Local Election

McHenry County sheriff candidate questions opponent's judgment over former campaign manager

Prim calls Harrison's claim a personal attack, 'all-time low'

Huntley resident Matt McNamara works as part of Newt Gingrich’s security team during a March 2012 campaign rally at the Lake in the Hills Airport.
Huntley resident Matt McNamara works as part of Newt Gingrich’s security team during a March 2012 campaign rally at the Lake in the Hills Airport.

The criminal record of the former campaign manager for McHenry County Sheriff candidate Bill Prim casts a pall on what he would do if elected, Prim’s challenger alleged Thursday.

Independent candidate Jim Harrison released police, court and witness records from two fights at two Iowa bars in one night in 2001 involving one-time campaign manager Matt McNamara. He grabbed one man by the throat in the first fight and punched two women in the second, dragging a third by the hair, according to documents Harrison mailed to Chicago-area media.

While Harrison insists McNamara is still running the campaign, Prim said McNamara has not held the position of campaign manager in more than a year and a half, and called him just one of many unpaid volunteers. However, McNamara was part of the Prim campaign’s negotiations with the Northwest Herald in February 2014 about setting up a public debate between Prim and Undersheriff Andrew Zinke before the Republican primary.

Besides questioning Prim’s judgment in choosing McNamara, a former police officer who served with Prim in the Des Plaines Police Department, Harrison alleged that Prim could end up selecting a “bar room bully” to the second-in-command job of undersheriff. The quote comes from a 2004 court order related to the case.

“When deciding who to choose to represent his campaign, Bill Prim clearly made the ‘wrong choice’ at the ‘wrong time,’” Harrison said, playing on Prim’s campaign slogan. “And you can bet he would do it again if he was sheriff.”

McNamara could not be reached for comment Thursday. But Prim defended McNamara and lashed out in a statement, stating that he has never mentioned McNamara for the undersheriff position or “any particular office.”

“The political landscape has been slipping lower for years, and Mr. Harrison has now reached an all-time low. Apparently unable to attack me, or say anything positive, he has reduced his campaign to personal attacks on a volunteer,” Prim wrote.

The Committee to Elect Bill Prim campaign listed McNamara as its chairman and his Huntley address as headquarters in its 2012 organizational filing with the Illinois State Board of Elections. An April 2013 amendment changed the chairman to Prim, and the election board notes McNamara’s resignation effective April 4 of that year.

Harrison, an employment attorney, gathered the signatures needed to run as an independent. Prim, a retired Des Plaines police commander, narrowly won the Republican nomination in the March primary in a contentious election against Zinke. Current Republican Sheriff Keith Nygren is not seeking re-election.

Both fights involving McNamara happened on the same December 2001 evening in his hometown of Independence, Iowa, according to police department records Harrison released.

In the first, McNamara grabbed a patron by the throat, slammed him against a wall and threatened his life. Witness reports state McNamara was not provoked, appeared intoxicated and thanked people for separating them because he would have “killed that kid.”

McNamara and his companion went to another bar and got into another fight with a male patron, according to reports. Witness reports stated that McNamara punched two women in the face, and grabbed a third by her hair and dragged her through the parking lot.

A judge in a 2001 bench trial convicted McNamara of misdemeanor assault stemming from the first fight, fining him $500 and $154 in court costs. The verdict was upheld on appeal, and McNamara in 2004 filed a motion to have the sentence and verdict deferred and a civil penalty imposed instead, which is allowed under Iowa law.

But the judge declined the request, citing his extensive law enforcement background and combat training.

“The court sees no justification for a person so trained and capable to engage in conduct which would ordinarily be expected of a bar room bully,” the ruling stated.

Harrison also released a 2012 police report from Jerome, Arizona, in which McNamara was arrested for driving under the influence after testing at more than twice the legal blood alcohol content of 0.08.

McNamara, who lives in Huntley, is president of Liberty Elite Services, which specializes in executive protection. He handled security for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during his 2012 presidential run. Republican voters in March elected McNamara as committeeman for Grafton Township Precinct 16.

Prim said he was unaware of the details surrounding McNamara’s arrests, but said McNamara was vetted by the U.S. Secret Service before he was allowed to protect federal political dignitaries.

“My campaign makes no criminal background checks on volunteers, nor, to my knowledge, does any other campaign, including Mr. Harrison’s,” Prim said.

Harrison keeps his law office in Woodstock but lives in Johnsburg. He worked as a deputy in the 1980s before getting his law license, and had previously represented the sheriff’s office under former McHenry County State’s Attorney Gary Pack.

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