Intrigue grows as Dems fill vacant state Senate seat

Former Joliet Councilman Dorris said he was misled into applying for the job

Election 2024
Pastor Warren Dorris speaks during a press conference Friday, June 12, 2020, after a video was presented of former Joliet police officer Bob O'Dekirk jumping on the back of a detained suspect.

Six people applied for the 43rd District state Senate vacancy, but one withdrew his application under circumstances suggesting political intrigue.

Former Joliet Councilman Warren Dorris said he pulled his application after learning that Eric Mattson, a Democratic candidate in the June 28 primary for the senate seat, also was applying.

“I had already committed to Eric Mattson,” Dorris said.

Eric Mattson, a captain in the Joliet Fire Department, is circulating petitions as a Democratic candidate in the June 28, 2022 primary for the 43rd District state senate seat.

Dorris said he applied after being encouraged to seek the spot this week by John Laesch, who also told him Mattson was not applying. Dorris said he would not have applied if he had known Mattson would, too.

Laesch is the campaign manager for Rachel Ventura, who is Mattson’s opponent in the Democratic primary. Dorris said Laesch represented himself as calling on behalf of the Democratic Party.

“He said Eric was not going to apply,” Dorris said.

“That’s untrue,” Laesch said when asked about Dorris’s account. “He’s (Dorris’s) the one who told me that.”

“That’s not true,” Dorris said when told of Laesch’s response. “I specifically asked him that.”

Laesch said that in their conversation he told Dorris he did not know if Mattson was applying.

The conflicting accounts are the latest clash in the Democratic primary campaign for the Senate seat.

Ventura tried to have Mattson removed from the ballot, alleging “a pattern of fraud” in his nominating petitions. The Illinois State Board of Elections ruled in favor of Mattson.

Rachel Ventura at the Will County board meeting at the Will County Office Building. Thursday, Mar. 17, 2022, in Joliet.

Ventura, a Will County Board member, has not applied for the Senate vacancy created when Connor announced on April 29 that he would leave office because of the need to take care of an immediate family member over the next three months.

On the next day, Ventura issued a statement saying Democrats should appoint someone not running for the office and that the appointment of a candidate in the campaign could “tip the scales” in the election.

Her camp also expects Mattson to get the appointment.

“I believe that forces behind the scenes are already working hard to give my opponent the advantage of incumbency in this race by appointing him to serve out Connor’s term,” Ventura added in the statement.

Laesch said he called Dorris and an official in the DuPage County section of District 43 to make people aware of the vacancy and encourage applications.

“We’re assuming the replacement process will favor Mattson,” he said.

Ventura’s camp contends party regulars are working against her campaign. Laesch said Ventura’s house was remapped out of the 43rd District after she let it be known she would seek the Senate seat.

State law requires local party members to appoint someone to fill the Senate vacancy within 30 days after Connor’s resignation. Democrats are making the appointment because Connor is a Democrat.

The other four applicants for the Senate seat are not running for the office.

Will County Board member Kenneth Harris picks up campaign information Tuesday at the County Clerk's Office in Joliet. Tuesday was the first day candidates could pick up petition information for the March primary.

They are: DuPage Township Assessor Ken Harris, a former member of the Will County Board; DuPage Township Trustee Debra Savage; Damon Zdunich, one of the partners 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.

Applicants were to be interviewed Thursday night.

Burke Schuster, chairman of the Will County Democratic Central Committee, said he will announce the appointee Friday morning.

He is not ruling out the appointment of Mattson.

“I would have liked to have both candidates apply,” Schuster said Thursday.