Democratic primary candidate appointed to fill vacancy on Lake County Board

The appointment Friday of a political newcomer to the Lake County Board was praised by supporters as a good choice but criticized by opponents as a maneuver to give him a primary election advantage.

The county board in a special session voted 12-5 to install Waukegan resident Steve Snarski to the District 8 seat to replace Bill Durkin, who stepped down April 18. Durkin, a Democrat, represented District 8 since 2010.

When such vacancies occur, an advisory committee is convened to assess candidates and make a recommendation to the full county board. State law requires the replacement be of the same political party as the predecessor.

All five committee members were Democrats, including board Chair Sandy Hart and Durkin.

Snarski, a Realtor who grew up in Waukegan, was recommended from among five candidates interviewed by the committee to serve the remainder of Durkin's term ending with the county board meeting Dec. 4.

He is running for a full-term to represent District 8. County board members also serve Lake County Forest Preserve District commissioners and the districts have the same boundary.

This year, the county/forest preserve districts were redrawn per state law after the decennial census and the number decreased from 21 to 19.

As a result in the primary, Snarski is facing incumbent Democrat Diane Hewitt of Zion, who has been representing District 2 but has been redrawn into District 8. Hewitt has been on the county/forest board since 2008.

Hart, who led the committee, cited Snarski's experience as a community service officer with Waukegan police and internship with the Lake County Emergency Management Agency in his selection.

"I'd like to provide a refreshing, young voice for our district while continuing to provide effectiveness and growth," Snarski said in his application letter.

Former county board member Steve Carlson, a Republican who was ousted in 2020 after 18 years representing the Gurnee area, said he fought to keep the board nonpartisan.

"Member Hewitt bucks her party (and) she is now being punished for it," Carlson said during the public comment portion of the meeting. "Mr. Snarski should be elected, not appointed two months before an election. Please don't do it."

The sentiment was echoed by five county board members, four of them Republican. Hewitt did not attend the meeting. Democrats won control of the county board four years ago for the first time in Lake County's history and now hold a 15-6 majority.

"This isn't personal, it's the process," said J. Kevin Hunter, a Republican from Ingleside who was appointed in July to replace Judy Martini.

"While it is what's in the written rules, the optics and the sniff test just don't pass my muster."

Others added that an opportunity to appoint the board's first Latino member was lost with Snarski's selection.

Hart said running for office shouldn't disqualify potential board replacements.

"I'm sorry, that smacks of entitlement to me and that's wrong," she said.

"We're not going to make the choice in November, the voters will make that decision," she added.

Diane Hewitt
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