In Tuesday’s contested DuPage County Council primaries, candidates cite public safety, the mental health crisis, financial stability and attracting new business to DuPage as top issues.
The board is made up of 18 elected members and a separate chair. Once a small minority on the county council, Democrats have grown in numbers over the past two election cycles and now hold an 11-7 majority. With the recent decennial census, all 18 county council seats are up for election in November. . Voters in each party’s primary can select up to three choices in their district, and three of the six districts have contested Republican primaries while two of the six districts have contested Democratic primaries.
A crowded Democratic primary is in District 2, which covers Oak Brook and Oakbrook Terrace and parts of Elmhurst, Downers Grove, Lisle, Woodridge, Westmont, Lombard and Villa Park. Downers Grove’s Liz Chaplin, who has long fought with incumbent county council chairman Dan Cronin, is seeking re-election. Chaplin faces in the primary Paula Deacon Garcia, outgoing board member, and newcomers Yeena Yoo and Maryann Vazquez.
“Coming out of the pandemic, we still have critical needs that have not been met, such as affordable housing and homelessness, as well as the opioid and mental health crisis,” Chaplin said. “For the past 20 years I have advocated on behalf of the citizens of DuPage for clean water, then worked and understood fiscal responsibility. I’ve been one of the only voices on County Council to challenge the status quo, ask questions, and make sure everything is in the interest of the ratepayer.
Vazquez cited the mental health crisis, residents’ difficulty paying for elderly care and transportation issues as key elements in motivating her to run. After a long career as a sales representative and chief marketing officer, she also said she believes she brings “business acumen” to the board, including a small business perspective and a large business perspective, as well as a social conscience.
“People have told me they can’t get home care because workers can’t get to work, and the reason they can’t get to work is that everything in DuPage County with transportation goes through the Metra,” she said. “So we have these transit deserts. We need to be more creative for the future.
Garcia, who was elected to the board in 2020, said her main focus is on environmental sustainability and the mental health crisis. Among the initiatives she is a part of are trying to transfer more county assets to electricity and serving on the board of directors of the DuPage health department.
“We’re trying to get a crisis living unit here in DuPage County,” she said. “It’s something I’d love to be re-elected for, so I can keep doing this job so we can help people with mental health issues instead of sending them to the (emergency room ) or the correctional center.”
Yoo, a lawyer who has a background in social work, said she would like to see more of the county’s budget devoted to social services. She noted that only 1% to 2% of the county’s general fund budget is spent on social services, while eight times that is spent on the sheriff’s office and 12 times on roads and bridges.
“I think the county should fund more seniors and people seeking mental health,” she said.
With a professional specialty in family law litigation and dealing with victims of domestic violence, Yoo pointed to her experience working with opposing attorneys in the judges’ chambers as evidence of her ability to reach consensus.
On the Republican side in District 2, six candidates – none of whom is incumbent – are running for the three seats. An incumbent District 2 board member, Republican Pete DiCianni, is stepping down from his seat on the board to run for president. The six GOP candidates are former County Council member Sean T. Noonan, former York Township Clerk Daniel J. Kordik, Grant Dungan, Elmhurst Ald. Jennifer Veremis, Nicole Marie Giannini and John Simpson.
Veremis, a nail salon owner, became involved in government when she and her neighbors on the Elmhurst’s Pick subdivision successfully fought a proposal to place a gas station on the northwest corner of Illinois Highway 83 and St. Charles Road. Veremis was then appointed to the Elmhurst Town Council and later won the full election for the remaining term of her seat.
“I’m sensitive to inflation, public safety and mental health, and when I say that, it’s not just words. There are people in my community who have reached out to me for help, advice, and that’s where I can add a lot of value,” she said. “I also have unique experience as a hands-on business owner, and I have municipal experience as an elected official and community advocate.”
An accountant who is now an Oak Brook resident, Kordik was previously a member of a school board and the Villa Park zoning board. He said he was motivated to run after a shooting in December at the Oakbrook Center mall which was “literally in my own backyard because I live right across the creek from (the) mall.”
