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Blue Wave hits DuPage County

Democrats enjoy significant success in former GOP stronghold

DOWNERS GROVE - DuPage County Board member Liz Chaplin had some modest expectations on Election Day.

The lone Democrat on the County Board, Chaplin expected some fellow Democrats to win their races.

“I was really honestly thinking four at most,” Chaplin said.

In fact, seven Democrats, including Chaplin, won races for the County Board.

“Districts 4 and 6 were real surprises for me,” she said. “District 4 is the heartbeat of the Republican party in DuPage County.

District 4 includes the northern half of Downers Grove as well as portions of Lombard, Wheaton, Glen Ellyn, Carol Stream and Glendale Heights.

Democrat Mary FitzGerald Ozog was the lead vote getter in the four-way race that featured two Democrats.

Ozog is vice president of the Glenbard Township High School District 87 School Board.

In other districts, Democrats ran only a single candidate to improve their odds of winning, Chaplin said.

In District 6, which also featured two Democratic candidates, Democrat Sheila Rutledge was the top vote getter in a four-way race.

District 6 includes communities in the northern portion of the county such as Bartlett, Carol Stream, West Chicago and Hanover Park.

"We had some good candidates," Chaplin said. "A lot of the Democratic women received a lot of Republican crossover votes.”

In District 3, which includes the southern half of Downers Grove, Democrat Julie Renahan garnered 38 percent vote. Republican incumbent Greg Hart picked up nearly 35 percent of the vote. Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully came in third in the race for two seats.

“Julie, first of all, is a great candidate,” Chaplin said of the Hinsdale attorney.

Renehan will be the first Democrat to represent District 3 on the County Board.

The new makeup of the County Board features 11 Republicans and seven Democrats—a shift that bodes well for the future, Chaplin said.

“I think we might have the opportunity to be the majority party,” said Chaplin, who envisions issues in which some Republicans might cross over and vote with the Democrats. "We're going to be a political force."

In addition to victories on the County Board, Democrat Jean Kaczmarek won her bid for County Clerk. The long-time activist defeated Republican incumbent Paul Hinds.

Of course, the blue wave that hit DuPage County was not limited to races for county board.

Downers Grove Democrat Sean Casten handily defeated incumbent Peter Roskam in the hotly contested 6th Congressional District race.

Lauren Underwood, meanwhile, defeated incumbent Randy Hultgren in the 14th Congressional District.

Republican incumbents in the state Legislature were not immune to the blue wave either.

State Rep. David Olsen, R-Downers Grove, was upset by political newcomer Anne-Stava Murray of Naperville. Meanwhile, Peter Breen, R-Lombard, was defeated by Terra Costa-Howard of Glen Ellyn.

Republican state Sen. Chris Nybo, of Elmhurst, lost his bid for re-election to Suzy Glowiak, a former member of the Western Springs Village Board.

"I have no doubt the Trump and Rauner wave hit DuPage," Chaplin said. "People don't like the tone and rhetoric that's going on right now."

But Elissa Baker, a political activist and a founder of the Downers Grove Marchers, said voter dissatisfaction with Trump and other Republicans is not the primary reason for the Democrats' success.

This isn't about Trump," Baker said. "This is about women who wanted to step up."

Renehan, for example, won a County Board seat because "she's smart, she's resourceful, she approachable," Baker said. "A lot of those who ran for County Board brought a new perspective."

But Election Day victories are only a start, Baker said. Democrats must continue to work hard to continue the success in 2020, she said.

"It's all hands on deck if you're a progressive," Baker said. "It's going to take a lot of work."

Downers Grove Commissioner Greg Hose, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 2016, agreed.

"The election overall was very good for Democrats," Hose said.

However, previous successes by DuPage County Democrats have been squandered by candidates who governed ineffectively.

"There's real opportunity here," Hose said. "We have to make we sure we take advantage of it."