CASEYVILLE — In a surprise move, longtime St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney has resigned as head of a key political force in the county -- the Caseyville Township Democratic organization.
In a one-page letter dated Wednesday and mailed to 26 Democratic precinct committeemen in Caseyville Township, Delaney stated he was resigning immediately as chairman and as the elected 12th Precinct committeeman. He was appointed county clerk in 1999 and has been re-elected since then.
Delaney wrote that he hoped his resignations would quell any rumors that he held ideas of challenging the county's top political boss, County Democratic Chairman Robert Sprague.
"I feel it is time to have a new chairman with new ideas and new ways of doing things," Delaney wrote. "I feel this will end all of the silly rumors and outright lies that have been perpetuated by a small group claiming that I was using this organization as a base to run against Chairman Sprague some day (nothing could be further from the truth.)"
Delaney's letter also stated that his resignation from both positions would, "...allow me to devote more time and efforts as your county clerk; to my upcoming re-election campaign in 2014 and to Janet (his wife) and the girls."
Sprague could not be reached for comment.
Delaney's reference to what he called erroneous rumors that he might orchestrate a power grab stem in part from a contentious meeting in December 2008 where he led a 10-member contingent of Caseyville Democratic precinct committeemen to a meeting at Sprague's law office in Belleville.
At issue was who to recommend be appointed to replace Rick Casey, a Democrat, on the County Board after Casey resigned. A compromise was worked out that rejected appointing Casey's wife and instead named Carol Clark who serves on the board today. That decision was made by County Board Chairman Mark Kern, also a Democrat, after the meeting with the agreement of Sprague and the Caseyville politicians.
However, precinct committeemen who attended the meeting stated that there were heated exchanges involving Delaney and Sprague that led some to speculate that the county clerk was mounting a county leadership challenge.
At the time, Delaney appeared to debunk that idea by publicly swearing allegiance to Sprague.
Sprague, also at the time, made a rare public comment, albeit it writing, that the session was routine.
Democratic precinct committeemen in Caseyville Township, who include two mayors, said Delaney's letter was a complete surprise.
"I had no idea," said Caseyville Mayor George Chance, who is the 17th Precinct committeeman.
"It sure caught me by surprise. I had no idea at all that he might do this," said Fairview Heights Mayor Gail Mitchell, the 14th Precinct committeeman.
"There were some committeemen who were getting disgusted with him," said Mitchell, who, when pressed, declined to name these persons or why they would be unhappy with Delaney.
"It's a power grab," Mitchell said.
The group's vice chairman, Richard Gibbs, said he will serve as chairman until a meeting is held to determine whether he will keep the job or if someone else is chosen as chairman.
"Bob's shoes will be hard to fill," said Gibbs, who is the 21st Precinct committeemen.
Delaney was chairman of the Caseyville Democrats for 23 years and a precinct committeeman for 33 years.
During a telephone interview on Thursday, Delaney said, "I've been here so long and everything. For a long time every time I would do something for the group or the party as a whole, some people would say I was trying to set something up for myself to take over."
Delaney also sent a letter to Sprague, in which he wrote, "Over the years we, as a group, took a marginal Democratic Township and transformed it into a solid reliable stronghold ... I have always been and will always remain a loyal Democrat..."