Lake County will have a new top prosecutor for the first time in more than two decades, though the party affiliation will remain the same.
The vote was close for awhile but Republican Mike Nerheim of Gurnee pulled away from Democrat Chris Kennedy of Libertyville in a battle between former prosecutors to succeed State's Attorney Michael Waller, who opted not to seek re-election after 22 years in office.
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However, that lead was more than cut in half after early and mail votes were counted. With all 415 precincts reporting, Nerheim held on to best Kennedy with 136,771 votes to 131,257, unofficial totals showed.
Nerheim, 39, said he was not the party's pick in the March primary election, and portrayed himself as an independent voice despite the party affiliation and being hammered by Kennedy as an insider.
"What I've tried to do is talk about my plans, my background and my vision for the office," he said.
Publicity regarding the wrongful prosecution of four men in separate high-profile murder or rape cases has put the state's attorney's office in an unfavorable spotlight. Both candidates focused on what they described as needed reforms in the office.
Nerheim, a criminal defense attorney, worked in the state's attorney's office from 1999 to 2007.
"My top priority is to restore the reputation of the state's attorney office," he said.
Each candidate had suggested that old cases and convictions needed to be reviewed. Nerheim said he will name his "Case Review Panel" of volunteers independent of the state's attorney's office in coming days.
"This is such a big issue, we can't afford any wrongful convictions, not a single one," he said. "This is something that's in place and ready to go."
He also advocated creating a new unit specializing in gang cases and utilize new legislation allowing prosecutors to connect gang crimes to larger criminal enterprises, as well as a program for nonviolent first time offenders to earn a second chance.