By Karen Berner
ACE Communications Team Leader
Five leaders that were ushered into office by 2018’s Blue Wave gave ACE members accounts of their first years in office at our meeting on January 19, 2020. Many cited uphill battles and not being able to make the kind of progress they wanted due to resistance from their Republican cohorts. Although there were several issues during their first years, there were also many bright spots.
One of 15 circuit court judges whose job it is to appoint new judges to the bench, Judge Linda Davenport admitted she felt like she wasn’t making much of a difference. “It got depressing when we went to vote on five new judges,” Judge Davenport told ACE members. “One had never tried a case. Another was a lawyer for only nine years.”
Judge Davenport said if four more Democrats can be elected, then she feels they all can make that crucial difference. “We will put people on the bench who are qualified lawyers; people who don’t owe anyone anything.”
“We are being frozen out of some important conversations,” added DuPage County Board Member Julie Renehan, who represents District 3. “We can’t make the kind of progress we’d like to make.”
A bright spot for the DuPage County Board, Renehan cited passing the Responsible Bidder Ordinance, which is backing union workers in the county “like never before.” Looking forward, she wants to focus on getting better transportation to lower-income communities, to fix the FOID (firearm owners identification card), and enact a Clean Energy Jobs Act in DuPage County.
“We’re trying,” Renehan said. “We’re chipping away.”
Fellow DuPage County Board Member Dawn DeSart, who represents District 5, echoed Renehan’s sentiments. She spoke of how the Democrats on the board are trying to change the way things are done.
“For example, we never talked about the County budget at any of the Finance Committee meetings,” DeSart said. “It’s a $476.2 million budget. I researched other branches of government and found out several had multiple two- and three-hour workshops to discuss the budget. None at the county level.”
DeSart counts her Community Conversations held with Naperville City Councilman John Krummen on affordable housing and suicide awareness as bright spots in the year, as well as voting for funding for the Household Hazardous Waste Site and opening up the invocations that start off each County Board meeting to leaders of more diverse faiths than just Christian. Now several Muslims, a Rabbi, and even an atheist all have participated.
Current issues the County Board is working on include possibly moving the Downers Grove Field Court, working on an accurate census, and drafting a human animal services ordinance.
DuPage County Forest Preserve President Daniel Hebreard focused on relationship building and saving the county money during his first term.
“I was there to set a different tone,” Hebreard told ACE members. “I was the new guy. I had a lot of relationships to build.” Consequently, he reached out to mayors within DuPage County, as well as state representatives and senators.
One project, The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison, requested a new golf clubhouse. Instead, Hebreard was able to save 240,000 acres of natural, undeveloped land and make it into a preserve around the course. His department also added 100% solar golf carts at the course.
“It’s been a pleasant surprise, everyone sharing their joy of hanging out at the forest preserves with me,” he said.
Mary Jo Mullen was the first elected Democrat to hold office in Lisle Township. As Lisle Township Supervisor, she oversees the daily operations of the township, as well as chairing the township board. Unfortunately, her transition into the role was bumpy at best.
“My predecessor was very angry. He just left the keys on the desk,” Mullen said. “There was no call. No transition. I learned by asking my people how they did their jobs.”
Eventually, she overcame the schism.
“The board has come together well,” she said. “We can work together in that room.”
Over her year, she educated the public on what townships do, evaluated how much money people need and made sure Lisle Township was meeting their needs, created a coalition to address the issue of youth suicide, and transformed the township food pantry. Mullen is currently running for DuPage County Board, District 5.
Several 2020 candidates were also present at the meeting and introduced themselves to ACE members. They included Barbara O’Meara (DuPage Forest Preserve Commissioner, District 5); David Stevens (DuPage County Circuit Court Judge, District 18); Amy Chavez (DuPage County Board, District 5); Denika McMillen (Illinois State Representative, District 41); Ken Mejia-Beal (Illinois State Representative, District 42); Paula Garcia (DuPage County Board, District 2); Moon Khan (DuPage Circuit Court Clerk); Azam Nizamuddin (Circuit Court Judge, District 18); and Janet Yang-Rohr (Illinois State Representative, District 41).
ACE Communications Team Leader Karen Berner has been a professional writer/editor for more than 30 years. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women’s Fiction Writers, Naperville magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women’s fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association.