Pritzker appoints Costello as new agriculture director
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday appointed former state Rep. Jerry Costello II as the next director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Costello, a Democrat from southern Illinois, served nearly eight years in the General Assembly from 2011 to 2019. During that time, he chaired the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee and was a member of the House Environment Committee.
He also served on the Pritzker administration's agriculture transition committee after the governor was elected in 2018.
Costello, 51, grew up in Belleville and spent time on a small farm in southern Illinois' Franklin County, where his family produced crops and raised cattle.
"With farming playing an important role in his family's history and a career of public service, there's no better person to lead the Illinois Department of Agriculture at this time than Jerry Costello," Pritzker said in a news release late Friday.
Costello left the legislature last May to become the director of law enforcement for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
"I'm confident that Jerry's deep experience will bring a steady hand to the department and continue the impressive growth of this vital industry," Pritzker said.
Costello lives with his wife and three children in Smithton, outside St. Louis.
"I'm honored to continue serving the people of Illinois and excited to take the helm at the department I once oversaw in the state legislature," Costello said in the release.
"As a leading producer of soybeans, corn and swine, Illinois is home to the most dedicated farmers in the world, and I look forward to partnering with them to grow our state's agricultural economy," he said.
Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. applauded Pritzker's decision.
"Jerry Costello has a proven record in supporting agriculture," Guebert said in a statement Friday. "In his time serving in the General Assembly, he not only supported agriculture by his votes on key legislation important to agriculture, but he also championed many supportive efforts."
Upon taking the oath of office, scheduled for Monday, March 2, Costello will be paid an annual salary of $156,942, according to the governor's official appointment order.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University, Costello joined the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and saw combat in Operation Desert Storm. After returning home, he became a police officer and later an assistant chief of police.
The agriculture department has been without a permanent leader since mid-January, when Director John Sullivan resigned at Pritzker's request.
A former state senator who started at the ag department when Pritzker became governor in 2019, Sullivan was ousted for failing to disclose the contents of a 2012 email that pointed to the possible cover-up of a "rape in Champaign" and "ghost workers" in Gov. Pat Quinn's administration.
In an interview with the Rushville Times, Sullivan said he didn't fully read the email at the time, but he took "full responsibility."
"I know in my mind and my heart that I did not read all of that email," Sullivan told the Times. "If I had seen an email that talked about a rape in Champaign, I would have turned it over."
Costello will replace interim director Jeremy Flynn, who was Sullivan's chief of staff. He will be considered "acting" until he is confirmed by a vote in the Illinois Senate.