The candidates for Will County sheriff traded attacks during a contentious debate Tuesday at The Herald-News office.
The two covered everything from opioids to alleged blocked promotions within the sheriff’s office, ending with one candidate accusing the other of threatening him. Democratic incumbent Mike Kelley is running for re-election against Republican challenger Jim Reilly.
The first disagreement came after a question on qualifications for the job. Reilly touted his time as a doctoral student conducting research on community policing.
“Education in some professions obviously means a lot, but so does 30 years’ experience ... not taking a break for 16,” Kelley said.
Kelley was referring to the time between Reilly’s eight-year tenure with the Joliet police and when he started with the sheriff’s office in 2013. During that time, Reilly worked in the private sector, taught classes at the Wilco Area Career Center and began his graduate studies in criminal justice.
“I think I have much more experience, much more rounded experience,” Reilly said.
The two then got into a fiery back-and-forth about who would be more qualified for various jobs. Reilly at one point said, “This is the bully mentality that I’m running against.”
Kelley responded, saying Reilly told “half-truths,” specifically when Reilly asked his boss why he had not been promoted to lieutenant.
Another point of contention surrounded a claim Reilly made when he said, “Unfortunately, under Sheriff Kelley’s administration, we have one of the highest unsolved murder [rates] in the state.”
“You got stats for that?” Kelley said in response.
Kelley went on to explain that his department had solved 64 percent of its homicide cases in the past four years, which is higher than the national average of 46 percent.
“Put that up against any other department in this county that handles the amount of homicides that the sheriff’s department does,” Kelley said.
One specific case Reilly brought up, as he did in another forum, was the still-unsolved 2017 homicide of Preston Heights toddler Sema’j Crosby. Reilly argued he would make that case a priority, and said he has “grave concerns” about it. He added he would use outside federal agencies to “help us look at that case.”
Kelley responded that the Crosby case “gets worked on every single day.” He said the FBI has been working with the sheriff’s office from the beginning of the investigation.
“The lead detective that runs that case, every day he walks around with a picture of that poor girl with him,” Kelley said. “Every day he looks at it.”
Another big issue both candidates have extensively talked about is the opioid epidemic in Will County. The Will County Coroner’s Office listed 85 deaths from either heroin, fentanyl or a combination of both drugs in 2017. That was up from 78 in 2016.
Kelley touted how shortly after he took office, he had the whole office trained and equipped with Narcan, a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. His administration also started a coalition with other community entities and volunteers tasked with combating opioid use and educating young people about the dangers of using the drugs. He explained that the county saw an upsurge in the amount of heroin around the time he took office, but it has managed to decrease the number of overdoses.
“This administration has made the moves it needs to make to fight this epidemic,” Kelley said. “And it still needs to be fought.”
Reilly still argued the office needs to do more. He cited an increase in criminal behaviors related to opioids.
Reilly said he would expand the office’s in-house narcotics unit and add a plainclothes tactical unit, although he said he would use the resources already available.
Reilly argued that Kelley isn’t experienced specifically in drug enforcement. Kelley admitted that is one of the few divisions he hadn’t worked in, but Reilly’s experience is outdated.
“The game’s changed,” Kelley said.
After the formal debate ended, Reilly repeatedly accused Kelley of threatening him, asking Herald-News staff if they had heard it. Staff did not hear a threat.