by Mike Kroll

Galesburg and Knox County voters turned out in huge numbers to elect a new governor, new attorney general, new state senator, new county clerk, new county treasurer, new regional school superintendent and 40 percent fewer of the same old Knox County Board members.

Two political newcomers dueled in the Knox County Treasurer's race where Democrat Robin Davis easily beat Republican Ernie Miller in both the city (6,232-3,933) and county (4,519-3,539). In one of the very few local races where the candidates actually argued issues, it was proven that neither newspaper nor incumbent endorsements mean a whole heck of a lot. Davis, who will be the first Democrat since before the Civil War to hold this office, swiftly responded to charges leveled by Miller during the race. She credits her victory to experience in the office and winning the credibility battle in what became a nasty race.

In the tightest local race, Republican Marc Wong beat Democrat incumbent County Clerk Steve Buck by a mere 41 votes. Buck lost the City of Galesburg to Wong (5,142-5,187) even as other countywide Democratic candidates won it big. Buck then won the county by a mere four votes (4,093-4,089) -- not enough to carry the race. Historically, even losing Democratic candidates have come out of Galesburg with winning margins and Buck's poor in-city showing is a bit of a mystery. Supposition is that Wong successfully turned the public's perception of Buck's request to make the County Clerk's salary the same as the County Treasurer's into a demand for a pay raise and that may have been Buck's undoing.

This is a blow to Knox County Democrats who have continuously held this office since 1970 -- longer than any other in the county. Both candidates ran classy campaigns with a lot of emphasis on direct mail and local advertising. For a challenger to win an administrative office both candidates concede was not broken is a major accomplishment for a young Asian American like Wong. ''The most frequent comment we kept hearing throughout the campaign was the voter's support of getting more youth involved in local politics,'' explained Wong. A unique tactic used by Wong who did considerable door-to-door campaigning was to send residents an introductory postcard just a few days before he walked their neighborhood amidst his gaggle of college-age volunteers.

In what must be the biggest surprise of the night another political newcomer, Democrat Bonnie Harris easily defeated Republican Tim Halloran for the post of Knox County Regional Superintendent of Schools. Harris won big in the city (6,217-4,052) and lost by the narrowest of margins in the county (3,533-3,578) to become the first African-American ever elected to countywide office here. Interestingly, Harris is also the first Democrat to take office (presumably) since before the Civil War. The last Democrat elected back in 1934 resigned in favor of another job before taking office and the previous Democrat elected was J. H. Noteware in 1853. Harris' term doesn't start until July 1 of next year.

Tuesday was not a good night for the downsized Knox County Board. Having reduced their number from 25 to 15 members (and with a significant number of the strongest incumbent members not seeking reelection) every County Board winner but one was an incumbent -- and no incumbents lost. Republicans swept all three seats in three districts (1, 4 and 5) and won a single seat in District 2 giving them a 10-5 majority.

Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri (D) lost to Republican Dale Risinger across the new 37th State Senate district (34,601-39,765) but handily won both Galesburg (6,748-3,671) and Knox County (4,959-3,336). This was another campaign weak on issues but heavy on personal attacks by both candidates. Despite a wealth of potential issues to discuss, the two state parties (who essentially took control the campaigns away from the candidates themselves) focused on defaming their opponent.

A significant part of the credit for Risinger's victory has to rest with the Democratic leadership who drew the senate district remap following the 2000 census. Essentially the remap favored incumbents, including Republican Carl Hawkinson who held this district until being tapped as Jim Ryan's running mate. As the Democratic leadership significantly strengthened adjacent Senate districts for Denny Jacobs in East Moline and George Shadid in Peoria they forged a much stronger Republican district in the 37th by shifting historically Republican areas away from those other territories. Mangieri actually kept Risinger below the 58 percent Republican edge in the district but not by enough.

Although area Republicans can't seem to figure it out, stalwart liberal Democratic Congressman Lane Evans continues to swat away challengers. The most recent victim was Galesburg political newcomer Pete Calderone. Calderone ran a no-budget grass roots campaign featuring a hard-core right-wing Republican agenda and lost big. Locally, Evans picked up over 68 percent in Galesburg and nearly 66 percent through the remainder of Knox County on his way to an overall 62 percent win. Calderone complained of not being taken seriously by Evans and it turns out that the voters shared Evans' perspective.

In the governor's race, Republican Jim Ryan defeated Democrat Rod Blagojevich in both the city (5,366-4,825) and the county (4,707-3,251) but lost by nearly a quarter million votes statewide. Many attribute Ryan's local success to his running mate, Galesburger Carl Hawkinson, but Ryan won much of west-central and eastern Illinois. In the hard-fought attorney general's race, Democrat Lisa Madigan won easily over Joe Birkett in Galesburg (5,661-4,416) but narrowly lost in the county (3,962-4,003) on her way to a statewide victory.

Huge changes both locally and statewide from this election were coupled with huge local disappointments as a gaggle of Galesburg candidates fell to defeat. Carl Hawkinson lost the Lt. Governor's race; Calderone lost for Congress, Mangieri lost for state senate; Dave McCrery lost big to State Representative Don Moffitt and Dawn Conolly barely lost for Appellate Court. A Galesburg address could hardly be considered a good luck charm.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website November 6, 2002

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