A McLean County Board candidate from Bloomington’s west side said he now wants to be a “positive force in my community” after being convicted of attempted murder over 20 years ago.
Democrat Nathan “Chiko” Russo of Bloomington is running for County Board in District 8, which includes downtown and the city’s west side.
Russo was sentenced to 24 years in prison back in 1995 for a gang-related shooting. Russo was 18 years old at the time. He pleaded guilty. Media reports at the time indicate prosecutors cited an extensive juvenile criminal record at sentencing. The sentence was six years less than the maximum, but 18 years above the minimum. The victim in the case said he thought Russo shot him because the victim had dropped out of the Latin Kings street gang some years before.
Russo said he is asking voters to consider who he is now, not then.
“I made a mistake. I look back on it every day like, I wish I wouldn’t have done that. I was young and impressionable, you know?” Russo told WGLT on Tuesday. “I done my time. It’s over with. Now I’m just here trying to be a positive force in my community on the west side of Bloomington.”
City council candidates with felony criminal records can run for office, but they can't be sworn in. But that's for a home rule municipality such as Bloomington or Normal.
For candidates at the county level there are different rules. Matt Dietrich of the State Board of Elections said sheriff and state's attorney candidates can’t have felony records.
“But other than that, county officers can have a felony conviction and still be elected and serve,” he said. “Sheriff and state’s attorney are the only explicitly prohibited ones with felony convictions.”
Russo is running for the seat being vacated by Democrat Carlo Robustelli. Russo is a member of the Laborers union and is a Democratic precinct committeeperson.
Russo’s opponent in the March 2020 Democratic primary is Lea Cline, an associate professor of art history at Illinois State University. Cline has served as an election judge and polling coordinator. She is chair of the Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission and also lives on the west side.
Cline said she won't highlight her opponent's criminal record, but it matters.
“I think that the conviction, and the behavior that led to the conviction, are relevant. But also (relevant) is everything he’s done in his life since then,” Cline said.
Cline said picking out one thing in a life is probably not fair.
Russo said he is more than his youth, though his background can offer something new to the County Board.
“I been on social services in this neighborhood, from when I was a kid. I came from a low-income home over here. I dare say that nobody on the County Board or any of the candidates that are running can bring that type of material to the County Board. I feel like my experiences on both sides of the fence make me a valuable asset to the County Board and to the voters,” Russo said.
Cline said she will leave it up to voters whether Russo’s path since his release has redeemed him.
“I’m not sure elected office is necessarily the path to redemption. I think what he has done with his life since should be looked at,” Cline said.
The McLean County Democratic Party is publicly trying to stay out of this one.
“Mr. Russo is, to our understanding, legally entitled to run for public office,” said party chair Erik Rankin. “In doing so we support all candidates in their run for public office, and it will be up to the voters in District 8 to select the candidate they believe best represents their interests.”
Republican Jordan Baker is also planning to run in District 8.
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