A Democratic Party that has made few inroads in a very Republican county scored a historic coup with Jack Franks winning the first-ever race for McHenry County Board chairman.
Franks defeated Republican candidate Michael Walkup with 57.5 percent of the vote compared with 42.5 for Walkup, according to unofficial results Tuesday night. The win marks the first time since 1978 that county voters have elected a Democrat to countywide office. Then they elected Sheriff Art Tyrrell to a third term, and now Franks will be the first Democratic official elected to a countywide seat in decades.
The Marengo lawyer, who is stepping down from the state representative seat he has held for 18 years, pledged Tuesday night to aggressively pursue the ambitious platform of property-tax relief and accountability that he ran on, and said he wanted the county to be “a model for good government.”
“I’m humbled by the amount of support we received countywide. It was all around the county. I’m really, really excited about the future of our county. I look forward to working with people ready for real reform and to lower our property-tax burden. As long as people are willing to put partisanship aside, we’re going to achieve great things for our county,” Franks said.
However, he will have to work with a County Board that remains solidly in Republican hands – one Democratic candidate out of 12 won a board seat. While the chairmanship is in fact a leadership role and allows the chairman to set the agendas of meetings, it does not come with a vote or with the sweeping powers of other executive offices.
Walkup did not come out of Tuesday empty-handed – the Crystal Lake lawyer won re-election to his seat on the County Board representing District 3, according to unofficial results. Walkup ran for both seats, which is allowed under state law, so that he would be able to vote on issues like the chairman can under the existing power structure can.
Tuesday’s election was the first in which McHenry County voters popularly elected the board chairman, after they approved a 2014 referendum to end the practice of the 24-member County Board electing the chairman themselves every two years. Franks’ win sets up a 25-member board, with 24 members and the chairman.
Walkup narrowly edged out current Chairman Joe Gottemoller with 51.5 percent of the vote in the March primary. Franks subsequently announced his intention to run against Walkup, and withdrew from seeking a 10th term in the 63rd Illinois House seat that represents northern and western McHenry County.
Franks has survived and thrived as a lawmaker in a Republican county through a track record of opposing tax and fee increases and unbalanced budgets, and supporting government consolidation, property-tax relief and other initiatives.
The County Board last year updated its rules to account for a popularly elected chairman.
The Republican Party on Tuesday evening picked up the 63rd District seat that Franks currently holds, according to unofficial vote totals.