prior to Wong's election in 2002 the Knox County Clerk's office had been a Democratic bastion for over 35 year and county Republicans don't want to relinquish control of this office just because their former rising star turned out to be a thief. Erickson, like Wong before him, is a party insider who has served as precinct committeeman, party treasurer and sergeant-at-arms; Pickrel however successfully ran for county board twice as a Republican from District 2 but has never immersed himself in the details of partisan politics at the central committee level. Both Republican candidates and informed political observers know that Buck will go into the November general election as an experienced long-time office employee who was narrowly beaten by an Republican up-and-comer whose character didn't stand up to scrutiny almost immediately upon election.
Ironically, by most accounts Wong's performance as County Clerk has been applauded by those most familiar with the office. He instituted positive changes that would most likely be preserved by whichever candidate prevails in November and built upon yet none of these candidates will gain political currency by pointing such things out nor will they seek his input or advice during the campaign. These circumstances combine with the administrative nature of the position to pose a formidable challenge to the candidates seeking our votes.
"I have worked behind the scenes in so many other campaigns and we were encouraged to be politically involved at our local level within the Treasurer's office-- I guess the Clerk's office just seemed to fit my interests and abilities so well it was a natural." That's how Erickson explained his interest in this race. "My past experience has always been from the politician's side but now I have had to learn the administrative side and I am becoming more and more comfortable with this role. In a job like this you don't legislate but customer service is all important. That's why I believe my past experience in retail serves me so well here."
Pickrel has spent his entire adult life engaged in sales or the management of retail operations. He leaped right into the job market after high school and views himself the beneficiary of a practical hands on education in the reality of business organization and customer service. "County Clerk is a job I had considered in the past and believe fits my talents well. While I have a lot to learn about the specifics of the job I have no doubt that my job experience together with my experience on the county board have prepared me well for this position."
Not surprisingly, Pickrel sees his opportunities in the clerk's office to continue making practical and organizational changes that streamline costs while improving services to the office's various constituencies. "Most people see the clerk's office as one that serves the public, and it does, but just as important is how much this office can positively impact the way Knox County government works. Work done by the clerk's office can have a very beneficial impact on the performance of the county board and in combination with the treasurer's office is what greases the wheels of county government operations."
Erickson introduced the state's E-pay system of paying county fees via credit card when he was still with Topinka's office and he would like to see this service extended and upgraded to make the use of credit cards even easier. "This office is all about serving the county taxpayers. I want to create a customer-service atmosphere in this office, one that extends not only to those we serve at the counter but also via the office website that I hope to continue developing. Also, I see this office as a sort of Courthouse Welcome Center making this building friendlier and more accessible to citizens whether in-person or on the telephone or even by e-mail."
Computers have become a bigger and bigger part of county government in recent years but Pickrel cautions that "we can't lose sight of the service needs of county residents who aren't computer savvy. I want to continue expanding the use of computers in the clerk's office but not to the extent that they actually come between the office staff and the public. The current office staff, by the way, is great. They are dedicated to their jobs and serving the citizens and you can't ask much more than that. In all honesty the office works pretty well right now and there just aren't many issues to be addressed in this race other than which of us is best prepared to maintain the high level of service in light of the county's pressing financial challenges. I think my experience in life and on the county board have prepared me for this role and I hope the voters agree."
"I have the advantage of being able to demonstrate to the voters just how well I can perform, sort of a ten-month probationary period," noted Erickson. "In the primary I think the party's caucus support should mean something to voters. The party leaders that know me well trusted me to maintain the functions of this office and the county board concurred. I wasn't real familiar with this office before my appointment but I am a hard worker and the office staff have been great helping me get up to speed in this job. I'd like to think that come November most people will be able to look at this office and say I have done a pretty good job and therefore deserve their support to complete the next two year at least."