Democratic women make unprecedented gains in DuPage County
DuPage County Democrats longed for it.
DuPage Republicans feared it.
When it finally came Tuesday, it wasn't so much a blue wave that swept down the DuPage ballot as it was a political tsunami that both carried and lifted Democrats -- all women -- to unprecedented heights in county government in an area that long had been a GOP stronghold.
When the night began, Democrats held just one seat on the 18-member county board and no countywide posts. By Wednesday morning, Democrats had captured seven of 12 available county board seats -- including at least one in all six districts. Another Democrat had become county clerk and two relative unknowns had put serious scares into other Republicans, including the county board chairman.
It was the largest Democratic victory in DuPage County in anyone's memory, giving the party far bigger gains than in the post-Watergate years or any of the eight years of the Obama presidency.
Here's a quick look at the newly formed Blue Women Group -- the Democrats who won county seats.
Ashley Selmon, 29, of Addison is a nonprofit professional who won her seat in her first run for political office. She said the county's budget was the top issue in the campaign and she pledged to cut or eliminate spending on lobbyists; reduce board members' pay and benefits, and put an end to no-bid contracts. Republican Sam Tornatore kept his seat, but another GOP incumbent, Dino Gavanes, lost his.
Elizabeth Chaplin, 53, of Downers Grove, began the night as the only Democrat on the board and she cruised to an easy victory. Chaplin, who works in accounts payable, had served as a mentor to many of the Democratic candidates and long has challenged what she called "sweetheart insider dealing, excessive salaries and benefits for elected officials (and) lucrative contracts for the associates of concerned insiders ..." This will be her third term on the board and her margin of victory was by far her largest. Republican incumbent Pete DiCianni also kept his seat in a three-way race.
Julie Renehan, 49, an attorney from Hinsdale, won her first elected office in a three-way race. "I believe we are in desperate need to find new solutions to county issues with voices that represent the county with diversity of experience and compassion," she said leading up to the election. Republican incumbent Greg Hart kept his seat.
Mary FitzGerald Ozog, 60, of Glen Ellyn is a substitute teacher who has served on the Glenbard High School District 87 school board since 2011. She said the county board lacked independent voices to challenge spending and policies. "I strongly believe that one-party government serves the party, not us citizens, and with only one Democrat currently on the board, there are not enough independent voices," she said in the run-up to the election. Republican incumbent Grant Eckhoff kept his seat.
Dawn DeSart and Sadia Covert both won seats in a four-way race in which GOP incumbent Janice Marie Anderson finished last. DeSart, 55, is a journalist from Aurora who previously served on the Indian Prairie Unit District 204 school board. She said the presence of just four women and one Democrat on the county board "does not represent DuPage County, where 51 percent of the population is female and where the county voted overwhelmingly Democrat in the past several presidential elections." Covert, 35, is an attorney from Naperville who first garnered attention by co-authoring hate crimes legislation but who had never before run for elected office. She said she wants to bring "balance and unity" to the board and will work across the aisle to do so.
Sheila Rutledge, 62, is a photographer and sales professional from Warrenville who won her seat in a four-way race in which incumbent Republican Jim Zay of Carol Stream retained his but another GOP incumbent, Kevin Wiley of West Chicago, lost his. A Winfield Township precinct committeeman, Rutledge said she's been working on community issues for 20 years and can be counted on "to move issues forward fairly and to speak up for those impacted by life's circumstances."
Jean Kaczmarek of Glen Ellyn won her first elected post by defeating Republican incumbent Paul Hinds to head an office that sometime next year will be merged with the DuPage Election Commission. Kaczmarek, a self-employed communications consultant, has been a longtime critic of that commission who said she turned herself into an election watchdog in 2005 after witnessing the group's "flawed structure." "My passion is for an open, fair, reliable, secure electoral process," she said.