Naperville mayoral challenger questions intent of incumbent's opposition research

When Naperville mayoral challenger Richard "Rocky" Caylor got wind that his opponent was digging into his background, he decided he didn't want any last-minute surprises before the April 2 election.

So Caylor posted an open letter on his campaign website Monday telling voters an opposition research firm "has been hired in an attempt to damage my reputation by impugning my service to this country, the operation of my company and attacking me personally."

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, who is running for re-election against Caylor, confirmed in a Wednesday phone interview his campaign hired Texas-based Stonebriar Research LLC for $1,500 to complete baseline reports on Caylor's background as well as Chirico's own.

"In the age of internet rumors, it is common for candidates in large cities, counties, states and federal campaigns to perform professionally vetted opposition research on their opponent," Chirico said in a written statement, "and many do opposition research on themselves to discover what is being said about them as well. I did both."

Caylor said he takes issue with the research because he heard Stonebriar works to "change narratives." His open letter said such research could instill "the kind of political slander we see today on the national stage" and he doesn't want to allow such negativity.

"When we take Naperville to the next level, we're going to take the high road, and people will look at Naperville as the charming community that we are," Caylor said in a Wednesday phone interview, "not one that's caught up in the Illinois political process that people don't like nationwide."

Chirico, who is completing his first term, said he's always taken his job as mayor seriously. He said the research Stonebriar conducted allowed him to learn about Caylor's past, since he had never met nor heard of Caylor until four months ago.

"Running for mayor of the fourth-largest city in the state, a background check should be expected by everyone," Chirico said. "In political campaigns, you need to know your opponent."

While helpful to inform his strategies, Chirico said the information contained in the opposition report was never a focus of his campaign nor anything he planned to release.

"My goal is to have residents understand my commitment to the city," Chirico said.

But in his Wednesday statement, Chirico offered to release "both unedited reports" if Caylor's campaign requests he do so.

Caylor said he won't ask for any such release.

"If he wants to release it, it's up to him. I'm not going to recognize him or the reports any more," Caylor said. "I'm not out there to talk about anything in Chirico's past or what he has or hasn't done. That's not my style; that's not what I'm all about. It was just a concern that he would want to smear (me)."

How Chirico spends his campaign money is his decision, his challenger said.

"My money is going to be spent on buying coffee and doughnuts for people who want to talk about how to improve Naperville," Caylor said.

During his campaign, Caylor said he began to hear through "the whisper campaign" that part of Chirico's opposition research was looking to question Caylor's service in the military.

Chirico said he has never questioned Caylor's service as a Marine. He said the Stonebriar report contains a statement saying Caylor served in the military, but "nothing derogatory or questioning." However, Chirico said he has heard some veterans in the community casting doubt on the timing of Caylor's service.

Caylor said he served in the Marines between 1975 and 1981, with four years of active duty - including an 11-month deployment overseas - and two years with the reserves.

Caylor said he is especially proud of his service between June 1977 and June 1978, when he was a Company Ceremonial Guidon Bearer for the prestigious Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., also known by its street location, "8th and I." He said the unit serves at nationally significant places such as the White House, Camp David and Arlington National Cemetery.

Moving forward with nearly five weeks until the election, both candidates say they want the focus to remain on local issues and ideas to preserve and improve Naperville.

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