UPDATED 8:25 a.m. | Two weeks before the election, two mysterious flyers are causing a stir in the race between incumbent McLean County Board member Paul Segobiano and his primary challenger, Shayna Watchinski.
Watchinski and her campaign manager deny they created or sent the flyers, which have landed in the mailboxes of several high-profile Bloomington-Normal officials, including McLean County Democratic Party chair John Penn and County Board members. Segobiano also denied any role in creating the flyers, leaving many political watchers scratching their heads Tuesday about who made them.
The flyers feature Watchinski's name and photo, and on the surface appear to support her candidacy in the District 8 primary on March 20. But the flyers are crudely designed, reference fake endorsements, refer to Segobiano as “old,” and state that “Shayna Won’t Put Up With Any Sh*t!” if elected. They don’t look like typical campaign mailings or official Watchinski campaign materials.
Watchinski said Tuesday the flyers were “fake” and “neither produced or condoned” by her campaign, which also released a copy of what it described as the only real campaign mailing sent to date. “It is unclear whether their purpose is to support or discredit Watchinski’s campaign,” the campaign said.
“I am running on the issues, which include better mental health services in McLean County and a more transparent County Board,” Watchinski said in Tuesday’s statement. “My commitment is making sure that all voters in District 8 have a voice in their government.”
Segobiano himself has shared the flyer around. He provided GLT with a copy of one Feb. 28 when he arrived for his GLT election preview interview. (That interview airs Thursday on GLT’s Sound Ideas.)
Segobiano said he received it from Mike Matejka, a prominent local Democrat, who told GLT that it was originally mailed to Penn. It didn’t have a return address on it, Matejka said. McLean County Board member Erik Rankin said he and others on the board received a copy of at least one flyer in their official county mailboxes. (Rankin is a candidate to succeed Penn as chair later this spring.)
On Tuesday, McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage, a Republican who has endorsed Segobiano, shared a photo of the flyer on GLT’s private Facebook group for Election 2018, which has more than 400 members.
“I find this disturbing that someone would in my opinion attempt to criticize someone because of their age. Come on people keep it classy and respectful!” Sandage wrote in his post, just before 9 a.m.
On Wednesday, Sandage told GLT his Facebook post "didn't accuse anybody" and he was only calling for civility amid a heated election cycle. Sandage said Segobiano showed him a copy, and he took a photo, though he doesn't know who created it.
"When I shared that (Tuesday), it was on what I thought was a private Facebook group," Sandage said. "It was nothing I wanted to go public."
During his interview last week, Segobiano said he was troubled by the contents of the flyer. On Tuesday during a follow-up interview, he said he didn’t know who created it. He said he prides himself on “respect and discipline” and that his supporters “wouldn’t put me in that position.”
“I have no idea” who made them, Segobiano said. “I had nothing to do with it.”
Matejka, who has been involved in local politics for years, said the flyer looked sloppy.
“(Segobiano) is convinced it’s real,” he said.
The flyers flap comes as Segobiano and Watchinski head into the March 20 election, one of two contested primaries for McLean County Board. Segobiano, who has served on the board for more than 40 years, is a prominent local name among Democrats. He’s been endorsed by fellow Democrats like Penn, as well as Republicans like Sandage, Coroner Kathy Davis, and others. District 8 includes Bloomington's west side.
Their race is one of many sources of tension this year within the local Democratic Party, which will soon choose Penn’s successor. A flood of new faces—including progressive activists like Watchinski—have evolved into factions within the party, which has historically been synonymous with unions.
Segobiano is the director of development for the Great Plains Life Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Penn with support of the Laborers' International union, where Penn works.
GLT’s full preview of the Segobiano-Watchinski race, including the candidates’ top issues and motivations for running, will air Thursday on GLT’s Sound Ideas.
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