CHESTER — A panel of Democratic leaders unanimously chose Bill Enyart of Belleville on Saturday to be the party's candidate in the 12th Congressional District race this fall.
Enyart was one of seven candidates who interviewed before U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, and 12 other Democratic leaders at Chester City Hall.
Enyart will square off in the Nov. 6 general election against Republican Jason Plummer, of Fairview Heights. The winner of that contest will replace Costello, who will retire after 24 years in office.
The seven candidates who appeared for the interviews were: Enyart, Anne Keeley of Smithton, David Phelps of Eldorado, Rob Anderson of Swansea, Jeremy Lincicum of Belleville, Edward Vowell of Belleville, state Rep. John Bradley of Marion.
"I think we all agree that all the candidates did a great job," Costello said before the group announced it had decided to back Enyart.
Enyart shook the hand of each member of the selection committee before making a short acceptance speech.
"We can't buy this election. But we can outwork them," said Enyart, a Belleville lawyer and retired Illinois National Guard commander.
While speaking to the panel, Enyart pointed out his uncle Frank and aunt Sarah, a couple in their mid-70s, who live in Sparta. Enyart said the couple is doing "pretty well," mentioning Social Security, pension, Medicare and savings. However, all but one of their five children live outside of the 12th District because there are not jobs for them in Southern Illinois.
"The two most important issues for the people of this district are jobs and the Social Security program, including Medicare," Enyart said.
Ten candidates had expected to appear, but only seven showed before the interviews began at 9 a.m. in front of about two dozen audience members.
The Democratic leaders met privately for more than two and a half hours before announcing Enyart as the selection.
The applicants were vying to replace Brad Harriman, the winner of the March 20 Democratic primary. Harriman quit the congressional race last month, citing health reasons.
"Times are tough right now," Enyart said. "Too many folks here are worried about making ends meet, and they're frustrated by politicians in Washington bickering instead of working to take on our challenges."
He continued, "The Southern Illinois values we share of hard work, honesty and fairness need to have a place in Congress. I will fight to make sure that there are good jobs for our families, Medicare for our seniors, and an economy that Southern Illinois families can have confidence in."
Plummer released a statement saying that he welcomed Enyart to the 12 District race.
"However, as I've said from the beginning, this race is not about myself or Bill Enyart. It is about Southern Illinoisians electing a congressman who will represent their values, fight the ballooning size of the federal government and help create a business-friendly environment in the district," Plummer said.
"These are serious times that call for serious leaders to provide serious solutions for the problems the residents of the 12th District are facing," he continued. "I look forward to having civil discussions with Bill over the coming months about how to utilize the district's natural resources and get its residents back to work."
During the interview with the panel, Enyart said he would be willing to release his tax records -- something Plummer has taken political heat for failing to do.
Enyart said that he had copies of tax records from 1983 and would contact the IRS to get records that date back even further.
"I challenge Jason Plummer to do the same," he said.
Contact reporter Maria Baran at email@example.com or 239-2460.