Incoming DuPage County Board members celebrate historic firsts
The inauguration of new DuPage County Board members Monday night will make history in more ways than one.
Michael Childress will be sworn in as the first Black man elected to the county board. Two Asian American women -- Lucy Chang Evans and Yeena Yoo -- will begin their first board terms. And Deb Conroy will take office as the first woman to become county board chair.
Their barrier-breaking wins helped Democrats retain control of the board. They're also changing the face of county politics.
DuPage is now 15% Latino, 13% Asian and more than 5% Black, U.S. census figures show. And yet the 18-member county board, including the top leadership position, has been dominated by white Republican men for generations.
"The demographics have been changing, and I feel that that needs to be reflected also in local government and on the county board," Yoo, an Elmhurst Democrat, said. "And I worked really hard to get to this position.
"And I had so many volunteers, people who had never volunteered for a political campaign before, people who were of different races, many Asian people who came up out of the woodwork, and we're really excited about my campaign because finally there was somebody who they felt represented them."
Democratic Party of DuPage County Chairman Ken Mejia-Beal encouraged Yoo to run as part of an effort to recruit a diverse slate of qualified candidates.
Yoo, 43, is a legal aid attorney who represents seniors, veterans and immigrants for Catholic Charities. The daughter of South Korean immigrants, Yoo arrived in the United States at the age of 2, grew up in Missouri and has spent her entire legal career in Illinois.
"I have felt exclusion. I've felt different based on how I look and how I'm perceived, and despite the fact that I speak perfect English, and I was educated here, there's always this feeling of, yeah, I am different simply because of how people perceive me," Yoo said. "So, for that reason, yes, I really do feel that I will be able to bring a different perspective to the board that maybe has not been there in the past."
Yoo, Chang Evans, a civil engineer and former Secret Service agent, and Childress, the longtime president of the DuPage NAACP, emerged as the top vote-getters in each of their county board races.
Childress ran as the only Democrat against three Republicans, two of them incumbents, in a county board district that stretches from Roselle to Elmhurst.
"Over 183 years DuPage has been in existence, and to never have a Black person sit on the county board, to be the first guy, it shows a lot of fortitude, a lot of work," said Childress, 66, who lives in Bloomingdale. "I made up my mind that's what I was going to do."
Motivation and the party's coordinated ground game helped propel him to office, Childress said. Yoo also introduced friends in north Elmhurst to Childress and helped with networking. On the campaign trail, the newly elected Democrats said they would prioritize gun violence prevention and affordable housing.
"This just kind of was an amazing race, where everybody just kind of pitched in," Childress said.
He called Terrell Barnes, the chairman of the Bloomingdale Township Democratic Organization, the "maestro" of his campaign. Barnes sent him a daily "walk list" for get-out-the-vote efforts.
"I walked through two pairs of shoes," Childress said laughing.
He spent 20 years as a customer service representative. He'll treat the county board position as a "full-time job." He'll also step back as president of the local NAACP chapter, but he intends to stay involved with the organization as vice president.
Childress said he'll be sworn in by Will County Judge Vincent Cornelius, the first Black person to serve as president of the Illinois State Bar Association.
"It's going to be a proud day for me and my family," Childress said.