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Primary battles will set the stage to determine if Democrats can maintain control of DuPage County Board in November

In contested primaries for the DuPage County Board on Tuesday, candidates cite public safety, the mental health crisis, financial stability and drawing new businesses to DuPage as top issues.

The board consists of 18 elected board members plus a separate chairman. Once a small minority on the county board, Democrats have increased their numbers in the last two election cycles, and now hold an 11-7 majority. With the recent decennial census, all 18 County Board 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 primaries on the Republican side while two of the six districts have contested Democratic primaries.

One 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. Seeking reelection is Liz Chaplin of Downers Grove, who long has sparred with outgoing County Board Chairman Dan Cronin. Chaplin is facing off in the primary against incumbent board member Paula Deacon Garcia and newcomers Yeena Yoo and Maryann Vazquez.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we still have critical needs that haven’t been met, such as affordable housing and homelessness, and the opioid and mental health crisis,” Chaplin said. “For the past 20 years, I’ve been advocating on behalf of the citizens of DuPage for safe water, then working and figuring out fiscal responsibility. I’ve been one of the only voices on the county board challenging the status quo, asking questions and making sure things are in the best interests of the taxpayer.”

Vazquez cited the mental health crisis, residents’ difficulty in paying for elder care and transportation issues as keys in motivating her to run. After a long career as a sales representative and a marketing manager, she also said that she believes she brings “business savvy” to the board, including the small business perspective and the larger corporate perspective, along with social consciousness.

”People have told me they can’t get in-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 runs off 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 she is most focused on environmental sustainability and the mental health crisis. Among the initiatives she is part of are trying to shift more county assets to electrical power and serving on DuPage’s Health Department board.

“We’re trying to get a crisis residential unit here in DuPage County,” she said. “That’s something I would like to be reelected for, so I can continue to do that work so we can help people who are dealing 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 human services. She noted that only 1% to 2% of the county’s general fund budget is spent on human services, while eight times that is spent on the sheriff’s office and 12 times that is spent on roads and bridges.

“I do think the county should be funding more for senior citizens and for people who are seeking mental health,” she said.

With a professional specialty in family law litigation and in dealing with victims of domestic violence, Yoo pointed to her history of working with opposing legal counsel in judges’ chambers as evidence of her ability to build consensus.

On the Republican side in District 2, six candidates — none of them incumbents — are running for the three seats. One incumbent District 2 board member, Republican Pete DiCianni, is giving up his board seat to run for chairman. The six GOP candidates are former county board 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 with government when she and her neighbors in Elmhurst’s Pick subdivision successfully fought against a proposal to place a gas station at the northwest corner of Illinois Highway 83 and St. Charles Road. Veremis later was appointed to Elmhurst’s City Council and then won full election to her seat’s remaining unexpired term.

”I’m sensitive to inflation and public safety and mental health, and when I say that, that’s not just words. There are people in my community who have reached out to me for help, for guidance, and that’s where I can bring 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 a community advocate.”

An accountant who now is an Oak Brook resident, Kordik previously was on a school board and on Villa Park’s zoning board. He said he was motivated to run after a December shooting at the Oakbrook Center mall that was “literally in my own backyard, as I live right across the creek from (the) mall.”

”I thought, you know what? My DuPage County is changing, and this is where I can best serve,” he said. “I’m very pro-law enforcement, and public safety is my highest priority. With all the changes coming involving the end of cash bail as of Jan. 1, I want to make sure that our courts and our sheriff’s office have the resources and tools they need to make DuPage County safe.”

Noonan, a Bloomingdale police officer for almost two decades who recently was promoted to sergeant and who previously served two terms on the county board from 2012 until 2020, said he has been unhappy with the direction that Democrats have taken the board since taking control. He said his biggest emphasis is on public safety, and on his support for it.

“My approach is the same to politics as it is as a policeman — if I go to a situation, I don’t care your religious background or political affiliation, I’m here to serve you,” Noonan said. “At the end of the day, I’ve said this time and time again, once you get elected, you have to work together.”

Another crowded primary is the Republican race for District 1, which covers all or almost all of Bensenville, Wood Dale, Itasca, Addison and Roselle and parts of Elmhurst, Bloomingdale, Lombard and Villa Park.

Candidates in that 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 also is the president of the county’s health department, said that in addition to public safety and public health, he sees as a major board priority the need to decide how to distribute $161 million in federal CARES Act money and another $179 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“Everybody needs our help and is looking for their slice of the pie,” Tornatore said. “We’re trying to divvy up the pie as best as we can, with the understanding that a lot of this money has been for public health.”

Cahill, who was 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. The mother of a prosecutor, Cahill said she would fully fund the sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s offices, and she said she will prioritize bringing more residents and more businesses into DuPage.

“I think I bring an outside perspective and a fresh voice,” Cahill said. “I have the passion and the expertise, and we need new people. It’s time for some 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’m a different person.”

Both 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 seeking reelection.

A former Glenbard District 87 school board member, Ozog currently chairs the County Board’s public works committee. She said dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and figuring out how to distribute federal pandemic relief funds are the greatest issues facing the board.

“I believe in fiscal responsibility and spending money conservatively, and I think we do the best we can with what we have,” said Ozog, whose primary opponents are LaPlante, Shawn Ryan and Glen Ellyn Trustee Gary Fasules.

Now in his third term as a trustee, Fasules cited his ability to work with others on the nonpartisan Glen Ellyn Village Board as a strength. He lamented recent finger-pointing and division between the two parties on the county board over the county missing out on 18 months of recreational marijuana tax revenue.

”I really want to get away from that (finger-pointing),” Fasules said. “I ran because we have to take our similarities and find them and unite on those and move forward for the benefit of the residents. And I’ve got the experience — I know what a board has to do in an oversight-type of capacity and how we move certain critical elements. The issues that we’re dealing with don’t have anything to do with partisan politics.”

Eckhoff, who was on the County Board since 2002, is running against DuPage County Regional School Trustee Paula McGowen, College of DuPage Trustee Annette Corrigan and former Lombard Trustee Reid Foltyniewicz in the GOP primary in District 4. Eckhoff pointed to his many years of “keeping taxes low while delivering essential government services for a long period of time.”

Eckhoff also cited public safety, the opioid crisis and mental health as issues at the forefront. “I’m in favor of more funds going for mental health,” he said. “I’d like to see more of a coordinated effort rather than township by township.”

A family law attorney, Corrigan emphasized her focus on fighting crime and on keeping the county’s economy vibrant.

“It’s expensive to live here, and there are lots of parts of DuPage where people are suffering,” Corrigan said. “I’m very concerned about our residents, and making sure that people have the basic needs that they require on a day-to-day basis.”

Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

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