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Prim declares sheriff's office victory

Undersheriff won't concede trailing by 98 votes

McHenry County Sheriff candidate Bill Prim (left) hugs his daughter, Ellie, 17, after declaring victory in the Republican primary for McHenry County Sheriff on Tuesday at the Pinecrest Golf Club in Huntley.
McHenry County Sheriff candidate Bill Prim (left) hugs his daughter, Ellie, 17, after declaring victory in the Republican primary for McHenry County Sheriff on Tuesday at the Pinecrest Golf Club in Huntley.

It was a close race for the Republican nomination for McHenry County Sheriff, with Bill Prim coming out on top, though his opponent didn’t concede late Tuesday.

Less than 100 votes separated Prim from Undersheriff Andrew Zinke after early and absentee votes were counted. Prim garnered 14,516 votes to Zinke’s 14,418.

But Zinke, who has been undersheriff since 2010, said he wasn’t giving up.

“It’s still too close to concede,” Zinke said just before midnight Tuesday. “We have to wait for every vote to be counted.”

County Clerk Katherine Schultz said there still were 47 outstanding absentee ballots to be counted, not enough to change the outcome. Schultz didn’t have a count on the number of provisional ballots, but said there typically are not very many.

About 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, Prim declared victory in front of his supporters gathered at Pinecrest Golf Club in Huntley.

He declined to be interviewed by the Northwest Herald, and instead released a statement through his spokesman:

“I’m extremely pleased at today’s results. I’m grateful to all the men and women who have exerted themselves above and beyond the call of duty these past 18 months. The victory is theirs. I know we have more hills to climb. I’m very glad to be at the top of this one.”

His election night victory will usher in a new era at the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office. He pulled it off without much support from the party establishment.

Zinke had endorsements from nearly every local Republican elected official including mayors and state representatives. He also had support from many in law enforcement, including his boss, retiring Sheriff Keith Nygren.

Prim’s campaign was buoyed by support from State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi. With Bianchi’s backing, Prim promised to repair the bad blood between the sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s offices. Bianchi and Nygren have been well-documented adversaries, whose squabbles have often resulted in taxpayer-funded legal battles.

Before his supporters, Prim thanked Bianchi, saying “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Prim also was supported by County Board members Diane Evertsen, Donna Kurtz and Michael Walkup. Evertsen is part of a three-way slate of candidates looking to replace county Republican Party leaders at an April caucus.

The new leadership would also include Charles Wheeler and Sandra Salgado. Salgado, a former County Board member, is the daughter of State’s Attorney’s Office investigator Ron Salgado, who, like Bianchi, was indicted by the special prosecutors and whose case was likewise dismissed.

The sheriff’s race came down to early and absentee ballots that narrowed the lead Prim held as the returns rolled in. Prim maintained a lead throughout the evening by about 400 votes. Early and absentee ballots pushed that difference to 98.

Zinke has said he hadn’t considered a recount, but he has options.

Candidates have two options in pursuing a recount. A discovery recount, which can be requested by the candidate and is pretty common, looks at a sampling of precincts to see if there is anything that could potentially lead to a change in results. A full recount would have to be court ordered.

Tuesday marked the end of a long and acrimonious campaign season that began in September 2011, when Zinke announced he was running for the job held by his boss, and Prim followed a year later.

Nygren has been sheriff since 1997.

Prim denounced what he called the Sheriff’s Office establishment with his “Right Man, Right Time” campaign. He has said he wants to end what he calls an “era of entitlement” and rid the office of unnecessary administrators.

He weathered an attack from the Zinke campaign that called Prim a “double dipper” looking for a second pension. Prim has pledged not to take a sheriff’s pension, and asked voters to hold him to that promise.

“Primaries, unfortunately, seem to be a bloodbath, and once they’re over with, people [in the party] have to come back together,” Zinke said.

Prim will likely face Woodstock-based attorney Jim Harrison, who has indicated he will run as an independent.

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