David Giuliani, firstname.lastname@example.org, 815-431-4041 Updated
State representative candidate Jerry Long has broken his nearly three-month silence about the details of a meeting in which he asked his rival, Jacob Bramel, to leave the race.
On Nov. 1, the two men met at Shakers Lounge in Ottawa, along with two officials from a state Republican Party organization.
By all accounts, Long told Bramel at the meeting that he would run for state representative for the 76th District, which includes Ottawa and Streator. Bramel was asked to leave the race to help strengthen the party’s hand against the Democrats. Bramel stayed in.
Long, who nearly unseated then-state Rep. Frank Mautino in 2014, had announced in June he wouldn’t run again this year because of personal reasons. By the time of the November meeting, Mautino had been appointed the state’s auditor general, with then-La Salle County Circuit Clerk Andy Skoog, D-La Salle, expected to replace the veteran legislator.
After the meeting, Bramel contended he was offered a job in return for leaving the race and that he was warned that his reputation would “forever be tarnished” in the eyes of the party if he stayed in. A day afterward, he revealed the details of the meeting when The Times contacted him.
In an interview the same day, Joe Woodward, one of the two officials from the House Republican Organization, confirmed the basics of Bramel’s account, but disagreed with some of the details, including the warning about Bramel’s reputation.
At the time, Long declined to comment. A couple days after the meeting, Long, a truck driver from Streator, issued a statement saying he declined to comment, because he wanted to avoid the “muck” of negative campaigning.
He said he didn’t expect a “one-sided story full of half-truths that another candidate could exploit for political gain against me.”
After the meeting, Bramel portrayed Long as a pawn of politically connected politicians.
“I told Jerry that I don’t pay to play. I am not here to ‘rub elbows’ with people to move into various positions now or in the future,” Bramel said in an email in response to Times inquiries, “and I am certainly not going to dissolve my campaign on account of these intimidation, coercion and bribery tactics.”
‘I felt disillusioned’
Long agreed to an interview this week about his side of the Shakers meeting. He provided a timeline for his decision-making process and showed text messages he sent to Woodward.
“I was hoping the truth would come out, and I gave Jacob a chance to do that. But after hearing a couple radio interviews, these outlandish accusations just keep growing and growing,” Long said in an email. “Enough is enough. The people have a right to know the truth, not some exaggerated fish story. I’m tired of the character assassination.”
In a March 2 text to Woodward, Long wrote, “Joe, I really believe that we have what it takes to win the 76th District seat. We are in the process of deciding whether to run again. People are really tired of Frank Mautino, and the Republican Party should capitalize on that.”
The two men met in April at Shakers. After that meeting, Long said he didn’t feel confident the Republicans would back him financially. He said he was told the GOP would have to vet him.
He said he wondered why the party needed to vet him, because he already ran.
“I felt disillusioned they weren’t going to support me,” Long said in this week’s interview.
In the 2014 election, the Republican Party gave Long’s campaign more than $100,000 in donations, most of which paid for mailers. Long said he had no control over the mailers’ messages.
On June 1, he informed Woodward he wouldn’t run again and released a statement to the media announcing his decision.
Over the summer, he began to reconsider. In July, Mautino announced his interest in the auditor general’s position, garnering the support of House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
Long told Woodward in an Aug. 12 text he would run again if “I knew the party was 100 percent behind me” and “seed me with a sizable amount of money.”
He said he wasn’t willing to spend any more of his own money, noting he tapped into more than $20,000 of his savings in the 2014 campaign.
Woodward responded the next day that Long’s message was duly noted.
‘My demands were met’
In an Oct. 25 text, Woodward asked Long whether he would still run.
Long said he told Woodward he would run under the conditions that Long had total control over the campaign and its narrative and message, and that the Republican Party not send out mailers promoting his campaign without his consent “like they did last time.”
“My demands were met,” Long said. “They said OK.”
Then the Nov. 1 meeting was planned. He said the meeting was never designed to steamroll over Bramel, adding he was cordial and direct.
“I agonized for a week before the meeting,” Long said. “I told Jacob at the meeting that he had the right to run. It was his prerogative. I told him that what I would like was for him to join my campaign, so we can have a more formidable force to take on whoever replaced Frank Mautino. I said it was the best thing to do for our district and the state of Illinois.”
Long said he promised to bring on Bramel as executive field director if he left the race.
“That’s not bribing. It was that I was willing to help him out. Coercion would have been, ‘You are going to drop out now,'” Long said. “It’s not like we needed his resources. I have 3,000 campaign signs from the last election. I have political name recognition.”
By both men’s accounts, Bramel’s first response was that Long had thrown him a curveball. Bramel said at the meeting he needed two weeks to think about it.
Long said Bramel was never warned his reputation would be tarnished with the GOP if he stayed in. He said when Bramel asked whether his staying in would tarnish his reputation with the GOP, one of the Republican officials replied, “People have a tendency to remember something like this. It is what it is.”
‘Out of respect’
Bramel, an Air Force veteran from Marseilles, said he was promised a “well-paid” position on the campaign, saying he was not specifically offered the field director job.
He said Long was finally coming out with details about the meeting, because he was “feeling the pressure with the amount of volunteers we have.”
He said he met with Long two or three times at Long’s house in the fall about the campaign. Long, he said, had promised to endorse him.
Long said he never offered his endorsement.
“I unequivocally told Jacob that I would not endorse anyone until after the primary, and that I would only endorse candidates who share my values. Jacob and I did not see eye to eye on all of the issues,” Long said in an email. “I also made it very clear to him that I would never give a formal endorsement to a candidate that I didn’t agree with.”
Long showed texts in which Bramel was seeking contact information for Woodward and other GOP officials, which Long said was evidence Bramel was seeking the same Republican Party support he was pursuing.
Bramel acknowledged he reached out to Woodward and others “out of respect” to let them know he had completed the process of collecting signatures. But he said there’s no need for candidates to get the blessing of their political parties.
“You shouldn’t have to have political connections,” he said. “You can just be a good citizen.”
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