DuPage County Board hopefuls try to separate themselves from crowded primary fields
With two weeks to go until the primary election, DuPage County Board hopefuls have been trying to sharpen their competitive edge in crowded fields of Democrats and Republicans.
Across the six county board districts, 23 candidates are running from both parties in contested primaries. In District 2 alone, stretching from Elmhurst to Woodridge, there are 10.
GOP voters in District 2 will have to sift through half a dozen candidates and choose three nominees in the county's most contested primary. Pete DiCianni's campaign for the board chairmanship set up the incumbent-free race in the district.
Former county board member Sean T. Noonan, financial adviser Grant Dungan, attorney Daniel J. Kordik, attorney John Simpson, Elmhurst Alderman Jennifer Veremis and political neophyte Nicole Giannini are competing for their party's nomination.
Democratic voters also must choose their party's nominees for three District 2 seats. They will have their pick of seasoned officeholder Liz Chaplin, fellow incumbent Paula Deacon Garcia and two newcomers, Yeena Yoo and Maryann Vazquez.
Whoever survives the June 28 primary will still have plenty of work leading up to the November general election as Republicans look to make up ground and Democrats fight to retain control of the board. Here's a look at the District 2 candidates by party:
Chaplin has been at the forefront of Democratic politics in DuPage for a decade. At one point, she took up the mantle as the lone Democrat in county government. Now in her third term, Chaplin, 57, has the longest tenure of any of her party colleagues on the board.
"These difficult times call for experienced, strong, reliable and honest leadership," Chaplin said of her reelection effort during a recent League of Women Voters forum in Elmhurst.
She sees the county's reliance on sales tax dollars -- accounting for nearly 52% of revenue -- as a top concern. Chaplin and Deacon Garcia are pushing affordable housing and mental health services as some of their key priorities.
The board allies are working to update the county's zoning code to allow accessory dwelling units, which would be a "starting point" to help expand housing options in DuPage, Chaplin said. The units share a lot with a single-family home and can be attached or detached.
"Construction costs have skyrocketed, so offering incentives to builders or finding a property, piece of land, and donating it, these are all types of programs we can put in place to assist with affordable housing," Chaplin said.
Deacon Garcia won her first term in 2020. She's a lifelong resident of Lisle and a retired village employee who dealt with flooding issues and building permitting in one of the county's most flood-prone areas.
Deacon Garcia also has joined the DuPage behavioral health collaborative, a group working to reduce the number of people with mental health disorders in the county jail. She supports a proposal to open a crisis residential unit.
"People who are suffering from mental health and at the same time doing perhaps a misdemeanor crime will be taken there to get the help that they need," Deacon Garcia, 62, said at the forum event.
Yoo, 42, is a legal aid attorney who represents seniors, veterans and immigrants for Catholic Charities.
She's served as chair of the Elmhurst chapter of Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group. Yoo has called for DuPage County to take a lead role in curbing gun violence. She pledged to advocate for policies that address gun suicide, mental health and unintentional shootings by children.
The demographics of an increasingly diverse DuPage also factored into her decision to run.
"I believe that representation matters and that there is a large group of people -- 12.9% of Asian residents who live in DuPage County -- who, I think, do need representation on the board," Yoo said during an editorial board meeting with the Daily Herald.
Vazquez, 65, has focused on public transit access and equity. She's retired from a career in sales. Last year, she ran for Downers Grove township supervisor but fell short.
"They wanted more services in the way of elder care and public transit," Vazquez said of meeting with voters on the 2021 campaign trail. "I think once you speak to people at the doors and you find out what it is they want, you feel a responsibility to step forward and follow through."
The GOP primary race has been a largely polite affair. Most of the candidates have made combating crime a cornerstone of their campaigns.
Noonan, 49, is a Bloomingdale police sergeant. He's aiming to regain the seat he lost to Deacon Garcia two years ago when Democrats took control of the board.
"I'm having a hard time standing on the sidelines, not being able to be a participant, and I think I have a very strong voice," Noonan said.
He has taken a tough stance on crime and criticized Democrats for tabling a county board resolution opposing provisions of the state's sweeping criminal justice reform bill, the SAFE-T Act.
"Many of these changes are unfunded mandates by the state, requiring the county to pay the bill," Simpson said of the legislation in response to a Daily Herald questionnaire.
A municipal prosecutor in Cook County, Simpson has laid out a similar public safety platform.
"I also felt we're underrepresented as millennials," Simpson, 35, said.
Dungan, 36, was spurred to run by the opioid crisis. DuPage saw 102 opioid-related overdose deaths last year, only 10 fewer than the record set in 2020. Still, 137 people overall died from overdoses, with or without opioids, eclipsing the previous year's total.
Dungan wants to see the county deploy Quick Response Teams to help connect overdose survivors to treatment. He would continue to support a county task force that provides grants between $10,000 to $50,000 to providers.
"But it's just not enough," said Dungan, adding that the county needs to bring in federal money to address the opioid scourge.
Kordik, 63, owns a law firm in Elmhurst. In the 1990s, he was a school board member in Villa Park Elementary District 45. More recently, he decided not to run for reelection as York Township clerk last year to seek higher office on the county board.
"No other candidate has the broad range of experience I have," Kordik said at a League of Women Voters event.
"I was called to run for this office when the incident happened in Oak Brook that just magnified the need to make our citizens safe," Kordik said, referring to last December's shooting at the Oakbrook Center mall.
Veremis was appointed to her aldermanic seat in 2020 and then won her first full term. She's also a small business consultant privy to the financial toll of the pandemic and inflation.
"We need to have job creation. We need to increase public safety. We need to enhance the quality of life in DuPage County," said Veremis, 43. "But it comes down to economic development, responsible spending, and being able to recruit and retain businesses here."
Giannini, the sixth candidate, did not participate in the Daily Herald and League of Women Voters forums. She could not be reached for comment about her campaign.