ROCK ISLAND — Gerry Bustos was picked unexpectedly as the candidate for Rock Island County sheriff by Democratic Party officials at a closed-door meeting Monday.
Mr. Bustos was sworn-in last Friday as sheriff to serve out the term of Jeff Boyd, after he resigned as part of a plea deal. Mr. Boyd was charged last week with attempted official misconduct based on allegations he cyber-stalked an undocumented immigrant.
At his swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Bustos said he had no interest in becoming sheriff long-term. At that stage, he was expected to serve until Dec. 1, when Mr. Boyd’s term ended. After that, it was expected a new sheriff would be appointed to serve until 2016.
Mr. Boyd, a Democrat, was unopposed on the Nov. 4 ballot, but it was unclear when he resigned if his name could be removed from the ballot. Over the weekend county officials decided Mr. Boyd’s name could come off and Democrats were asked to nominate a new candidate within eight days.
Some 79 Democratic precinct committeemen gathered at the Laborers Local 309 Hall in Rock Island to pick that candidate, and, after meeting for more than an hour, Mr. Bustos emerged as the winner.
The 30-year veteran of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department will now run unopposed in the November election to serve a four year term that will end in 2018.
Mr. Bustos being picked as the candidate after he said last week that he was not interested in running for the job was not, however, the biggest surprise of the night.
Speaking after the meeting, Democratic Party Chairman Doug House said three candidates had put their names forward for the position. Aside from Mr. Bustos, the others were sheriff’s department Lt. Mitch Lee and Mr. Boyd.
County board member Don Johnston, D-Moline, put Mr. Boyd’s name forward and came armed with a letter from an attorney that he said proved the former sheriff could legally be put back on the ballot.
When the vote was made by the precinct committeemen, Mr. Bustos was the overwhelming winner, according to multiple sources.
Mr. House said he did not have numbers for the votes at hand but said a “small number” voted for Mr. Boyd.
“There were some individuals still working through the disappointment and that feeling of loss that he (Mr. Boyd) had been removed from office,” Mr. House said.
In a speech to reporters, Mr. Bustos attempted to draw a line under the controversy surrounding Mr. Boyd’s resignation.
“Last week is behind us,” Mr. Bustos said. “Today is a new day and we will remain focused on the job we have ahead of us.”
Mr. Bustos is an East Moline native. He graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2002 and has served as a patrol deputy, jail administrator, operations commander and commander of the Quad Cities Bomb Squad. He’s also the husband of U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline.
“This is not a position that I sought, it’s not a position that I advocated for, but it is one that I will honor and will serve,” he said.
Mr. House said Mr. Bustos was the best qualified candidate to lead the sheriff’s department, which has 184 employees. Although he backed Mr. Boyd, Mr. Johnston was quick to say that Mr. Bustos would be a “fine sheriff.”
Republicans have questioned the timing of Mr. Boyd’s resignation after he struck a plea deal with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan last week. The resignation came too late for the Republicans to put a candidate on the ballot or back a write-in candidate in the Nov. 4 elections.