If Kane County politics were a baseball game, then Democrats would be the Chicago Cubs. It's been more than a century since they've occupied the county board's chairman seat. But local Dems believe 2012 may finally be their year.
Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay's decision to run for state senate means there is no entrenched Republican candidate. There are also 10 Democrats and one Aurora-based Independent on the county board, providing a louder liberal voice than in years past on a 26-seat board that will soon become 24. President Barack Obama was also the first Democratic presidential candidate backed by Kane County voters since Franklin Pierce back in the 1850s, according to one local political historian. Obama will be on the ballot again, drawing Dems to the polls, at the same time the chairman slot is up for a vote. And, there are at least five Republicans contemplating a run for the chairman slot. County Democrats hope that creates a ruthless primary that makes a Democrat appear to be a civilized option.
"It would be the perfect opportunity to run," said county board member Jesse Vazquez, a Democrat. "Elgin and Aurora are big areas for Democrats now. Kane County is not as conservative as it used to be. If you look back just 14 or 15 years ago, we didn't even have a single Latino on the board. Now we have five."
But Latino or not, to win the chairman slot, Democrats must first field a candidate. Republican interest in the spot is rampant, but even rumors of a Democratic candidate thinking about the seat are few and far between.
Kane County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Guethle said that's not a bad thing. Ideally, he wants the party to field one Democrat to run for the seat with no primary battle.
"That's what we would like, but that's not always the case," Guethle said. Guethle said the party formed a committee to recruit county candidates a month ago. He expects some results from the committee by September.
"At this point there's not really anybody ready to make an announcement," Guethle said.
Republicans will begin locking themselves in or out of the chairman race this month. State Sen. Chris Lauzen will announce his intentions at a fundraising picnic Aug. 13 in Aurora. Lauzen and his fellow former 14th Congressional District seat political foes -- Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns and Illinois GOP State Central Committee member Jim Oberweis -- have all attended recent county board meetings in a show of their interest in the chairman seat. They are joined by Republican county board members Mark Davoust and Phil Lewis. Both are considering a run for chairman.
If Democrats want to win, they'll have to do a better job at selecting a candidate with countywide appeal. Sandy Kaczmarski is the last Democratic candidate the party fielded to run for chairman. At the time, Kaczmarski was a freelance journalist with no history of ever being in political office. McConnaughay easily defeated her despite a respectable turnout for Kaczmarski in Aurora. The second-largest city in the state has proved to be a key jumping off point for Democrats seeking any political office with regional appeal.
Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez is the only Democrat currently elected to a countywide position. He's won two elections with a strong base of support in Aurora and just enough support in the rest of the county to fend off his GOP challengers. Likewise, Bill Foster shocked Lauzen, Burns and Oberweis in winning Dennis Hastert's old congressional seat in 2008 by anchoring his campaign in Aurora. It's a feat he plans to mimic in trying to return to Congress in the new 11th Congressional District.
Local Republican and political historian Ken Shepro said a Foster-like game plan is the only way he sees Democrats stealing the Kane County Board's chairman seat. Shepro believes the only Democrat to be chairman of the county board was Geneva's William Cheever. Cheever was the very first chairman of the board back in 1850. Until recently, county board members selected the chairman among themselves. County voters now have that say.
"In theory, you'd probably need a situation with a really outstanding Democratic candidate and a national landslide in support of Democrats for it to happen," Shepro said. "The closest they've ever come was when Arlene Shoemaker was president of the Kane County Forest Preserve District. If you had a repeat of the 14th Congressional District race from a few years ago with Oberweis vs. Lauzen and a credible Democrat I suppose a Democrat could win again like Bill Foster did. Otherwise, I guess anybody can have a bad century."