In a backroom of a Chicago Greek restaurant, Cook County GOP officials elected a South suburban highway commissioner over a Wheeling Township trustee as party chair Thursday night.
By weighted vote based on the number of Republicans in each ward and township, committeemen chose Sigitas "Sig" Vaznelis of Lemont over Ruth O'Connell of Arlington Heights. A third candidate, Palatine Township's Aaron Del Mar, stepped out of the race at the last minute, pledging support to Vaznelis.
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Vaznelis is replacing Lee Roupas, who stepped down as chair last month to focus on a new position as a DuPage County assistant state's attorney.
"We have a new chairman," acting Chair T. Tolbert Chisum told the standing-room-only crowd at the Parthenon restaurant on Halsted Street to applause.
Officially, Vaznelis received 85,221 votes to O'Connell's 66,298, according to tallies. Committeemen from Chicago and the South suburbs largely backed Vaznelis, and many from Northwest suburban townships, with the exception of Del Mar, supported O'Connell.
Before the vote, committeemen and members of the public at the meeting had the opportunity to grill the two candidates on ways they would approach leadership, with an eye on the 2012 election.
O'Connell said she planned to grow the party through strong door-to-door efforts.
She also pledged a $50,000 "contingency donation" to the party's near-empty war chest from an anonymous donor if she were selected as chair.
Vaznelis, who cited a need for the party to ramp up its social media capabilities, said he hoped that such a donation would come to the party regardless of which of the two was selected as chair.
Along with fundraising, Vaznelis said his priority as chair was bringing members of the party together, and recruiting more members by showing them it's "OK" to be a Republican in Cook County.
O'Connell expressed disappointment in the results, noting she felt she "had a lot to offer and a proven record" in her decades of work with the Wheeling Township GOP, which contains the largest amount of Republicans in the county.
Moving forward, however, she pledged her support to Vaznelis.
"We need to work together in raising money, and finding votes among independents and (dissatisfied) Democrats," she said.