A prominent St. Clair County Democrat has started a new political party for the sole purpose of running his son against the Democratic primary winner of a County Board seat.
And he has done it with the County Democratic Party's stamp of approval and the help of a man on probation for voter fraud.
Centreville Township Trustee Curtis McCall Jr. is the only candidate nominated by the Good Government Party. He and his father, Centreville Township Supervisor Curtis McCall Sr., officially formed the new political party June 25 -- the final filing day for the Nov. 6 general election, according to county clerk records.
McCall Jr. will face Democrat Joe Morgan, who defeated incumbent Jeff Radford by 11 votes in the March primary for the District 25 County Board seat. Morgan would have been unopposed in November if not for McCall Jr., since no Republicans are running in the Democratic-dominated district.
Democratic leaders have just transferred their support for Radford to McCall, according to Morgan.
"That's basically a slap in the face of every Democratic voter out here," Morgan said. "We are trying to unify a community that has been broken apart by a lot of things."
The McCalls had to start a new party due to a change in the state's "sore loser" provisions. Under the amendment, anyone who voted for an established politically party in the primary election was prevented from running as an independent or an established party candidate in the following general election.
Since McCall Jr. voted as a Democrat in the primary, he was required to form a new party if he wanted to run in the general election.
McCall Sr. declined to comment for this story. He said his son would call a reporter but the younger McCall never did. His name will appear on the ballot as Curtis L. McCall without the suffix.
A group of Democrats including McCall Sr., former Cahokia Mayor Frank Bergman, County Democratic Party Chairman Robert Sprague and local precinct committeemen decided after the primary to run McCall Jr. against Morgan, according to Radford.
"I think Curtis McCall Jr. is a good, bright young man, Radford said.
McCall Jr.'s candidacy filing forms were notarized by County Auditor Patty Sprague, the wife of Robert Sprague. County Board Chairman Mark Kern has put up two of McCall Jr.'s campaign advertisements on his Facebook page.
Kern, Bergman and the Spragues did not return calls for comment.
Radford called Morgan a wolf in sheep's clothing for supporting the Republican Party in the past. Morgan voted Republican in the 2010 primary, but Democratic in 2008 and 2004, according to county clerk records.
Politics made them do it
The split between Cahokia's Democrats stems from village politics.
Morgan's candidacy is being backed by Cahokia Mayor Gary Cornwell, who defeated Radford in the 2011 race to replace Bergman. Robert Sprague's law firm donated $4,843 to Radford's mayoral campaign and he subsequently lost his job as the village's attorney as soon as Cornwell took office in May 2011.
"They want someone who will serve Mark Kern's best interests on the County Board," Gary Cornwell said.
Morgan is a village of Cahokia code enforcement officer who emerged as a candidate after Mayor Cornwell's father, Fred Cornwell, said he was cut out of District 25 during the county's 2011 redistricting.
Morgan said he ran against Radford, in part, because of the latter's support of Kern's controversial decision to hire Bergman as County Human Resources director in May 2011.
"I thought (Radford) was nothing more than a yes man to the County Board," Morgan said.
Radford denied being a "yes" man and said Morgan only ran against him because of his mayoral duel with Cornwell.
McCall Sr., once an opponent of the Sprague regime, had backed Cornwell's mayoral bid. But the two have since become rivals for power in the Cahokia area, where McCall Sr. also is the chairman of the Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District Board of Trustees and has influence on the village and Cahokia School District 187 boards.
This summer, Morgan and his supporters failed to take advantage of an opportunity to derail McCall Jr.'s campaign.
Under state law, the McCalls' new party was required to form a whole slate of candidates for County Board and countywide offices, according to Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections. Instead, their only candidate is McCall Jr.
But the "defect" in their petition could only have been invalidated if it was successfully challenged before the county electoral board five days following the filing deadline, according to Menzel.
"Sounds like someone didn't get around to objecting to him," Menzel said.
Cornwell said McCall Jr. is basically a replacement for Radford, saying the former's nominating petition circulators got many of the same people to sign both petitions.
Another vote fraud probe
Among the people circulating petitions for McCall Jr. was Kevin Wiggins, county clerk documents show. Wiggins, a former Cahokia streets department employee, was among four former village employees or trustees who pleaded guilty to committing voter fraud in the run-up to the 2009 Cahokia municipal election.
Wiggins was sentenced to 10 days in jail and two years probation in December 210 and now works as a laborer for Commonfields of Cahokia.
Cahokia Police Chief James Jones said a new investigation into Wiggins has been forwarded to the state's attorney's office. He would not comment further since the probe is ongoing.
Wiggins referred comments to his attorney, John O'Gara, who declined to comment.
Whether the political divide in Cahokia will carry weight beyond the District 25 board race is unclear. In the 2004 election, the last time Kern faced a Republican opponent, he won based on overwhelming support in "below the hill" precincts in East St. Louis and Cahokia.
The Cornwells said their faction will support the Democratic Party ticket but that doesn't mean they will show "blind faith" in every single candidate.
Jon McLean, Kern's Republican opponent for County Board chairman, said he didn't think division in Cahokia would translate into significantly more support for him, saying it was more of a local issue.
McLean called Morgan a good guy, who had attended a Republican event because of concerns over then-mayor Bergman, but considered Morgan a Democrat who wants to make a positive change.
"This third party, don't be mistaken, it's Bob Sprague and the Belleville Democrats," McLean said.
Contact reporter Kevin Bersett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2535. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KevinBersett