Buzz driving: Council candidate learns from DUI
The race for City Council has barely begun, and candidate James Halfaday is already getting heat. The 31-year-old Native American and Democrat doesn't flinch when he's asked about his criminal record or when WINA's Rob Schilling calls him "Chicken Halfaday."
But then, Halfaday is no political novice. He was elected to City Council in his hometown of Dunfermline, Illinois, when he was just 18. And perhaps even more indicative of his determination, this owner of the local franchise of Snap Fitness decided that at 377 pounds he weighed too much and lost more than 180 pounds.
So when a reporter asks him about a 2003 DUI when he was a student at Western Illinois University, Halfaday readily admits his deed, which occurred on St. Patrick's Day, when a then 23-year-old Halfaday barely blew a .08.
"I shouldn't have been drinking," he says, "I've learned from that," he says. "That's why I don't drink. I drink milk instead. I can tell people a DUI is not worth it."
The Western Courier, the newspaper of Western Illinois University, lists two other arrests for Halfaday from that era: a disorderly conduct charge and an arrest for open container.
Halfaday says he wasn't really arrested for disorderly conduct, that that was a mistake in the records. As for the open container, he says he violated a campus ban on toting a six-pack. "I always chuckle when someone says you were arrested for open container," he says. "The beer wasn't open; it just wasn't in a bag." (Charlottesville has something similar on the books, a law allowing cops to arrest for an unsealed– not just open– container.)
The court clerk's office in McDonough County, where Western Illinois University is located, has no arrest records for Halfaday other than the DUI.
Halfaday does, however, turn up on an Illinois Department of Professional Regulation disciplinary report for March 2003 for an alleged default on a student loan.
"My student loan was sold to Sallie Mae," explains Halfaday, and in the transition, his loan showed 60 days past due, he says. That put his private investigator's license in Illinois in a do-not-renew list. "I'm still paying off student loans," says this Ojibway (aka Chippewa), who earned his anthropology degree in Native American studies.
Halfaday ran afoul of former city councilor Rob Schilling by canceling a scheduled May 4 appearance on the Schilling Show. After a dozen communications with Halfaday and his campaign manager, says Schilling, "I had gotten an email the night before saying that he wasn't coming on because he wanted to wait until more Democratic candidates come forward." Schilling lambasted him on the show and came up with an ersatz recipe dubbed "Chicken Halfaday."
"Last week was overbooked," explains Halfaday. "My campaign manager booked me." He says residents come first in his campaign, and that was the only chance to meet with a potential constituent. Halfaday has managed to redeem himself with the bombastic radio host, at least for the moment, and is scheduled to be on the show May 11.
"He promised that if he didn't appear," says Schilling, "he's going to buy 1,000 chicken dinners for citizens from Wayside Chicken."
Schilling, elected to council in 2002 as a Republican and turned out by voters after just one term, doesn't consider Halfaday's 2003 DUI to be an election deal breaker.
"I don't think this is a big deal," says Schilling. "I don't think anyone in life has a clean slate, and I applaud people who make changes in their lives."
Correction 5/11/11: Dunfermline was misspelled in the original version.