March primary in sheriff's race promises to be hotly contested

WOODSTOCK – From the perspective of an outsider looking in, it appears that there is an ocean of difference that separates the candidates for McHenry County sheriff.

In one corner, there’s the veteran with a history of successes, including handfuls of promotions, and numerous political endorsements.

And in another, another veteran cop supported by the state’s attorney; an outsider running against “the establishment” who promises to put an end to the very public feuds between the two offices.

But their views might be more closely aligned than either of them might realize.

In separate interviews with the Northwest Herald, both McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke and his competitor Bill Prim outlined the strengths each would bring to the office of sheriff.

Many were similar: enhance or establish new outreach and volunteer opportunities to foster greater community involvement and public trust; give deputies the tools for success; and do more with less in a sluggish economy.

But it could be said that their differences make the race perhaps one of the most hotly contested local races this election season.

For years, Sheriff Keith Nygren and State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi have been at odds, each taking very public jabs at one another. The state’s attorney’s office is supposed to represent the sheriff’s office in legal matters.

Bianchi has thrown his support behind Prim; Nygren backs Zinke.

“Obviously there’s a schism between the state’s attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office,” Prim said. “Without pointing fingers and making an accusations, the fact is, it exists. When there’s any kind of confrontation that needs to be settled on a regular basis by independent attorneys, that comes as an expense.

“Not only is it expensive, but it’s inefficient with the service to the community to consistently to have those two offices at odds,” Prim continued. “With [Bianchi’s] endorsement, I think that shows that there [would] be immediate cooperation.”

Zinke called the clash “political sour grapes” and pledged to extend an olive branch to Bianchi if elected.

“In the immediacy of this whole thing, it’s terrible. It’s terrible because the offices don’t trust one another, and it’s a very difficult time to operate,” Zinke said. “In the long term, it’s made our office a way better place than we ever used to be. We’ve had to analyze, review, and make sure all of our policies, protocols and procedures are top notch.”

Zinke, of Woodstock, has been with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 23 years. He’s worked his way up the ranks, attaining promotion after promotion, to undersheriff in 2010.

Prim, of Cary, spent his career in Des Plaines, having retired last year as a commander from that department. He’s most proud of leading the department’s asset forfeiture program, which he said brought thousands of dollars back to the department.

Besides Bianchi, Prim’s other backers include Sen. Dan Duffy and former congressman Joe Walsh.

Some local bloggers also have aligned themselves with Prim. One includes famously fired sheriff’s deputy, Zane Seipler, who has ran for sheriff himself and sued Nygren alleging that his civil rights were violated and that he was fired out of retaliation for blowing the whistle on racial profiling. Nygren has said Seipler was first fired for writing tickets to passengers instead of drivers.

Seipler won his job back, but was again fired in July for disobeying the department’s orders after a judge said he lied under oath.

Prim stopped short of saying he’d immediately give Seipler his job back but said he’d let Seipler apply for a job as a sheriff’s deputy.

“I’d allow him to go through the process, absolutely,” Prim said. “I’m not going to tell you what that result would be because [I’d] have to see what comes of the process.

“The reality is, there is no magic wand,” Prim continued, “He’s no longer an employee of the sheriff’s office, you can’t just wave a magic wand and, poof, have him re-appear as an employee.”

Zinke’s endorsements include sheriffs from most of the surrounding counties besides Lake and mayors and village presidents from all over the county.

The Republican primary election is March 18.

About the candidates

Bill Prim

Age: 54

Occupation: Part-time courthouse security officer in Lake County; retired commander with the Des Plaines Police Department

Years in law enforcement: 28

Education: Attended training at Northwestern Staff and Command

Family: Two children, ages 18 and 17

Andrew Zinke

Age: 45

Occupation: McHenry County Undersheriff; McHenry County Sheriff’s Office employee for 23 years in various capacities

Years in law enforcement: 25

Education: Associate degree in criminal justice; bachelor’s and master’s degrees in leadership and management

Family: Wife Kimberly; three sons, ages 12, 3 and 1

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