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DeKalb County Democrats eye County Board seats

DeKALB – Bob Brown has been watching the momentum for the DeKalb County Democratic Party build for years. 

Brown, a DeKalb Democrat and District 6 County Board member, said his party is positioned to expand on its election gains of 2012, when the Democrats balanced the County Board with an even 12-12 member split. Brown and other local Democrats partially credit newer residents from DuPage and Cook counties with recent electoral successes, although local Democrats have seen fewer successes in countywide races.

“Our goal is to elect the majority of Democrats for 2014,” Democratic Party Chairman Mark Pietrowski said. “A lot of it is just campaigning and having candidates put themselves out for letting the voters decide.”

Democrats had majority control of the board from 2004 to 2010; the board had been under Republican control for 26 years before then, Pietrowski said. When Republicans regained control in 2010, they were able to redraw County Board districts, but election results in 2012 were not entirely in their favor. 

But in the past 13 years, Democrats have won a contested countywide races six times. Three of those were in 2012, when President Barack Obama gave Democrats a big boost at the top of the ticket in Illinois. The other three wins all came from State’s Attorney Ron Matekaitis, who now is a local judge.

In 2010, Republicans swept the countywide races, with Clay Campbell beating Democrat Sarah Gallagher Chami for state’s attorney and Republican John Acardo beating Democrat Jim Luebke for county clerk. Republican candidates for treasurer, sheriff and regional superintendent of schools were uncontested.

This year, only two Democrats have submitted petitions for a countywide race.

Trent Taylor, of DeKalb, is competing with Denise Ii, of Sandwich, for the nomination for County Clerk and Recorder. The winner will face Republican Douglas Johnson, who was appointed to the job in 2013.

So far, Republican Sheriff Roger Scott and Treasurer Christine Johnson are seeking re-election unopposed, although Democrats have several months to pick candidates to run against them.

Steve Kuhn, chairman of the DeKalb County Republicans, figures Scott and Johnson will be tough to beat, but he expects the makeup of the County Board will remain close with half the 24 seats up for election in November.

“I wouldn’t speculate one way or another,” Kuhn said. “I think it’s going to be 11-13; it could be 12-12.”

The Republican Party doesn’t get too involved with local primary races, but Kuhn expects the four-way Republican primary race for governor will bring local Republicans to the polls in March. The trick will be encouraging local Republicans to keep turning out on Election Day.

“If you look at the real numbers, the Republicans still outnumber the Democrats [in DeKalb County,]” Kuhn said. “We just have to get them out to vote.”

While Kuhn expects public dissatisfaction with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and President Barack Obama might help local Republicans in November, Brown figures local demographic changes are helping Democrats. During the 1990s and the 2000s there were people moving into the county from eastern counties such as DuPage and Cook, Brown said. 

“They certainly have found the overall quality of life to be attractive in DeKalb County,” Brown said. “[Northern Illinois University] is a major draw not only terms of education but culturally and in terms of athletics.”

He said that’s one way a party can help by providing volunteers and events where they meet the public face to face. 

“Because of our size, and of DeKalb County, and not having an overwhelming population compared to some of the counties to the east ... We’ll have a candidates night and give the candidates a chance to meet and greet the people,” he said. 

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