Rutherford slams White for nepotism

Questions secretary of state's hiring practices


Thursday, September 7, 2006

GALESBURG - Republican secretary of state candidate Dan Rutherford said in a news conference Wednesday at the Galesburg Municipal Airport he is seeing a pattern of impropriety in the office of incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White.

Rutherford gave a number of examples, most notably that of White's daughter, who was hired by Republican George Ryan when Ryan was secretary of state. Rutherford says she was hired at an annual salary of $39,000 and her salary was tripled when her father took office, bringing her pay to $112,000 a year.

Dave Druker, the spokesman for the White campaign, said White's daughter worked for Ryan for five years and is well qualified.

"Her credentials are impeccable," Druker said. "She was the most qualified person for that position."

Rutherford, a state senator from Pontiac, outlined a number of examples of what he said was nepotism, either by Secretary White or his employees.

"Is it illegal? Somebody else will have to decide," Rutherford said. "Is it wrong in the minds of the public? Absolutely."

Rutherford said, according to published reports, four of White's high-level staff have relatives now working for White.

Rutherford said if elected, "I will not be hiring my immediate family."

Rutherford also took White to task because the author of a new biography on the secretary of state is Rick Davis, a $73,000 a year, no-bid contractual employee of White's office.

While Rutherford accused White of ducking debates because of the information coming out - Rutherford also mentioned the trial beginning Monday in U.S. District Court in Peoria of Cecil Turner, a convicted felon hired by White. Turner faces charges of ghost payrolling - Druker charged Rutherford was going negative because his campaign is not going well.

"The polls are showing him in pretty sad shape," Druker said. "I think he is doing anything he can to draw some response."

According to Druker, the relatives hired by White's Chief of Staff Thomas Benigno were hired for seasonal, summer positions.

"In many cases, those jobs go unfilled," Druker said.

As for Davis, White's biographer, Druker said Davis keeps "meticulous" records of the work he does for White and time spent on the book. Druker also credited Davis for the Toby Tire program, a school safety initiative for elementary school students.

"I think there's certainly nothing secret about this," Druker said.

Rutherford sees it differently. He asked a number of times, "Mr. White, what is the process you use to hire family members" and to determine how much they are paid.

Later, Rutherford said, "Jesse White, what is your hiring policy in regard to nepotism?"

Although Druker said he has not heard Rutherford outline his plans for the office, the Republican challenger said Wednesday he will improve service at driver's license offices. He said he will follow the lead of a number of other states that allow drivers needing to renew their license to make an appointment.

"The secretary of state says it won't work," Rutherford said.

Rutherford also said he would make better use of technology. He said he wants legislation drafted so, as in Florida, the parent or guardian of a 16-year-old getting a driver's license would be given a PIN number so they could use the Internet and check their child's driving record.

Asked about talking with White face-to-face in a debate, Rutherford said, "I have plans to have debates. ... He's avoiding them, he's ducking them."

According to Rutherford, both sides agreed last spring to an invitation by the City Club of Chicago to debate on Oct. 17. He said White now says he is busy that day. Rutherford also said he heard White say on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago that he would debate.

"We've already sent him a letter," Rutherford said, telling White he heard the promise of a debate on WLS. Rutherford said he will be sending another letter proposing debates.

"I think there are some joint appearances," Druker said. "We're considering it."

Asked if that meant debates may still take place, Druker said it was possible, depending on schedules.


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