SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Suzi Schmidt announced Wednesday that she will confront the political backlash of embarrassing 911 recordings and seek re-election, but her carefully worded apology all but assured a divisive primary challenge from a well-known, one-time political ally.
“This week, I have begun counseling to help in resolving the issues in my personal life,” the Lake Villa Republican said in her statement released late Wednesday afternoon. “I believe I can and will continue to serve the citizens of Lake County with the same dedication and energy I’ve had for the past 25 years, and the issues in my personal life will not prohibit me from doing the job they elected me to do.
“I am continuing to circulate petitions to run for re-election in 2012, and I hope I continue to earn the support of the citizens of the 31st [Senate] District,” she said.
Earlier in the day, long-time Lake County Board member Larry Leafblad informed Schmidt that he intends to run against her because her “negatives” are insurmountable after the release last week of four embarrassing 911 recordings by the Lake County sheriff.
“I told her, ‘Imagine what would happen if the Democratic spin doctors run those 911 tapes in the commercials next fall. They’re going to crucify you, Suzi, and I can’t stand that happening to you,’” Leafblad told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“She said, ‘I’m gonna run.’ I told her, ‘I’m not going to say one bad thing about you, but I’ll challenge you in the primary because your negatives are too high,’” Leafblad said.
During a 911 call Schmidt made last Christmas after a fight with her husband, the lawmaker implored a dispatcher not to respond to him if he called the emergency number, reminded the dispatcher she once had been Lake County board chairman and said her husband feared her because “he knows I have connections.”
On a 911 call her husband, Bob Schmidt, made during another fight on Sept. 26, Schmidt can be heard in the background admitting she had bitten him. At first, she denied doing it but later is heard saying: “You bet I did.”
Schmidt did not return a call to her district office Wednesday.
Leafblad, who is Avon Township GOP committeeman and resides in unincorporated Grayslake, served on the Lake County board with Schmidt and once ran on a ticket with her. Leafblad, 68, was on the board from 1990 to 2008, except for a two-year absence that began in 2002.
“We spent 16 years together on the county board,” Leafblad said. “I said to Suzi, ‘It’s absolutely not about you, It’s about the preserving of a seat that the Democratic Senate needs; one more seat, and they get a supermajority.
“‘It’s just what we need: to have a supermajority in Springfield where they can override the vetoes,’” he said sarcastically.
Democrats hold a 35-24 majority over Republicans in the Senate, and they redrew political boundaries for next year’s legislative elections that are more favorable for Democrats. The threshold needed to override gubernatorial vetoes is 36 votes.
Lake County Democratic Party Chairman Terry Link, who is also a state senator, has endorsed Lake County Board member Melinda Willen Bush to take on Schmidt in a district that stretches from Zion to Antioch and south to Wauconda.
Link described Schmidt’s statements on the tapes as “one of the stupidest things she could’ve done” but insisted Bush would run a “clean campaign” if she is the Democratic nominee.
Link said it is difficult to assess what impact, if any, the tapes will have on a general election that is 13 months away. It’s equally hard, he said, to decipher Schmidt’s true intentions on the recordings.
“Did she do it in the heat of a moment or did she do it because she wanted to show clout?” he said. “Nobody will ever know.”
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno issued a tepid response to Schmidt’s decision.
“After a period of reflection, Sen. Schmidt has announced her decision to continue to serve the constituents of the 31st District,” Radogno said. “Most importantly, she has clearly accepted responsibility for her inappropriate behavior in dealing with a very difficult personal situation.
“She has acknowledged that her actions were wrong and has asked for the forgiveness of her constituents. She assures me she is taking the appropriate measures to continue to address these issues while maintaining her focus on the needs of the district.”