Watson's fundraising dwarfs opponent in race for St. Clair County sheriff

News-DemocratJanuary 24, 2014 

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson in a 2013 file photo.

TIM VIZER — tvizer@bnd.com

State reports showed the campaign war chest of current St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson dwarfs that of his opponent, Roy Mickens, in their bid to lead the sheriff's department.

Watson, of Cahokia, and Mickens, of East St. Louis, will face each other March 18 in the Democratic primary election. No other candidates have entered the sheriff's race.

Watson has served as sheriff since his appointment in December 2012 after the death of former Sheriff Mearl Justus. Watson has more than $85,000 available in campaign funds, according to financial disclosure reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Mickens has not filed a financial disclosure report.

Candidates and political committees are required to file such reports by Jan. 15, if they raised or spent more than $5,000 related to an election during the previous 12-month period.

Mickens could not be reached for comment. He unsuccessfully ran against Justus in the 2009 Democratic primary.

Watson said his successful fundraising effort demonstrates the broad support for his candidacy. He said he has held two fundraisers: a "meet and greet" and a golf tournament.

"You can see by my financial report my golf tournament made $25,000. It is rare that anybody makes more than $10,000 in a golf tournament. I was excited to see I had that much support from all the people who came out," Watson said.

Watson's political committee has spent about $31,400 since its inception in January 2013. It received a jumpstart five days after forming when the political committee that backed Justus donated nearly $10,200 to the campaign.

Watson said one of his major focuses has been on helping children to make good choices.

"My focus is on trying to teach kids to do the right thing," Watson said. "That's why we brought back the D.A.R.E. program. That's why we have the Scared Straight program. We are trying to get show kids there is a better life by going to school."

In his first year as sheriff, Watson said he has incorporated new programs to help the community, including:

* a GED program to help inmates of the county jail receive high school diplomas.

* having deputies leave yellow cards for unavailable residents after deputies investigate a scene or with helpful crime prevention tips.

* a rehabilitation program that allows inmates to perform manual labor, such as cleaning, in communities around the county.

* placing a deputy within the U.S. Marshals Task Force to help local police apprehend suspects.

* expanding the department's Street Crimes Unit and Drug Tactical Unit.

Through his role as chairman of the Illinois Law Enforcement Standards and Training Board, Watson said he also helped orchestrate Southwestern Illinois College becoming one of only two research institutes for law enforcement in the state. The college has been able to expand its curriculum through the contract with the board.

The St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee, which supports Democratic candidates at the state and local level, retains about $41,300 in campaign funds. From October until the beginning of January, the committee spent about $38,000.

In comparison, the St. Clair County Republican Central Committee has about $3,300 available. The Republican committee spent $230 in the final quarter of last year.

Some Democratic campaigns retain donations from previous elections.

For example, a committee supporting St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook has about $129,000 remaining from past electoral campaigns. Holbrook, a Democrat of Belleville, is unopposed in his bid to retain his clerkship in the November election.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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