ST. CHARLES – Former St. Charles Mayor Don DeWitte has been selected to complete the term of state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, who soon will be stepping down.
DeWitte – who will be the Republican nominee on the November ballot for the 33rd District seat – was encouraged to run after McConnaughay made her initial announcement about leaving in June before more recently noting that Sept. 3 would be her final day in office.
“Several current and former supporters called, aggressively suggesting that I should throw my name into that hat,” said DeWitte, who also has worked with the Regional Transportation Authority board since 2013. “I think most of them felt I had the right tools in my tool kit.”
Because the 33rd District straddles Kane and McHenry counties, Kane County Republican Party Chairman Ken Shepro teamed up with McHenry County Republican Party Chairwoman Diane Evertsen to interview six candidates in four weeks.
State law requires the Republican Party’s top leaders in each county to fill vacancies with weighted votes – 5,487 in McHenry County and 11,207 in Kane County.
Shepro and Evertsen, who cast the sole votes, evaluated the candidates with the help of a board that included Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon.
Candidates included two well-known politicos from McHenry County: state Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, and forthcoming McHenry County Board member Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake.
The others were state Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva; retired Chicago firefighter Michael McMahon; and Hampshire precinct committeewoman Laura Pollastrini.
After McConnaughay steps down Sept. 3, DeWitte will be appointed within a few days to the vacant Senate seat and sworn in, said Shepro, who added that McConnaughay would have been up for re-election for a four-year term.
“She ran in the primary unopposed,” Shepro said. “She had an opportunity come along to be the national government affairs adviser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.”
Before her election to the Illinois Senate for two terms, McConnaughay served as chairwoman of the Kane County Board from 2004 to 2012. She could not be reached for comment.
“We have been very successful in starting to put together a campaign team,” DeWitte said. “Both the county and state organizations have been extremely helpful. We will run a very aggressive campaign against the Democrat in the race. And we’ll do our best to represent all the residents of the district in that process.”
DeWitte said he and McConnaughay collaborated on two bridge projects – construction of the Stearns Road and Red Gate bridges – while he served as mayor and she led the Kane County Board.
“I intend to continue work that Sen. McConnaughay has initiated and will continue to work those projects to move them forward in Springfield,” DeWitte said, citing school funding as one ongoing project.
He said McConnaughay, who was appointed to the governor’s Ethics Commission, has worked on ethics and sexual harassment issues, striving to speed up resolution of harassment claims, an issue that also is important to him.
DeWitte said he plans to be a strong advocate for modernizing the state’s infrastructure, using his background in municipal government.
“Municipalities have taken the brunt of budget cuts that have been implemented in the budget processes of the last two years in Springfield,” he said.
Shepro praised DeWitte’s fiscal conservatism and said DeWitte served as president of the Metro West Council of Government, which is composed of mayors and administrators, making him someone many mayors know and would look to for help while he’s in Springfield.
DeWitte served as alderman in the city of St. Charles from 1993 until he was elected mayor in 2005, serving for two terms.
McConnaughay’s staff members are enthusiastic about DeWitte’s appointment.
“He’s a very well-respected member of the community in St. Charles, and I look forward to working with him,” said Lesli Melendy, McConnaughay’s chief of staff. “He has a very good reputation.”
The Democratic state senatorial candidate is attorney and activist Nancy Zettler of Algonquin.
• Northwest Herald reporters
Drew Zimmerman and Ed Komenda contributed to this report.