Rudd on leaving coroner race: I don't accept Lake County politics

  • Thomas Rudd

    Thomas Rudd

  • Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comLake County Coroner Thomas Rudd demonstrates the entry wound from one of the bullets as he discusses the investigation into the death of Fox Lake Police Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz at the Round Lake Beach Civic Center on Wednesday. Filenko confirmed that Gliniewicz committed suicide.

    Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comLake County Coroner Thomas Rudd demonstrates the entry wound from one of the bullets as he discusses the investigation into the death of Fox Lake Police Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz at the Round Lake Beach Civic Center on Wednesday. Filenko confirmed that Gliniewicz committed suicide.

 
 
Updated 12/14/2015 9:40 PM

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd says his handling of a few controversial cases and his challenge to Lake County politics led to the challenging of his re-election petitions and his subsequent decision to withdraw from the race Monday.

Rudd, a first-term incumbent from Lake Forest, posted a statement to his election website Monday evening elaborating on his reasons to step back from his pursuit of the Democratic Party nomination -- one day before he was scheduled to contest a formal challenge to his candidate paperwork.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I believe that my petitions were challenged because of these cases, my unwillingness to accept Lake County politics, and the positive relationships I have established, including in the minority communities, which frightened some who seek to maintain the status quo of lifelong Lake County politicos," Rudd said in a statement.

But Rudd also told the Daily Herald he "dropped out because I didn't have enough signatures after the objection."

Rudd's candidate paperwork had been challenged by Theodore M. Livengood Jr. and Robert J. Bednar, two Lake County Republicans. Specific details of the objection haven't been publicized. Rudd has not commented on his petitions in defense. A hearing before a three-member electoral board to decide the issue was scheduled for Tuesday.

Rudd's departure from the March primary ballot leaves Michael P. Donnenwirth of Waukegan as the lone Democrat in the race. Rudd could still run as an independent candidate in the November general election, but he said he hasn't decided whether he will.

Howard Cooper of Gurnee is the only Republican running for the post. Cooper criticized Rudd for "breaking the rules" for filing petitions.

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"(They) are there for a reason," said Cooper, who also ran for coroner in 2012. "They keep all candidates on a level playing field."

In his statement, Rudd said his record speaks for itself, mentioning a few high-profile cases: Darrin Hanna, the Fox Lake death of police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, and the Melissa Calusinski case as evidence.

"(Those) cases would not have had their outcomes without my due diligence. In each instance, after presenting my findings, I was vilified; but the determinations I made and the findings I presented early on were all ultimately verified or led to consideration of a new trial," he said.

Police were dispatched in 2011 to Hanna's apartment after a report that he was beating his pregnant girlfriend. Police said at the time Hanna fought with officers and that they hit and shocked him until they could handcuff him. The Lake County coroner's office found wounds inflicted by police contributed to Hanna's death a week later. The city of North Chicago settled with his family for $3 million.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gliniewicz killed himself in an elaborate scene staged to look like a murder of a police officer before it could be revealed that he stole from the Fox Lake Explorers program. Rudd raised the possibility, before investigators were willing to, that Gliniewicz killed himself.

Calusinski was sentenced to 31 years in prison after a jury in 2011 convicted her of first-degree murder in the death of 16-month-old Benjamin Kingan. Lake County prosecutors alleged Calusinski threw the Deerfield boy to the floor at the Minee Subee in the Park day care in Lincolnshire, causing a fatal head injury. Her post-conviction petition argues a set of legible autopsy X-rays taken of the toddler's skull clearly showed the child was suffering from a pre-existing injury when he died. She is seeking a new trial.

As a result of his withdrawal, Rudd says that "it's not the first time we have seen voters not having a candidate available to them on their ballot."

"In the 1960s we fought to protect voting rights in all communities and to ensure that all minorities were not disenfranchised (Voting Rights Act of 1965). It is ironic that 50 years later these rights are being trod on in Lake County. I never imagined that we would have to fight a similar battle in 2015," he said.

Lake County Democratic Party Vice Chairman Pete Couvall expressed disappointment at Rudd's decision to withdraw.

Couvall said he won't support Donnenwirth's candidacy because Donnenwirth unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for the Lake County Board's District 8 seat in 2008.

Donnenwirth responded late Monday.

"If Pete Couvall and Tom Rudd are good buddies and Couvall feels sorry for Rudd, that's fine. They can keep each other company after they are banished from public life," Donnenwirth said in a statement. Donnenwirth also called on Rudd to resign immediately as coroner.

Lake County Democratic Party leaders are expected to discuss options for finding another candidate.

Couvall believes Rudd's high-profile clashes with law enforcement -- including over the Gliniewicz case -- made him an election target.

Rudd said he will continue to concentrate on the day-to-day duties of being the coroner throughout the rest of his term.

"This decision does not change the fact that my experience as a licensed physician ensures a coroner with the confidence and knowledge to make decisions based on sound medical science instead of politics," he said.

If Rudd chooses to run as an independent for the post in the November general election, he'd need to file paperwork in late June, Lake County Clerk Carla Wyckoff said.

Neither Wyckoff nor her staff could recall a countywide incumbent withdrawing from a re-election bid or getting knocked off the ballot because of a paperwork challenge.

Rudd wasn't the only candidate facing a petition challenge in Lake County.

Objections also have been filed against:

• Matt Stanton, a Gurnee Democrat running for state's attorney.

• Robert Haraden, a Libertyville Republican seeking the 21st District seat on the Lake County Board.

Neither is an incumbent.

Hearings on those challenges are scheduled for Tuesday at the county government center in Waukegan.

• Daily Herald staff writers Sara Hooker and Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

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