In the race for Madision County Clerk, the two opponents have sparred now for weeks, largely with the challenger launching attacks, and the incumbent crying foul over a claimed smear campaign.
Democrat Debbie Ming-Mendoza, county clerk since 2012, is facing a challenge from Republican Steve Adler, the current executive director of the Metro East Sanitary District.
In one recent salvo against the current clerk, Adler claimed Ming-Mendoza received home owner exemptions for two properties in Granite City, an allegation not only denied by the former County Tax Assessor but branded an outright "lie."
Adler produced documents that he says reveals that Ming-Mendoza claimed standard $6,000 exemptions at two addresses over the years from 2013 to 2016, when law only allows a property owner to claim exemption for the residence where he or she lives. Adler also said the exemptions were granted when Ming-Mendoza was county assessor, a post she held from the 1970s to her elevation six years ago to county clerk.
County Clerk Debbi Ming-Mendoza Debbie Ming-Mendoza/Facebook
By law, property owners can only claim an exemption for a single property, but only have to do so once until the property is sold. If multiple parcels are owned by the same owner, only one exemption can be applied for and granted.
Documents do show Ming-Mendoza's name linked to two properties, which is what Adler characterized to the Record as "an abuse of public trust," and in writing as "fraudulent" and "illegal."
Ming-Mendoza responded that Adler's assertion was "a lie," adding, "It is really mean, absolutely a misreprensentation,"
The county clerk further said that Adler had access to the correct information ahead of putting out the documents and making the allegations.
His team, Ming-Mendoza said, had access to all documentation provided to the office of the county board, which, she added, explains in detail why her name appears on another property record.
"My husband and I own a house and we got an exemption. My son owns a house and I co-signed on the loan," Ming-Mendoza, adding that is the reason her name appears in documents.
Adler also claimed that the documentation for the second property changed in 2017, which he said was because Ming-Mendoza chose to run for re-election. It was, Adler said, placed "back in the name of the original resident, Richard Mendoza, hoping the fraudulent pattern will remain undetected."
Adler posted these claims on his campaign Facebook page and other social media.
Ming-Mendoza said the "mystery" involved her son getting married for a second time and the couple decided to refinance, meaning the mortgage she co-signed for is no longer on the books..
"I provided proof to Alder. He knows these are outright lies," Ming-Mendoza said. "This is the worst campaign I (could) have ever experienced." She has only run for election once before.
"If Mr. Adler wanted to debate issues then I am here and ready to go to talk about the county clerk's responsibilities," she said. "Instead he wants to smear my name."
On the cusp of election day, Ming-Mendoza said, "My main job is to make sure election day goes off as smoothly as possible. I am responsible for the election regardless of my own race."
Adler is standing by his claims, which he says shaves just under $700 a year off the Mendoza's tax bill.
In a press release and on Facebook, Adler said, "Mendoza will tell voters it’s all a mirage. Debra and her allies will trot out a Democratic authority figure to say this all a misunderstanding, or a clerical error.
"They’ll say, 'Don’t worry folks… elections are managed fairly, in spite of all this smoke'. Documents speak for themselves. Debra Mendoza doesn’t owe Madison County taxpayers repayment; Debra Mendoza owes Madison County voters a resignation."
The two candidates have also sparred recently over the supervision of the voting process in residential care facilities for the impaired and the elderly.