BELLEVILLE • The former head of the Illinois National Guard announced on Tuesday that he will seek the open congressional seat held by retiring Democrat Jerry Costello.
William Enyart of Belleville said he formally submitted a questionnaire to a Democratic Party committee seeking to replace Brad Harriman, the party's candidate on the ballot who dropped out. If selected, Enyart will enter a contentious general election fight with O'Fallon, Ill., lumber heir and Republican nominee Jason Plummer.
"I believe that the next voice representing us in Washington must share Southern Illinois values of hard work, honesty and fairness," Enyart said. "Too many folks here are worried about making ends meet, and the future of Southern Illinois is at stake. We need to make sure that there are good jobs for our families, Medicare for our seniors and an economy that Southern Illinois families can have confidence in."
Enyart, 62, a lawyer, retired from his job as the head of the state's national guard last week. Enyart said he "grew up in central Illinois doing farm work during the summer for his grandparents and working as a stock boy after school at a dime store where his mother was a clerk."
Costello announced last year that he wouldn't seek re-election after serving 22 years in the U.S. House.
Barb Brown, the Randolph County circuit clerk who co-chairs the selection committee, said the deadline for applications is Friday. She said the committee, made up of the Democratic Party county chairmen in the 12 counties included in Illinois 12th District, will review the information and select a candidate "quickly," most likely by the end of the month.
The decision on a candidate largely will rest with Robert Sprague, the longtime chairman of the St. Clair County Democratic Committee. He is one of the 12 who will vote on the replacement candidate. Their votes are weighted by how many people voted in the March Democratic congressional primary, and St. Clair made up about half.
Sprague did not return calls seeking comment.
John Baricevic, a judge and longtime St. Clair County public official, was also considering a jump into the fray, but only if Enyart didn't run. On Tuesday, Baricevic said he would stand down, calling Enyart an "excellent candidate."
That underscores Enyart's apparent advantage. He's well-liked by the St. Clair County Democratic establishment, is married to retired Circuit Judge Annette Eckert, and lives in Belleville, where the district's two previous congressmen also lived. Only two men have represented the district since the end of World War II, Democrats Mel Price and Costello.
The district takes in parts of Madison County and runs south to the tip of the state.
Republicans have targeted the district, which has long been a Democratic stronghold but leans conservative on social issues. Several national pundits have labeled the race a tossup.
Plummer's campaign didn't return calls Tuesday seeking comment.