As he received congratulatory handshakes and hugs from fellow commissioners Monday morning, newly elected Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor looked at one of his peers, took a big breath and said, "Whew."
The sigh may have reflected an end to the behind-the-scenes campaigning Lawlor, a 30-year-old Vernon Hills Republican, has done in recent weeks. Or it may have reflected Lawlor's unanimous victory, and the fact his predecessor, Buffalo Grove Republican David Stolman, opted not to seek a second term in the big chair.
Regardless, Lawlor was smiling as he took a seat in the center of the boardroom's dais and addressed the panel for the first time as its leader.
"I am so grateful to lead this body," Lawlor said. "There's a lot of change on this board today, but our priorities remain the same."
Chief among those priorities, Lawlor said, is the continued effort to maintain the county's strong financial outlook. Campaigning for the long-proposed extension of Route 53 into the county -- an effort revitalized under Stolman's leadership -- is near the top of Lawlor's list, too.
The board will be "vigorously supporting" the plan, which rests in the hands of state transportation officials, Lawlor said after Monday's board meeting.
The chairman's term lasts two years.
Lawlor raised eyebrows after the Nov. 6 general election by announcing his intent to challenge Stolman for the post.
Last week, Stolman said he intended to battle Lawlor for the job. But by Monday morning's special meeting in Waukegan, he'd opted to step aside as the board's leader.
"I just felt for party unity and unity on the board that it was important to be a gentleman," Stolman said after the meeting.
Stolman, a county commissioner since 1992, will remain on the board. He was elected to a 4-year term earlier this month.
Five new county board members joined the panel Monday. One of them, Lake Barrington Republican Nick Sauer, spoke in support of Lawlor's nomination.
Sauer praised Lawlor's problem-solving abilities, his pro-growth economic policies and his leadership abilities.
"I believe it is time to empower a new generation of leaders, (one) capable of addressing today's challenges and creative enough to envision the bright future we all desire for Lake County," Sauer said.
Lawlor, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the county board in 2009 and won election to his first full term in 2010. He won re-election Nov. 6.
Before joining the county board, Lawlor was a member of the Cook Memorial Public Library District board and was that panel's president from 2005 to 2009.
After Lawlor was named chairman, veteran county Commissioner Carol Calabresa was unanimously elected vice chairman.
In a subsequent meeting, the Lake County Forest Preserve Board -- consisting of the same 21 county commissioners -- re-elected Lincolnshire Republican Ann B. Maine as their president.
Maine has led the forest preserve board since 2010. She was first elected to the board in 2002.
A teacher at Lake Forest College, she served as a Lincolnshire trustee from 1997 to 2002.
Additionally, Antioch Republican Linda Pedersen was re-elected vice president of the forest board.
As a result of the Nov. 6 election, the GOP holds a 13-8 majority on the two boards.
A Democrat hasn't held any of the top four leadership posts since 2008.