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updated: 10/23/2010 9:25 PM

Lake Co. sheriff's debate doesn't deviate from campaign

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The candidates for Lake County sheriff did not stray from their central campaign themes during a debate Tuesday night in Waukegan.

Incumbent Mark Curran, a Republican, stressed his long involvement in law enforcement and pointed to the cost savings he has brought to the office in his first term.

Democratic challenger Douglas Roberts vowed to end what he called the politicization of the office and said the command staff in the office must be cut.

Speaking to a Waukegan City Club audience of about 75 at the Waukegan Yacht Club, Curran and Roberts differed on the issues in a pointed, but generally respectful, manner.

Curran said his administration has operated under budget every year since his election in 2006 despite the fact that his annual spending has been capped at around $59 million for each of those years.

"I recognize that the money doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the taxpayers," Curran said. "We have been under budget every year despite the fact that our pension obligations grow by 7 percent annually. Roberts said even more money could be saved by eliminating the position of undersheriff, the number two position in the office, and having the sheriff tend to the details of the operations."

"Traditionally, the undersheriff has run the department while the sheriff occupied a political or ceremonial role," Roberts said. "The sheriff needs to be a hands-on, full time administrator who is engaged with the deputies on the street."

Roberts criticized Curran's decisions to spend a week locked up in the county jail and his attendance at the three-month Police Training Institute, a course all prospective police officers are required to complete, as "political stunts."

Curran countered that he used his time in the jail as a platform to publicize the need for more prisoner rehabilitation and said he took the training course to establish his credibility with the men and women who work for him.

Curran said his work as a prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels gave him a perspective on law enforcement that Roberts, a 30-year defense attorney, could not have.

Roberts said that his work as a defense attorney allowed him to establish relationships with many police officers because "I respect what they do, and they respect what I do."

If he is elected Nov. 2, Roberts said he would "Eliminate the political hiring, firing, discipline and promoting, of people in the office.

Curran denied that politics plays any role in his decision-making and said that "People know I do not prostitute the office in any way, shape or form."