“I thought, you know what? My county of DuPage is changing, and that’s where I can best serve,” he said. “I am very supportive of law enforcement and public safety is my top priority. With all the upcoming changes involving the end of cash bail effective January 1, I want to make sure our courts and our sheriff’s office have the resources and tools they need to keep DuPage County safe.
Noonan, a Bloomingdale’s police officer for nearly two decades who was recently promoted to sergeant and previously served two terms on the county council from 2012 to 2020, said he was unhappy with the direction Democrats have taken. on the board since he took control. He said his greatest focus was on public safety and his support for it.
“My approach is the same in politics as in being a police officer – if I go into a situation, I don’t care what your religious background or political affiliation is, I’m here to serve you,” Noonan said. “At the end of the day, I’ve said it time and time again, once you’re elected, you have to work together.”
Another crowded primary is the Republican race for District 1, which covers all or most of Bensenville, Wood Dale, Itasca, Addison and Roselle and parts of Elmhurst, Bloomingdale’s, Lombard and Villa Park.
The candidates for this primary are incumbents Sam Tornatore and Donald Puchalski and newcomers Bob Dunn, Marya Reyes and Elmhurst accountant Cindy Cronin Cahill, who is Dan Cronin’s sister. Tornatore, of Roselle, who is also chairman of the county health department, said that in addition to public safety and public health, he sees as a major council priority the need to decide how to distribute 161 million dollars in federal money from the CARES Act and another $179 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“Everyone needs our help and is looking for their piece of the pie,” Tornatore said. “We’re trying to spread the pie as best we can, understanding that a lot of that money has gone to public health.”
Cahill, who served on the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, cited her experience as a business owner and her financial acumen as attributes she would bring to the board. A prosecutor’s mother, Cahill, said she would fully fund the sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s offices, and she said she would prioritize bringing in more residents and businesses in DuPage.
“I think I bring an outside perspective and a new voice,” Cahill said. “I have the passion and the expertise, and we need new people. It’s time for new voices and new people. Asked about her brother, Cahill noted that “Dan and I have Republican values, absolutely, and I bring my Republican values to the board, but I also bring my own perspective. I am a different person.
The GOP and Democratic primaries are contested in District 4, which covers all of Glen Ellyn, most of Wheaton and Glendale Heights, and parts of Lombard and Lisle. All three incumbents — Democrats Mary FitzGerald Ozog and Lynn LaPlante and Republican Grant Eckhoff — are up for re-election.
A former member of the Glenbard District 87 School Board, Ozog currently chairs the County Council’s Public Works Committee. She said dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and figuring out how to distribute federal pandemic relief funds are the biggest issues facing the council.
“I believe in fiscal responsibility and prudent spending, and I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have,” said Ozog, whose main opponents include LaPlante, Shawn Ryan and Glen Ellyn Trustee Gary Fasules.
Now in his third term as a trustee, Fasules cited his ability to work with other members of the nonpartisan Glen Ellyn Village council as a strength. He lamented the recent accusations and the split between the two sides on the county board over the county losing 18 months of recreational marijuana tax revenue.
“I really want to get away from that (finger pointing),” Fasules said. “I ran because we need to take our similarities and find them and unite on those and move forward for the benefit of the residents. And I have the experience — I know what a council should do as a surveillance capability and how we move certain critical elements.The issues we deal with have nothing to do with partisan politics.
Eckhoff, who had been on county council since 2002, is running against DuPage County Regional School Commissioner Paula McGowen, DuPage College Administrator Annette Corrigan and former Lombard Administrator Reid Foltyniewicz in the GOP primary in District 4. Eckhoff highlighted his many years of “keeping taxes low while providing essential government services for a long time.”
Eckhoff also cited public safety, the opioid crisis and mental health as high-profile issues. “I am in favor of more funds for mental health,” he said. “I would like to see more coordinated efforts rather than canton by canton.”
A family law attorney, Corrigan has focused on fighting crime and keeping the county economy going.
“It’s expensive to live here, and there are a lot of parts of DuPage where people are suffering,” Corrigan said. “I am very concerned about our residents and making sure people have the basic needs they need on a daily basis.”
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance journalist.