Voters Tuesday elected the first new coroner in Kane County in 12 years. Now the task of repairing relationships and restoring integrity to the office falls to Republican Rob Russell, who captured 56 percent of the vote but, according to some, experienced division among some GOP leaders when it came to supporting his campaign.
Democrat Tao Martinez congratulated Russell, a sergeant with the DuPage County Sheriff's Office, and said he was happy the campaign sparked some discussion and a pledge from both candidates to repair relationships that were damaged by former Kane County Coroner Chuck West.
West, who was not seeking another term, died July 4 after complications from a liver transplant. He was charged with misconduct in 2010 but did not face trial.
"I am not disappointed. Would I have liked to have had a different result and me coming out ahead? Sure, everybody wants to be the winner," Martinez said Wednesday. "It's up to Rob to do his best and make (the coroner's office) better."
According to unofficial results, Russell garnered 92,499 votes compared to 71,771 for Martinez.
During the campaign, Martinez said the coroner needed to conduct more investigations of deaths at nursing homes; Russell disagreed.
Martinez, who owns a North Aurora firm that cleans up death scenes, had criticized Russell as being a jail guard who only in September obtained a state certification as a "lead homicide investigator." Russell, in turn, said voters had to choose between a "cop" or "janitor" on Election Day.
"Yes, I was called a couple of things. It never bothered me. I kept my campaign as clean as possible. I focused on the facts," Martinez said.
Russell, who has spent 20 years with the sheriff's office working on patrol, corrections and court security, said voters ultimately decided he was the person with the best qualifications.
"People of integrity expect to be believed and when they're not, they just let time prove them right," said Russell, of South Elgin.
Russell said he plans to resign from the sheriff's office and work toward having the coroner's office undergo an accreditation process.
Russell defeated Bob Tiballi of Elgin in a bruising spring primary, causing some Republicans to take sides this fall.
John Zahm, chairman of the Kane County Conservative Coalition, announced last week the coalition had endorsed Martinez for coroner. Zahm said this was the first time since 2002 that the coalition endorsed a Democrat, but also disclosed that his wife was doing paid consulting work for Martinez.
Wednesday, Zahn said the voters had spoken. "I wish Robert Russell well. Let's give (Russell) a chance."
Russell said the coalition was more like a "coalition of one," and said any suggestion that Republicans and Kane County Board Chairman-elect Chris Lauzen didn't support Russell was a desperation move by opponents.
"I support the whole ticket, including Rob Russell," Lauzen said Wednesday. "Rob's won the election. He moves forward and that's great."
Russell, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for Kane County Sheriff in 2010, said he was thankful and honored voters chose him for a four-year term. Along with Lauzen, voters also elected other Republicans Tuesday to countywide positions: Joe McMahon as state's attorney, Thomas Hartwell as circuit clerk, Sandy Wegman as recorder and Terry Hunt as auditor.
"This is a good thing that we've got new leaders that have come up and said, 'Hey, let me take my turn to see what I can do for the common good,'" Russell said.
"Victory is much sweeter when you know defeat. I've known defeat."