Belleville alderman talks about running against deceased candidate
Belleville Precinct 7 voters will have an unusual choice on their ballot Tuesday.
Janet Schmidt’s name is on the ballot as a candidate for the Democratic Precinct 7 committeeman post even though she died on Nov. 30. At the time of her death, Schmidt was a member of the Belleville City Council representing Ward 2 and she was the incumbent Precinct 7 Democratic committeeman.
Schmidt’s name was put on the ballot because she had properly filed for the seat on Nov. 23 and St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook said there is not a provision in state law that allows county officials to keep a precinct committeeman candidate’s name off the ballot even if the person dies before the ballot is printed.
Holbrook said he followed the advice of St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly and the Illinois State Board of Elections to put Schmidt’s name on the ballot.
The decision was made to leave her name on the ballot. There was not a provision in the statute for the removal of a precinct committeeman, unlike other positions.
St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook
“The decision was made to leave her name on the ballot,” Holbrook said. “There was not a provision in the statute for the removal of a precinct committeeman, unlike other positions.”
Also, no one filed an objection to her candidacy and no one filed a withdrawal of candidacy on behalf of Schmidt.
The precinct committeeman post is not an elected office but a volunteer position with a political party.
Janet Schmidt’s husband, Rick Schmidt, said he’s “not surprised” his late wife’s name was left on the ballot. He said she had held the post for about 10 years.
Two others are vying for the Precinct 7 Democratic committeeman position:
▪ Ward 2 Alderman Mike Buettner filed to run for the position on Nov. 23, the same day as Schmidt.
▪ Dave Pusa, whose wife Jane Pusa was appointed to take Schmidt’s place on the Belleville City Council, declared to run as a write-in candidate, so the Precinct 7 ballot has a spot where voters can write in a name.
“The only reason I’m running is because I want to be independent,” Buettner said. “I won’t necessarily go along with what the party says. I’ll stand there and do what I think is right for the constituents and the people in my precinct who put me there.”
Pusa said he decided to run because he supports Lindenwood University-Belleville and that Buettner opposed the school.
Buettner said he supports the college but wants university officials to follow the same rules as residents. In November, he voted against Lindenwood’s request for special-use permits that would allow up to 10 students live in a home or apartment purchased by Lindenwood. Normally, only three unrelated adults are allowed to live in a home in Belleville. After hearing passionate arguments from both sides, the City Council voted 11-5 to approve Lindenwood’s request.
Both Pusa and Buettner live on West A Street near homes occupied by Lindenwood students.
Buettner said he believes leaving Schmidt’s name on the ballot “confuses the voters” but he acknowledged the constraints of current state law. He suggested state lawmakers from the area work to get the state law changed to allow county officials to take a precinct committeeman candidate’s name off the ballot if the person dies before the election.
Pusa noted that getting elected as a write-in candidate is “a little tougher than normal.”
If the late Janet Schmidt wins the Belleville Precinct 7 Democratic committeeman race, candidate Mike Buettner said he expects the party to appoint someone to fill her term.
Precinct 7 includes an area from North 10th Street along West Main Street to North 28th Street.
Votes for precinct committeemen are only held during the primary, so the results on Tuesday will stand.
And what if Janet Schmidt wins? Buettner said he expects the party to appoint someone to fill her term.
Political candidates have posthumously won elections before.
One high-profile example in the region occurred in 2000 when Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash about three weeks before the U.S. Senate election. Carnahan’s name remained on the ballot and the Democrat defeated Republican Sen. John Ashcroft. Carnahan’s wife, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to take her husband’s place in the Senate.