As voters in McHenry County prepare to decide a slew of contested races, no local race will generate as much attention, based on the mudslinging, as the Republican primary for McHenry County sheriff.
In the lead-up to the March 18 primary election, the Northwest Herald will profile candidates Andrew Zinke and Bill Prim, a recently retired commander for the Des Plaines Police Department. Prim’s profile will appear on Feb. 8.
First up, Zinke.
A 24-year veteran of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, Zinke has risen through the ranks from patrol deputy to the office’s undersheriff and current second-in-command to outgoing Sheriff Keith Nygren.
He’s the hand-picked candidate to succeed Nygren. Zinke not only has the backing of his boss, but many other McHenry County officials.
Well, except one. State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi, whose office works hand-in-hand with the sheriff’s office and is tasked with representing the department in legal matters. After public battles with Nygren, Bianchi has thrown his political support behind Zinke’s opponent.
Zinke hopes his political endorsements can translate into teaming up with other local municipalities as he looks to create a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team and partnering on accident investigations.
“We could all save money by sharing resources,” Zinke said.
Zinke’s next initiative is a project he touts as both cost saving and environmentally friendly: swapping gasoline out for propane in sheriff’s vehicles.
He’d initially start with 20 of the office’s 180 vehicles, he said.
There’s some initial cost to convert the vehicles – about $75,000 – but Zinke said that can be recouped through a state grant.
But Zinke’s very own cause célèbre, the focus of his term should he be elected, is combating the county’s unrelenting heroin problem. He pointed to the heroin task force, which he leads. He wants to continue with those efforts, but also to focus not only on combating the drug problem, but the crimes that so often go with it.
“The tragedies that these families are facing and the residual crimes – the thefts and the burglaries – it’s tearing families apart and we’ve got to stop it,” he said.
Stopping it may mean reaching users early. Zinke says he’s in the planning stages of a crime diversion program for juveniles.
He wants to use a vacant cell block at the jail to house a program that would work with schools officials and mental health professionals to give troubled youth a first-hand glimpse into the county jail.
“If we can touch one or two kids,” Zinke said, “and make an impact on them by letting them see what the inside of the jail looks like, and how restricting and how uncomfortable it is, that could change their mind and change their path.”
Another cause he’d take up is domestic violence. He’d appoint a supervisor to review all domestic violence reports and ensure that the sheriff’s office follows up.
“We do some of it now,” Zinke said. “But with a more concerted, focused effort, I think we can work with ... victims of domestic violence. Some people think they’re treated like victimless crimes; they’re not. There is a victim and that person has a voice, and that person needs to be heard and protected.”
Independent candidate Jim Harrison, a Woodstock-based attorney specializing in employment law and a former sheriff’s deputy, will face the primary winner in the Nov. 4 general election.
Fundraising to date
According to quarterly reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Election, Andrew Zinke has $38,418 in the bank compared to Bill Prim’s $23,600.41. Zinke raised $21,401.23 in the most recent quarter. Prim raised $10,310.