Local law enforcement and U.S. Postal Service officials are investigating mailed and hand-delivered anonymous threats made to Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik during her re-election campaign.
The threats stated Kovarik needed to quit the April 9 race or risk a public release of what she and police have said was false information about sexual affairs.
Gurnee police said the threats "crossed the line" of hardball political tactics, while Kovarik said those responsible "are real cowards who won't put their name on something."
"If I did this, I would hate to win office knowing that I tried to ruin somebody's life, that I tried to smear somebody," she said.
Kovarik, who said she never had extramarital affairs with three men in exchange for political favors as claimed in the threats, is among the suburban politicians who have sought help from law enforcement since January.
Felony charges were lodged in March against Stephen Bona of Chicago, who authorities said left a threatening voice mail for Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton over remarks she made about gay marriage.
Substitute instructor Christopher Culp of Round Lake was charged last month with leaving a threatening voice mail with Grayslake Elementary District 46 board member Shannon Smigielski during a three-day teachers strike in January. Smigielski resigned her seat last month, saying the threat was a factor.
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said his office is investigating an April 6 robocall from a man who claimed to be an Island Lake police officer and falsely stated Mayor-elect Charles Amrich has been indicted.
Politicians rarely contact police, in part, because threats typically don't come with physical evidence to help investigators, said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at University of Illinois at Springfield. In the cases of Kovarik and Amrich, Redfield said, what they've encountered is a sign that negative, national Super PAC-style tactics have seeped into local elections.
"That could discourage (good) people from participating," Redfield said.
Gurnee police Cmdr. Jay Patrick said the intimidation investigation began after Kovarik reported the first anonymous letter that was dropped off with a receptionist at her Bannockburn business office Feb. 18. The mayor was directed to announce at that evening's village board meeting she was withdrawing from seeking her third 4-year term to prevent the public embarrassment.
"It really crossed the line," Patrick said. "Politics are strange, but no one should have to be intimidated into withdrawing from the race."
After Kovarik refused to quit during the village board session, she received a mailed threat at her office Feb. 22 that information about her would become public unless she withdrew her candidacy.
On Feb. 23, a mailer landed in Gurnee homes claiming her husband was charged with domestic battery and criminal trespass to vehicle after he discovered her having an affair with a political supporter in 2005. Kovarik and police said it never happened.
Sent in envelopes with the "WOW!" mark of Kovarik's campaign, the one-page mailer was styled with an image of the Daily Herald masthead in the middle -- along with the "Big Picture-Local Focus" tagline -- and pictures of the mayor and her husband on each side. The information was presented to resemble a news story with small headlines next to the photos stating: "A Spectacle. Gurnee Mayor Sex Scandal."
Kovarik was threatened with the release of a series of six "stories" on her involvement with the men and "trading sex for political favors and financial corruption at Gurnee village hall." One mailer stated in the fake article that a political supporter's continuing infidelities with Kovarik led to his December 2012 divorce.
"Neither Kristina Kovarik nor (the man) would comment on the facts of this story and declined to make a statement," the literature stated.
Kovarik, who defeated Trustee Kirk Morris in the April 9 election, said she became particularly angry that some family members were mentioned in the letters that demanded she drop out of the mayor's race. Patrick said Gurnee police contacted the U.S. Postal Service for assistance because mail was used in the communications with Kovarik.
In the threat case involving Ives, she said she contacted Wheaton police after hearing Bona state he knew where she lives and made a specific threat on the voice mail. Ives said also she received many "vile and nasty" messages about her not supporting gay marriage, which she said comes with the territory of staking out a political position.
"You're allowed to contact me," she said. "You're not allowed to threaten me."
Part of the lack of political civility stems from an expanding media universe that affords opportunities for angry, anonymous voices to be seen or heard, Redfield said. The trickle-down effect may be seen in the threatening letters and voice mails aimed at local elected officials.
"That (media growth) makes for a lot more opinions and comments that probably wouldn't have been out there," he said.
As for Kovarik, 55, she said the idea she'd be in a mayoral sex scandal is laughable.
"Do I have enough time in my life?" she said. "I've been married for 21 years, four children we're raising and work a full-time job. The mayor's job is practically full-time. I have to take care of my family. I travel for business. And look at my age. Do I look like somebody who has that kind of time to go run around having affairs?"