The Will County Board voted during a special meeting via video conference on Monday to appoint Denise Winfrey as the interim county executive after the death of Larry Walsh last week.
Walsh died Wednesday at his home in Elwood at the age of 72 after a five-year bout with prostate cancer.
The board voted, 25-1, to approve Winfrey as interim speaker. Winfrey had already been presiding over County Board meetings for the past few months as Walsh’s health declined. She said she told Walsh before he died that she would do whatever was needed for the county.
Tyler Marcum, D-Joliet, cast the sole vote against Winfrey.
Winfrey called the experience of succeeding Walsh “really overwhelming” given his many years of service.
“It’s very hard in these circumstances,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in.”
As she took the oath to be sworn in as the next county executive, Winfrey fought back tears. Several other board members congratulated her at the end of the ceremony.
Winfrey was required to step down from her seat on the Will County Board, where she has served as speaker since the Democrats reclaimed the majority in late 2018, and first became a member in 2009.
She is still on the ballot to run for her board seat in District 8. Winfrey and Herbert Brooks Jr. are running unopposed, so they will likely retain their seats next term.
During the meeting, member Jim Moustis said he felt it necessary to apologize to the Walsh family about having to move to appoint a successor even before funeral services are held for the longtime elected official.
“I’m sorry we have to do this now,” Moustis said. “I really am. We really didn’t have much of a choice.”
Moustis said he thought Walsh would want county government to continue moving. He said that tasks such as signing paychecks for county employees still need to be taken care of.
Majority Leader Mark Ferry, D-Plainfield, said the Democratic caucus will look to declare a vacancy for Winfrey’s seat at a June 18 board meeting. Winfrey said she and Brooks would suggest someone to fill her seat. The board will have to approve that appointment.
“We’ll get the caucus together and figure out who’s who and go forward from there,” Ferry said.
Winfrey will serve as county executive until December, when the next executive is sworn in after the general election in November.
Two candidates, state Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, and Nick Ficarello, a Republican and former Braidwood police chief, are running to be the next county executive.
The general election is set for Nov. 3.