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updated: 1/9/2012 12:33 PM

Lake County commissioner facing rare primary challenge

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  • Carol Calabresa

    Carol Calabresa

  • Dan Donahue

    Dan Donahue

  • Del Parra

    Del Parra


Veteran Lake County Board member Carol Calabresa will face a rare challenge from within the Republican Party in March's primary election.

Libertyville resident Dan Donahue is challenging Calabresa, who has represented the county's 15th District for 25 years. And he's coming to the fight with some prominent supporters.

Among the local political figures Donahue's campaign website names as backers are Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler, ex-mayor Duane Laska, Cook Memorial Public Library District board President and anti-abortion activist Bonnie Quirke, library board member Ann Oakley and Raymond True, leader of the Republican Assembly of Lake County.

Donahue, whose wife is former Lake County Republican Federation leader Antonietta Simonian, has never run for public office in Lake County, but serves on Libertyville's plan commission and its zoning board of appeals.

He said it's time for someone with more energy and "interest in doing something" to serve the district.

Calabresa, also of Libertyville, hasn't faced a Republican primary foe since 1998. She called the pending showdown "unusual."

"It changes my timing," Calabresa said. "I'm used to a general election, not a general and a primary."

Local GOP leader Bob Cook said the primary faceoff is good for the candidates, the party and voters.

"It helps get the candidates organized much quicker and forces them to build a winning team that will help them go on and win the race," Cook said.

The 15th District includes Libertyville and part of Mundelein.

A county commissioner since 1986, Calabresa was part of the environmentally minded, slow-growth Republican bloc that took control of the county board in 1998.

From 1998 to 2000, Calabresa served a term as president of the Lake County Forest Preserve District board, which consists of the county commissioners.

She cited the transformation of an old gravel quarry near Libertyville into the Independence Grove Forest Preserve, a project that was completed in 2001, as a highlight of her tenure as the forest board's leader.

"To be able to give the county the crown jewel of Independence Grove was really a pretty extraordinary achievement," she said.

Looking forward, Calabresa said she'd like to stay in office long enough to see the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve plans completed. The project has been in limbo for years because of disagreements and debates over whether a new golf course should be built there.

Donahue was appointed to the Libertyville plan commission this past spring. A former electrician who now works as a project manager with an engineering company, he was inspired to run for the county board following village hearings last year about the proposed master plan for the county campus on Winchester Road.

Donahue was unhappy with the attitudes he thought county administrators and Calabresa expressed about the process.

When Donahue asked some village officials and local Republicans about the situation, he said they encouraged him to run for Calabresa's job.

"I'm sure there are dozens of people who could do it, but no one else stepped forward," Donahue said.

Donahue is no stranger to GOP politics. He previously worked with the state Senate Republican caucus and as a school board trustee in two communities, according to his campaign website.

True, Martin and some of the others listed as supporters on Donahue's website are outspoken conservative Republicans. Donahue described himself as a fiscal conservative who has a moderate, "live and let live" approach on most other issues.

He denied he's coming at Calabresa from the right.

"This is not an ideological end run," he said. "I'm not a hard-liner."

The people named as backers on the website are "friends and personal supporters," not necessarily ideological supporters, Donahue said.

But with several current and former village officials among Donahue's supporters, Calabresa said his run for her job smacks of "pure politics."

"And over the years, I haven't been interested in pure politics," she said. "I've been more interested in serving my constituents. And that's what I'll continue to do."

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Del Parra in the November 2012 general election.

Parra's name should be familiar to District 15 voters. He ran against Calabresa in 2006 and 2010, losing by big margins both times.

Calabresa isn't the only Lake County commissioner facing a primary challenge. Elsewhere:

• In District 2, Democratic incumbent Diane Hewitt of Waukegan is challenged by Beverly Stackhouse-Mull of Zion and Mark Stricklin of Beach Park.

• In District 3, Republican incumbent Jim Newton is challenged by Tom Weber of Lake Villa and James Creighton Mitchell Jr. of Lindenhurst.

• In District 6, Democratic incumbent Pat Carey of Grayslake is challenged by Eric Daniel Lake, also of Grayslake.

• In District 9, Democratic incumbent Mary Ross Cunningham is challenged by Ann Kindle and Germain Castellanos. All three candidates are from Waukegan.

• In District 21, Republican incumbent Ann B. Maine is challenged by Robert E. Haraden of Libertyville and Douglas R. Bennett of Deerfield.

Unlike campaigns for state or federal offices, county board races typically aren't expensive, with candidates generally spending no more than a few thousand dollars on signs and promotion.

These primary showdowns shouldn't result in extravagant spending either, Cook said. But it will force the candidates to organize their volunteers, work on their messages and hit neighborhoods sooner than if they were unopposed in March, Cook said.

"And the more they work, the better it is for us in the long run," Cook said.

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