Twenty-five-year-old Lauren "Laurie" Nowak belies the image of a county board member: She's young, female and not a lawyer.
After quitting her job late last year as an after-school program coordinator, the Bartlett resident started campaigning for a seat on the DuPage County Board. On Tuesday, she was rewarded by being one of three Democrats elected to the Republican-dominated board, half of which are attorneys.
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"I think people want new ideas and a new voice," the noticeably tired Nowak said as she picked up campaign signs on Wednesday morning. "By reaching out in the community, I showed people that I wasn't the normal politician."
Of the 11 Democrats who sought seats on the county board, Nowak is the youngest, and she's never held elected office. Her district, in western DuPage, already had a Democratic board member. But on Tuesday, District 6 incumbent Dirk Enger finished fifth out of six candidates for three seats, according to unofficial results.
Democratic leaders say the outcome was different for Nowak because of amount of effort she put into her campaign.
"All of our candidates worked hard, but Laurie worked extremely hard," DuPage County Democratic Party Chairman Robert Peickert said. "She did the things that any candidate needs to do to win."
While Nowak will be the youngest county board member, Democratic incumbent Tony Michelassi was just 23 when he was first elected in 2008 to his District 5 seat. Michelassi said Wednesday that Nowak will have to deal with a learning curve. But he said Nowak already has spent a year researching the issues facing the county.
"It usually takes (a new board member) about six months to get into the groove of things and really get down to business," said Michelassi, who won his re-election bid on Tuesday. "But she's a quick study. I think that she'll pick up on it and find her niche."
Nowak said she's going to make the county board her full-time job. "The focus is going to be learning all there is to know about this now," she said.
She says she's thankful that she won't be the only Democrat on the 18-member board. She will be joined by Michelassi and Elizabeth "Liz" Chaplin, a 47-year-old Downers Grove resident elected to serve as one of the three representatives of District 2.
"I feel really confident working with them," said Nowak, adding that Michelassi and Chaplin both helped mentor her during the campaign.
Chaplin and Nowak already plan to follow Michelassi's example by opting out of the county's pension program.
Nowak said she also believes DuPage board members should justify their $50,000-a-year salary and benefits. She said she plans to document how she spends her time as a board member and post that information online.
"I would like to let people know what I'm doing and keep them in the loop as much as possible," Nowak said. "I want to show that I am involved."