How Democrats took 6 seats in Naperville Township

 
 
Updated 4/8/2017 7:56 PM
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Democrats won six of eight seats governing the typically Republican Naperville Township, leaving the freshly elected leaders and their GOP opponents all a bit shocked.

Naperville Township offices long have been a Republican stronghold, with the GOP filling all four trustee seats as well as the posts of supervisor, assessor, clerk and highway commissioner.

But come May 15, just the assessor and one trustee will remain Republican, and Democrats will hold the supervisor, clerk, highway commissioner and three trustee roles.

"We were optimistic but not expecting to win the way we did," said township Clerk-elect Nate Sippel, 23, of Aurora. "That was a shock to everybody."

National and local politics created a concoction of conditions that drew Democratic voters and discouraged Republican ones, leading to narrow victories for the party that's usually in the minority across DuPage County, officials on both sides of the aisle say.

It starts with national politics. Democrats say their party has been re-energized to take back local seats after seeing the presidency slip away in November. Republicans say their faithful are weary of all the campaigning.

"I got a funny feeling that there's a lot of disappointment on the national level from the Democratic side," said Eddie Bedford, incoming township supervisor. "Our approach was, we said you start on a local level."

So while Republicans were feeling "election fatigue," as outgoing Supervisor Rachel Ossyra called it, Democrats were building a slate, knocking on doors, sending out robocalls and campaigning to win.

"We managed for the first time in who knows how long to get our voter base out on the Democratic side," said Richard Novinger, 65, incoming highway commissioner.

Turnout was 13.4 percent among the 87 precincts in Naperville Township, according to unofficial vote totals from the DuPage County Election Commission. That amounted to about 8,800 votes cast -- over 500 more than the 8,269 votes cast in the last Naperville Township election in 2013.

"I'm a little disappointed with the level of turnout for the municipal election," Ossyra said. "You can get surprising results on certain things in lower-turnout elections."

The widest margin of victory for any Democrat was almost 4 percentage points -- for Novinger over Highway Commissioner Stan Wojtasiak. One-on-one races won by Democrats were decided by between 45 and 319 votes, according to unofficial results.

Democrats say the national urge to vote their party back into office helped spark their victories, but they also benefited from fallout over a topic that hits much closer to home: the yearlong battle about road service consolidation.

In a separate referendum Tuesday, voters in Naperville and Lisle townships chose to merge the road districts from their two townships into one unit of government in a four-year process culminating in the 2021 election.

"I know there was a lot of dissension within the Republican ranks regarding how the entire consolidation issue had been handled," Novinger said. "I think we benefited from many Republican voters who were just indicating their displeasure."

Republicans agree they lost some votes to their opposing party, partially because philosophies of how consolidation should be accomplished "drove personalities in different directions," after the Republican primary Feb. 28, newly re-elected Assessor Warren Dixon III said.

Republicans "might have taken the general election a little for granted because of the history of the township" falling so squarely in their favor, said Paul Santucci, the only trustee to retain his seat.

But in the end, the voters have spoken.

Wojtasiak, who endured the brunt of the fallout from the road district consolidation push -- including a major cut to the highway department's budget, the loss of staff members and the decision to form an intergovernmental agreement to share services with the Lisle Township road district -- said this result is actually what he wanted in the first place.

"I wanted last year to be my last term, and I really wanted to retire. So I got my wish," Wojtasiak said. "I just wanted to see this thing through with the consolidation, and I also said that I work for the voters, and whatever they decide is good by me."

Novinger said he has great respect for the work Wojtasiak has done since becoming highway commissioner in late 2002 and that he plans to meet frequently with Wojtasiak as he assumes his new role.

Other outgoing Republicans and incoming Democrats also have committed to making a smooth transition for the good of township residents.

"Let's get to the basics of what township government is supposed to be about," Bedford said, "and that's serving the people."

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