Democratic Party leaders on Friday made Eric Mattson the new state senator two months before a primary election in which he faces a challenge for the same office.
Mattson was appointed one week after former state Sen. John Connor announced his immediate resignation.
Mattson’s opponent in the 43rd District Senate race said the party maneuvered to give him the advantages of incumbency ahead of the June 28 primary.
“I think every mailer he sends out will say reelect your Sen. Mattson,” said Rachel Ventura, a Will County Board member who is the only other candidate in Democratic primary. “I think that’s the advantage they’re going for. They’re going to spin it like he has the experience.”
Ventura did not apply for the Senate vacancy, saying last week that she believed the party should put someone in the temporary position who was not a candidate in the upcoming election. She also said she suspected the selection process would favor Mattson.
“I think it’s important that the district have a fair election,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate that the party chose to put its thumb on the scale by selecting Eric.”
Mattson did not return a call for comment.
Will County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Burke Schuster said Ventura should have applied for the position along with Mattson.
“I tried my best to lay out a process that was open and transparent,” Schuster said. “You can’t say it wasn’t for you if you weren’t even in it. You have to be part of the process.”
Schuster also said he did not think there was enough time left before the June 28 primary for Mattson to gain an advantage by holding the office now.
Six candidates applied for the position, although one, former Joliet Councilman Warren Dorris, withdrew his application. Dorris said he supports Mattson, and he pulled out once he knew Mattson was applying.
The other applicants were DuPage Township Assessor Ken Harris, a former member of the Will County Board; DuPage Township Trustee Debra Savage; Damon Zdunich, a partner in the group that opened the Bishops Hill Winery in Joliet and a onetime candidate for Joliet City Council; and Gideon Ray, the owner of a martial arts academy in Bolingbrook.
Mattson is a Joliet Fire Department captain who is making his first run for public office.
Schuster said qualifications that stood out were Mattson’s “leadership positions in the community and dedication to service.”
A news release announcing Mattson’s appointment said that he has held “leadership positions in a number of community organizations, including the Salvation Army and Will County Habitat for Humanity.”
The release describes Mattson as a “veteran firefighter and union president from Joliet Fire Officers Local 2399, which represents Joliet firefighter supervisors.” Mattson also serves as president of the Joliet Firemen’s Pension Board of Trustees.
State law requires that the local party of a legislator who resigns appoint a replacement in 60 days.
The five applicants for the position were interviewed by a panel of precinct committeemen from the five townships in District 43 along with Schuster and DuPage County Democratic Party Chairman Ken Mejia-Beal. Schuster and Mejia-Beal decided the appointment.