Andrew Zinke rejects debate with Bill Prim in sheriff's race

WOODSTOCK – A sheriff candidate is lashing out at his opponent for declining an invitation to participate in a political debate.

Bill Prim issued a press release Monday calling out McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke, saying Zinke is avoiding a faceoff.

Prim, a retired Des Plaines police officer, and Zinke are squaring off in the March 18 Republican primary election for McHenry County sheriff.

“Mr. Zinke has now deprived the voters of an excellent opportunity not only to learn our positions on the issues but to get a sense of the people behind the positions, and how we conduct ourselves in a high-stakes, high-pressure environment,” Prim said in a written statement.

Zinke said he rejected the invitation because the debate’s sponsor, Woodstock-based Patriots United, has board members who openly support Prim.

Two of Patriots United’s seven board members – Gary Rabine and Brian Kelly – have donated more than $10,000 combined to Prim’s campaign, according to financial statements filed with the Illinois StateBoard of Elections.

“What makes you think that I want to go be in a debate for your group when it’s clearly going to be one-sided?” Zinke said.

“I’ve got no problem debating [Prim]. He has no clue about the sheriff’s office and how it’s run.”

Patriots United does not endorse candidates. The group’s president Joe Edwards says they are a nonpartisan group of “unapologetically principled conservatives.”

“Even through we as a board don’t endorse candidates, it doesn’t mean individuals cannot,” Edwards said.

Edwards compared Patriots United to the League of Women Voters.

Former League of Women Voters President Judy Szilak says that donations to local political races are strongly discouraged by the League.

“As a rule we try to be very careful about what we do publicly with campaign donations,” she said.

She later added: “We do the candidates forums, so we want to be sure that we’re seen as objective.”

Patriots United says Zinke verbally agreed to the debate but backed out as the details were being ironed out.

“I don’t know how I backed out of something that was never going to occur,” Zinke said.

Zinke said he will wait for a McHenry County League of Women Voters or a Northwest Herald-sponsored debate. The League is in talks for one, Szilak said, but nothing is confirmed. The newspaper presently has no plans to host a debate.