For the first time in two decades, Madison County voters next week will elect a new circuit clerk.
Mark Von Nida, a Democrat from Granite City, and John Barberis Jr., a Republican from St. Jacob, are vying for the seat previously held by Matt Melucci, who died in May and was first elected to the position in 1992.
Von Nida points to his administrative and managerial experience with the county as one of the main reasons he believes voters should choose him.
He has served as the Madison County Clerk since 1997, during which time he said he helped expand early voting and bring in modern voting equipment. Before that, Von Nida worked as the legal administrator for the state’s attorney’s office for seven years.
Barberis said his courtroom experience gives him an edge over his opponent. Barberis has been a practicing attorney for 16 years.
Before going into private practice, he worked as a part-time assistant state’s attorney. He currently works out of his home, representing clients in family, traffic, business and personal injury cases.
Barberis, a first time candidate for office, said he can bring a fresh perspective to the office. Von Nida, he said, is “a career politician” who has been affiliated with the county’s “failed Democratic political machine” for 20 years.
Von Nida said he prefers the term “public servant.” He ran for office, but stressed that the county clerk and circuit clerk don’t do the same type of work typically associated with politicians.
Von Nida said he decided to run for circuit clerk shortly after he came to the conclusion he was not going to seek reelection to the clerk’s office.
“It was just time for me to move on. I enjoyed my time there and think I’ve improved the system quite a bit, but I think there should be a process where new people come in and take a second look,” Von Nida said. “I think for me personally, it will give me a new outlook in a new office, where I can go in and say, ‘Why do we do this?’ and hopefully, make it better.”
Barberis said his decision to run for office was born out of frustration. He said he was frustrated at how elected officials were running local government and was embarrassed by the county’s reputation as an alleged “judicial hellhole.”
Barberis has not raised a lot of money to campaign. He does not have a campaign committee, which is required for candidates who raise $3,000 or more.
“It’s a bare bones effort,” he said. “I’m using a lot of my own money.”
Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show that Von Nida’s campaign committee reported about $5,000 in receipts, between July 1 and Sept. 30. That amount includes itemized and non-itemized donations, as well as transfers.
During the same three month period, Von Nida’s committee reported about $22,600 in expenditures. That included about $12,300 in campaign-related expenses and about $10,300 in transfers, almost all of which went to the Madison County Democratic Party.
As of late last month, Von Nida’s committee reported having about $19,300. It has not received any donations this month, records show.
Barberis claims that some of Von Nida’s contributors have ties to former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon.
Bathon, Barberis said, is believed to be at the center of a federal investigation over campaign contributions he received from tax buyers who purchased delinquent property taxes.
The FBI in June issued subpoenas to two employees at the treasurer’s office who worked under Bathon’s administration, but would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation at that time.
Barberis said he cross referenced a list of the buyers involved with Bathon with Von Nida’s campaign contributors and found some overlap. He claims that the contributors with ties to Bathon gave his opponent a total of $1,000.
Von Nida said “whatever he is talking about is just him grasping at straws.”
If there is any kind of overlap as Barberis alleges, Von Nida said “it has to be minor.” Von Nida said his committee has received small contributions from hundreds of people over the years.
Von Nida said if he is elected, he will continue his ongoing efforts to save taxpayer money and make government more efficient.
“I think the whole process of putting on an election with 1,200 election judges is another indication of my ability to administer and manage people and when it comes down to it, that’s what the circuit clerk does,” he said. “It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s an important one.”
Von Nida said he would also work toward bringing the circuit clerk’s office, as well as other county departments, into the 21st Century. If elected, he said he would work to integrate the departments’ systems and continue the office’s e-business efforts.
Barberis said he would also make technology a priority if voters elect him next week.
“It really is the wave of the future,” he said of e-filing.
While he would continue the office’s ongoing e-business efforts, Barberis said he would take another look at vendors to make sure the county wasn’t overspending.
Barberis also said he would try to cut the office’s overhead in hopes of being able to put some of that money back into the general fund and would work to increase the satisfaction of those who come into the circuit clerk’s office.