Lawlor re-emerges after rehab stint and quitting politics
Fresh from a stint in rehab for an unspecified drug addiction and under criminal investigation for misspending on a county-issued credit card, former Republican Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor talked about his addiction struggles and the need for greater mental health care resources in the suburbs during a 15-minute presentation at the Vernon Area Library in Lincolnshire that recently was posted on YouTube.
"I was HIV positive and perpetually ashamed, afraid and self-destructive because of it," Lawlor told a packed crowd at the library in late September. "My loneliness turned to isolation and I turned to drugs. I was a gay Republican in the suburbs, for heaven's sake. If you look up the definition of self loathing in the dictionary, it should read gay Republican. And even worse, the definition of isolation should read gay Republican in the suburbs."
Responding Tuesday to a request for comments about the video, labeled a TEDx Talk, and his future within the Republican Party, Lawlor declined via email.
"I have decided to let the TEDx Talk speak for itself," he wrote. "I hope sharing my struggle with addiction and depression will help those in need to seek help. Most importantly, I want them to know that they are not alone. It is never too late. Each person struggling is worth saving and worthy of happiness. People do recover."
Mark Shaw, chairman of the Lake County Republican Central Committee and co-chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said he hadn't seen the video, but was "disappointed" by Lawlor's view of the party when parts of Lawlor's statements were read to him. Shaw called Lawlor's statements a "deflection" from taking personal responsibility and said the county party had always supported Lawlor, even after he came out as gay in 2017.
"I don't know why he'd feel like he was alone," Shaw said. "The suburbs tend to be more inclusive than some of the rural areas. And, my God, he was chairman of our board. If we felt he wasn't welcome in our party, how did he rise to that position?"
Lawlor took a leave of absence from the county board in July and announced a short time later that he would not seek re-election after several reports about the disarray of his campaign finances and misuse of a county credit card came to light. The Illinois Board of Elections had fined Lawlor's campaign $15,000 for failing to submit any records of campaign contributions for years. Invoices from his county credit card showed spending on hotel rooms throughout the suburbs and city. Lawlor eventually paid back many of the charges. The Illinois State Police opened an investigation into Lawlor's spending on the county-issued card in August, which is ongoing.
Lawlor, 36, of Vernon Hills, was a county board member since 2009 and chairman since 2012 and was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party. He did not say what his plans are for the future.
"Every day, I wake up and put my recovery and sobriety first," he wrote in the email. "It requires me to put my ability to be of service to others before my own ego."
Besides his own struggles, Lawlor spoke about issues others in Lake County have faced when seeking mental health treatment. He said all facets of government have made access to mental health care difficult.
"We have systematically disinvested in our mental health care system, including addiction treatment, for decades and it's just wrong," he said. "But when we treat addiction and mental health as a person and not a problem ... it's our sons and daughters and student athletes, our dads, our teachers and our doctors, all suffering from a human condition."