Madison County Sheriff incumbent Robert Hertz, left, and challenger John Lakin.
It may not be the Old West, where mortal foes shot at each other in the streets.
What it is, however, is a highly contested Democratic primary race for the Madison County sheriff’s seat between two longtime law enforcement officials, both of whom have a consortium of qualified job titles listed on their resume.
On one end stands incumbent to the sheriff’s seat since 2002 and 42-year veteran of the department, Robert Hertz, 64.
“I’ve – 99.9 percent of the time – enjoyed this job because it’s ever-changing,” Hertz said. “You get a lot of personal satisfaction out of being able to take care of people, settle problems and solve cases. It’s a challenging occupation. I’m still up to the challenge. I’m not ready to quit.”
And on the other end stands challenger John Lakin, 54, who has devoted 23 years of his life to the sheriff’s department – nine of those serving under Hertz. Lakin is serving as Glen Carbon’s police chief after he was appointed in 2011.
“It’s always been my role to be the sheriff of Madison County with my years of experience,” Lakin said. “This puts me as an excellent candidate.”
Lakin – ‘I will bring dignity back to the sheriff’s office’
He started out as an adult probation officer for Madison County Probation Department in 1986. He was hired three years later by Madison County’s sheriff at the time, Bob Churchich, to be a deputy sheriff in the patrol division.
Lakin spent seven years in the patrol division before transferring to the detective division in 1996.
In 2002, he was appointed as chief of detectives, where he subsequently was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and captain.
At this time, having already served under Hertz for four years, Lakin became chief deputy sheriff with the rank of major in 2006. He would continue to serve as Hertz’s right-hand man until he retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2011.
Other highlights in his career include serving as a deputy commander and currently a board member for the St. Louis area major case squad, and becoming a graduate of the FBI National Academy in 2005.
One of the most memorable cases he worked on, according to his website, happened during his tenure at the St. Louis area major case squad.
It involved the death of a 15-year veteran lieutenant with the Centreville Police Department who was gunned down in 2009 when surveying an apartment complex.
“It’s especially difficult when one of our own is killed in the line of duty,” Lakin said. “This officer was loved and respected in the community. We were quickly able to identify a suspect and arrest him for the murder, and that’s something I’m very proud of today.”
Lakin has never run for public office but is banking on bringing dignity, integrity and trust to the department.
“If I am elected, I will bring dignity back to the sheriff’s office and treat the employees with the dignity and respect they deserve, and I will protect the citizens and those who visit Madison County,” he said.
Hertz - ‘The experience card … I bring to the table is pretty strong’
He started working for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department when he was 22 years old as a uniformed deputy sheriff in the patrol division.
Two years later, Hertz moved to serve as a detective in the investigative division, and in 1983 became chief deputy under Sheriff Emil Toffant.
Hertz became chief of detectives under Churchich in 1986 and in 1987 ran the county jail as superintendent.
He rose through the ranks to become major, and eventually served as chief deputy for Churchich before being elected to the sheriff seat in 2002.
Hertz ran unopposed in that election and again in 2006. He defeated Bob Hulme, a retired state trooper, in 2010 with 56 percent of the vote.
He said people have asked several times how much longer he planned to stay in the sheriff’s seat.
“It’s contingent upon two things: my health, which is still good,” Hertz said. “I’ve never been in the hospital before in my life. And the second thing is my interest in doing the job. If I went through a period where I hated to get up and come to work, hated work, then I wouldn’t do it.
“But those two things – my health and my interest – are still pretty keen.”
Among the items he’s taken upon himself as sheriff was opening a “special housing unit” in 2003 to accommodate prisoners with special needs and establishing a forensic computer laboratory in 2005 to fully investigate computer-based crimes such as Internet fraud, child pornography and financial exploitation of citizens.
He said the Sheriff’s Department also assisted in the formation of a Child Death Investigative Task Force in 2011 through the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to help investigate child deaths in Madison County and other surrounding counties.
A notable case he worked on in his career involves the Edwardsville slayings of Arthur and Vernita Gusewelle in 1977 and their son, Ronald, two years later.
Barbara Gusewelle Boyle was convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 after she planned the killings with two accomplices. Famed criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey represented her in the case.
“That was a pretty challenging case and there was a lot of time spent on that,” said Hertz, who was working in the investigative division at the time. “Bottom line, we were able to solve the case and bring three people to justice.”
Hertz said his experience and time spent with the department is key to his performance in the election.
“There are not many people locally that have been in law enforcement for 42 years,” he said. “I think the experience card that I bring to the table is pretty strong.”
As far as fund-raising goes, Lakin had almost $50,000 in his campaign fund by mid-February, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. This includes funds raised in last quarter, which started on Oct. 1, 2013 and ended Dec. 31, 2013.
As of Wednesday, March 5, Hertz has roped in about $71,500 in his campaign fund since October of last year.
Let the draw begin.
Voters will be able to make their mark on who might run against a Republican candidate in the November election on Tuesday, March 18. The GOP has not yet selected a candidate.
Early voting will be allowed the week of March 10-15; to find early polling places or voter information, visit the Madison County Clerk’s website, www.madisonvotes.com.