McHenry County Board member Michael Walkup was poised Wednesday afternoon to unseat incumbent Joe Gottemoller in the first-ever popular vote for County Board chairman.
Walkup maintained a 1,400-vote lead over Gottemoller according to unofficial vote totals and with only mail-in ballots and some provisional ballots remaining to be counted following Tuesday’s primary. Walkup had 23,646 votes to 22,241 for Gottemoller, or 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent.
“It feels great. As soon as I catch up on my sleep, it will feel even better,” Walkup said Wednesday morning. “I think McHenry County is finally ready for reform. It’s been a long time coming.”
This election is the first in which McHenry County voters are directly electing the chairman. Gottemoller, who has been chairman since 2014, was the last chairman to be chosen by the 24-member County Board – voters passed a referendum to end the practice.
Walkup, who also is running for his County Board seat, decisively won it. He is running for both offices so he can continue to vote on board issues, because state law forbids a popularly elected chairman in a county the size of McHenry’s from voting on anything.
County Board rules revised since the referendum forbid a chairman who also holds a County Board seat from receiving a salary and benefits beyond that of the chairmanship.
Gottemoller called Walkup on Wednesday morning to congratulate him. He still will be on the County Board, because the term for his seat as a regular board member does not expire until 2018.
“I gave it my best,” Gottemoller said.
Walkup’s victory means that the size and makeup of the new County Board will stay at 24 members, given that Walkup will hold two seats.
This first chairman election was not one bankrolled by large donations. Gottemoller’s campaign ended 2015 with $22,800 in the bank and reported a total of eight $1,000 donations.
Walkup’s campaign incorporated in January with $2,400 on hand, but received a $10,000 infusion by a single donor, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.
That money, he said, paid only for signs and not direct mailers – he credited the results on a ground game that involved motivated volunteers and precinct committeemen.
Walkup has portrayed himself in the election as something of an opposition candidate representing the board’s anti-establishment minority. But Walkup’s victory, plus several incumbents losing their election bids or deciding to run for other offices, could put that minority in control after the November election.
Walkup will run unopposed in November for the four-year term, unless the Democratic Party of McHenry County gathers the signatures needed to caucus in a challenger.
State Rep. Mike Tryon, a former McHenry County Board chairman himself, filed legislation earlier this month to prevent candidates in the future from being able to simultaneously hold both the chairmanship and a board seat.
Should it become law, Walkup if he wins both seats cannot legally be removed from either of them, but he would have to choose to run for one or the other should he seek re-election in 2020.