Democrats gain control of Lake County Board; Curran ousted as sheriff

With the last votes from the Nov. 6 election finally counted, Democrats have a majority on the Lake County Board for the first time in the county's 179-year history.

And Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran - who won office as a Democrat in 2006 and infamously jumped to the GOP two years later - looks to be out of a job.

Democratic candidates won nine of the 14 county board seats up for election, unofficial results released Tuesday showed, giving them a 12-9 edge over the Republicans. The GOP has ruled the board uninterrupted for decades.

The Democrats now have the political muscle to choose who leads the board and the Lake County Forest Preserve District board, which consists of the same 21 members.

As for the sheriff's race, Tuesday's final tally put Democratic challenger John Idleburg on top. Curran was ahead by 754 votes on election night, but Idleburg now holds a 137-vote edge.

Curran congratulated Idleburg on the upset win in a Facebook post Tuesday night. "Thank you for 12 years as Lake County Illinois Sheriff," he wrote.

Idleburg joins Treasurer-elect Holly Kim and Clerk-elect Robin O'Connor as Democrats who unseated Republicans for countywide posts.

Lake County Democrats celebrated Tuesday.

"It feels really, really good," said Jessica Vealitzek, a Hawthorn Woods author and activist who defeated Republican incumbent Charles "Chuck" Bartels of Mundelein to win the county board's 10th District seat. "I'm really pumped."

Although Election Day was two weeks ago, the political leanings of the county board and forest board were unclear until Tuesday because two races - for the 10th District and 15th District seats - were very close.

In the 10th District, Vealitzek was ahead by a mere 16 votes on election night. The ballots counted Tuesday expanded her lead to 82 votes.

Vealitzek said she has "nothing but respect" for Bartels and the work he did during his four years on the board. Bartels acknowledged his loss in a Facebook post.

In the 15th District, Libertyville Democrat Jennifer Clark upset Libertyville Republican Carol Calabresa, who has been serving as the board's interim chairman since the summer.

Calabresa also is the board's longest-serving member, having been on the panel since 1986. She was ahead on election night by 74 votes, but the ballots counted Tuesday put Clark in the winner's circle by 18 votes.

"It's a little surreal," Clark, an economics professor, said minutes after the new totals were posted. "I had a lot of outreach to college students and I think people came through for me."

Calabresa was in Michigan with family for Thanksgiving when she got the news.

"I'm still processing," she said. "It's really been my pleasure and honor to have served the people for 32 years."

The newly elected board members will be sworn in Dec. 3 in Waukegan. At that meeting, the 21 county commissioners will choose a chairman and vice chairman. They'll then reconvene as the forest board to choose a president and vice president.

Several board members have said Lake Bluff Democrat Sandy Hart is the front-runner to be the next chairwoman.

"I'm looking forward to working with this talented group of people," Hart said Tuesday night. "I'm very impressed with their passion for service and interest in how they can make Lake County a great place to live and work."

Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake was thrilled not just that her party gained more local power Tuesday but that more Democratic women were headed to public office.

"I couldn't be prouder of our newly elected women leaders," said Bush, herself a former Lake County commissioner. "These incredible women said what they believed and did what they thought was right - and that attitude helped them overcome historic obstacles to change the face of Lake County."

Republican county board member Steve Carlson said he wasn't surprised by the historic Democratic surge. Public sentiment against President Donald Trump, Gov. Bruce Rauner and embattled county board Chairman Aaron Lawlor - who's been on leave since July and is the subject of a police investigation stemming from improper use of a county credit card - hurt local GOP candidates, he said.

"The entire county board got tainted," said Carlson, of the Gurnee area.

Carol Calabresa, left, was defeated by Jennifer Clark in the race for Lake County Board District 15.
GOP incumbent Chuck Bartels, left, was defeated by Democrat Jessica Vealitzek for Lake County Board District 10 in Lake County.
"These incredible women said what they believed and did what they thought was right - and that attitude helped them overcome historic obstacles to change the face of Lake County," Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake said about women winning county board seats. Associated Press, November 2017
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.