Winnebago County Board candidates for Roscoe: Who claims what? Who's right?


In the Republican primary race for Roscoe's District 3 Winnebago County Board seat, comments about party loyalty have become more heated and pointed. If voter turnout is low for the March 19, 2024 primary, this election may end up being decided by party loyalists even before November, since there is no Democratic candidate. Party loyalists always show up in greater numbers for primary elections, where up to 80% of registered voters don't vote. The District 3 decision is almost the only contested race in Winnebago County.

More about the election

Meet the District 3 candidates for Roscoe: Ray Thompson and John Guevara

Ray Thompson: meet the Winnebago County Board District 3 candidates

John Guevara: meet the Winnebago County Board District 3 candidates

Area residents get to know the candidates

John Guevara, who is running for reelection to the post, recently sent out a mailing containing a quote criticizing his opponent Ray Thompson. In the mailing, Guevara attributed the quote to former Congressman Don Manzullo, author of Do Nice Guys Run for Congress?

Manzullo said on Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2024, "The quote was false and never approved by me, nor was I consulted about its content. Some months ago, Guevara had asked me for his endorsement. I agreed but based upon this egregious statement that appeared as my quote, I withdraw my support for his reelection."

Guevara's side of the story: "I called Don and asked for his support very soon after learning I had a primary opponent. He said I had his endorsement and to use his name however I wanted." Guevara claims the quote accurately "reflected our conversation," saying that Manzullo did express "deep concern" about Thompson. Guevara says, "I did not receive any response or edits at the time and firmly believed I was right to use it."

In a press release Tuesday night, Ray Thompson called on Guevara to remove the endorsement from his website and to "apologize to voters in the district for misleading them," saying the quote was fabricated. 

A graphic with Congressman Manzullo's picture and the words "ENDORSED" still appears on Guevara's website, but only because Guevara says he doesn't know how to remove it. He has asked his web guy to do it but he must be busy. 

Guevara said Wednesday, "I will personally reach out to the Congressman to investigate these attacks on my character by Mr. Thompson.” He is still trying to arrange that conversation.

Guevara's mailing also contains a quote from Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana. Caruana's political consultant, Jim Thacker, told us that the Sheriff "had not seen the quote in advance for approval but that he was okay with the content after he read it in the mailing."

Before now, Guevara has not directly criticized his opponent Ray Thompson, either in his interview with us or in his speech at the recent Candidate Meet and Greet. He only said cryptically, "In a Republican primary, being Republican matters." Political candidates and operatives can look up which party primary a candidate has voted in.

Now Guevara is willing to call Thompson "a man who couldn’t be bothered to vote in a Republican primary in the past four and a half decades." But Guevara is careful not to say that Thompson voted in Democratic primaries.

It turns out that, like 73% of voters, Thompson hasn't been voting in primaries at all. Jorge Paredes, Rockford Board of Elections, told us, "There is no record of any Primary Election voting history for Raphael [Ray] Thompson within the City of Rockford." 

Local Republican leader Paul Hofmann seems to acknowledge that when he says, "Ray has not been active in the political system but he has actively served in the community. His alignment with the Republican party and its values is strong."

John Guevara has a long Republican history. He was vice chairman of the Winnebago County Republican Central Committee (WCRCC) between 2018-2022, closely associated with former chairman Eli Nicolosi. Both Nicolosi and Guevara left their posts after the local party's July 2022 election, Nicolosi citing "personal/family reasons" for not running for a second term. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that former Winnebago County Republican Central Committee (WCRCC) chairman Eli Nicolosi was "forced out by local Republican leaders." Nicolosi reminded us that he did not resign and was not voted out, despite questions about his leadership and domestic issues. He told us, "I completed my full term as WCRCC chairman in 2022 and was not forced out of the party, with the vast majority of the WCRCC members in support of me. Austin Davies, who is cited in the WREX article, tried to bring this to a vote, but failed to get the motion seconded. You will not find any evidence that this happened or was true... I am currently not involved in politics and have nothing to do with the Winnebago County Board 3 race." Nicolosi eventually pleaded guilty to one count of battery and one count of violating a protection order against his wife's boyfriend.

As a college student, Guevara wrote for the Princeton Tory, a campus conservative publication. He has helped lead the Winnebago County Chapter of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly for twenty years. He has been elected a Republican Precinct Committeeman since 2001, first in Cherry Valley, then in Rockford from 2005-2022, and in Roscoe from 2022 to the present.

Guevara's mailing said that Thompson had voted for Barack Obama, though Thompson has not responded to our requests for confirmation. The quote attributed to Don Manzullo uses the word 'RINO' (Republican In Name Only) to describe Thompson. But Jim Thacker, who was Congressman Manzullo's former chief of staff, says, "Don Manzullo does not use the term 'RINO' and as soon as his quote in John Guevara's mail piece was brought to my attention, I knew that the Congressman would never approve a quote like that. Also, I know personally that Don is the type of elected official who welcomes people who may have voted Democrat a time or two in their life. The Tea Party movement after Obama was elected had in its membership many former Obama supporters who were disillusioned."

In response to Guevara's accusations, Paul Hofmann, who worked with Thompson at Sundstrand, added, "I have always known [Ray Thompson] to be a hard-working man of integrity. He comes to the Republican Party as a fresh face, but his heart and his principles have always been those of our shared values. A Republican in Name Only, a RINO, is someone who pretends that they are a Republican, but their dishonest acts and lack of work ethic expose them. Ray Thompson is a TRUE Republican who is honest and a dedication to every job he undertakes."

Paul Arena, a Republican colleague of Guevara's on the Winnebago County Board, says, "As a party, we want to grow our base. In order to do that, we have to be welcoming. So you cannot hold what they did ten years ago against them. The Republican Party needs to be reaching out, to become larger, for us to have influence in Illinois." 

Roscoe is majority Republican, which is one reason why there is no Democratic candidate for District 3. But it's not an overwhelming majority. In 2020, four out of ten Roscoe residents voted Democratic.

Thompson says, "Candidates and elected officials have a moral obligation to speak the truth to their constituents."

Guevara says, "Mr. Thompson is playing politics with the Congressman’s quote. I certainly hope Republican voters see through this charade."

Though he has several endorsements, Ray Thompson has not received any recorded campaign contributions yet, though his yard signs began appearing on Hononegah Road on Friday, May 15. He gave $500 to elect Village of Roscoe trustees Mike Wright, Michael Sima, William Babcock, and Village President Carol Gustafson.

Over the years, John Guevara has received more than $19,000 in campaign contributions from individuals and groups such as Sheet Metal Workers Local 219, GOP County Board Caucus, and Chicago Land-Operators Joint Labor Management PAC, and a PAC which contributes to candidates who support building trades issues. 

District 3 includes the Rock River, Hononegah Forest Preserve, Kelly Myers Park, Goldie B. Floberg Center, Riverside Park, Roscoe Middle School, and Schnucks, and many Roscoe restaurants. It includes downtown Roscoe east to 90 and west to Old River Road. Its eastern border runs south along 251 to Ralston Road/173. On the current Winnebago County map [PDF], revised in 2021, District 3 is colored "sorrell brown."

The primary election is Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2024. The District 3 County Board seat is the only competitive race on the ballot.  Since Illinois has "partially open" primaries, registered voters can ask to vote on either party's ballot at their polling place on March 19, regardless of their usual affiliation. That means Democrats who want a voice in the District 3 election can ask for a Republican primary ballot. Of course in the general election in November, voters can choose candidates of any party, for any office.

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