Republican candidates for County Council president question their Democratic ties

At a glance, the choice between Pete DiCianni and Greg Hart to become the Republican nominee for DuPage County Council President later this month might seem like a draw.

Everyone is already a member of the County Council. Each says he is tough on crime, fiscally responsible and compassionate to those afflicted by drug addiction. Each racked up dozens of endorsements and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money while voicing similar goals for office.

But their seemingly small political differences did not dull the salinity of the primary race, with each candidate questioning his opponent’s Republican good faith.

DiCianni points to Hart contributors who are tied to Chicago’s Democratic power structure, such as business owner Fred Barbara, whose companies worked in the city’s notorious Hired Truck program, developer Elzie Higginbottom and the former president of Chicago Public Schools, Gery Chico.

Hart, meanwhile, sheds light on the work a DiCianni-owned printing and campaign marketing company has done for Democratic candidates and political groups. They include the Coalition for Better Government, a group associated with the Daley machine whose treasurer, Dominic Longo, was once found guilty of electoral fraud, and state Rep. Deb Conroy, the Democratic nominee for board chair (DiCianni printed $822 worth of T-shirts in 2018 for Conroy, whom he calls a friend).

DiCianni said that while his work for Democrats is just business, it shows he can cross party lines. Hart gave a similar response about his campaign contributions, although he said there was a difference between accepting a donation and working for a candidate.

“Pete DiCianni’s business choices show the direction in which he would lead our community,” he said.

Whoever wins on June 28 will likely face a tough challenge from Conroy in the general election, which could prove to be a signal about the county’s political future.

That’s because DuPage County, long known as one of the most Republican jurisdictions in the nation, has seen Democrats take control in recent years. They now hold all of the county’s congressional seats, most state legislative offices, and a majority of the 18 county council seats.

But Melissa Mouritsen, a political science professor at the College of DuPage, thinks the board could once again be up for grabs.

“Governing is different from just winning,” she said. “Now that (the Democrats) are governing, they don’t seem to be able to craft policy the way they promised to. There were a lot of fights, a lot of disagreements, a lot of rookie mistakes. … They’re going to have to answer for that, and I think it’s going to be a close race.

Hart, 34, is a management consultant in Hinsdale. With less than five years in elected office, he has a shorter political resume than DiCianni, but he remains the choice of the county’s Republican establishment: sheriff, coroner and current chairman of the board. all approved.

“He has excellent people skills and is a hard worker,” said Dan Cronin, who is stepping down as chairman after 12 years in the role. “I feel really good with him. He’s the future of DuPage County.

Hart was named to the board of directors in 2017 and won his first election in 2018. He said his main accomplishments were to shore up county psychiatric services, help create a small business loan program, and to lead the HOPE task force, formed to fight the county’s opioids. crisis.

“We have successfully created programs that have connected people to expanded treatment, expanded the availability of Narcan to save lives and reverse overdoses, and connected people with employment opportunities who are successful in addiction treatment” , did he declare.

If elected to the top job, he said, he wants to keep taxes flat, make it easier for businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans to do business with the county and s ensure the sheriff and state’s attorney get what they need to fight growing crime. .

DiCianni, 55, is a former mayor of Elmhurst who helped pass several state laws, including a measure that requires insurers to cover autism treatment and another that allows police to track people with cognitive impairment thanks to GPS bracelets in case of disappearance.

He said he was asked to run for county council in 2012 after flooding problems in Elmhurst convinced him a higher office could more effectively address the issue. He originally intended to keep his post as mayor while serving on the board, but gave up the job after a firestorm of criticism.

He said he was proud to have won federal funds for stormwater relief and to push for a state law, prompted by the death of an Elmhurst teenager, that allows first responders to carry epinephrine auto-injectors to treat anaphylactic shock.

He wants to pursue such selfless work as county chairman — “Unlike a lot of Republicans, I have a huge heart,” he said — while controlling taxes, spurring economic development and s ensuring that the sheriff’s office has an adequate budget.

Public safety is a central campaign issue, with both candidates pointing to the Dec. 23, 2021 shooting at the Oakbrook Center mall, for which two Chicago men have been charged, as a warning that crime in big cities is encroaching. on the county. .

DiCianni cites his 2017 vote against cutting sheriff’s office positions as proof of his dedication. Hart, along with the majority of his colleagues, voted for the measure.

“If I’m president, I’ll fully fund the budget, get the head count back to where it should be, and make sure we keep our county safe,” DiCianni said.

Hart responded that the vote was about fiscal responsibility after former sheriff John Zaruba chose not to fill some budgeted positions. Current Sheriff James Mendrick supports Hart, calling him a staunch and effective advocate for law enforcement.

Mendrick added that DeCianni “has a harder ability to get along with people. He’s definitely more aggressive and I don’t necessarily think that’s always a good thing.

This cutting edge was evident two years ago when DiCianni confronted people protesting against a pro-police rally in Elmhurst, then sent a rude email to a resident criticizing him. He apologized and resigned under pressure as chairman of the council’s health and social care committee.

DiCianni told the Tribune that he wasn’t “perfect in my response,” but made no apologies for supporting his hometown police force.

“We have to move on and hopefully a slight indiscretion doesn’t affect all the good that Pete DiCianni has done,” he said.

One of his backers, Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham, put a positive spin on his temper.

“I really think I found someone passionate in Pete, and I can’t question someone’s passion,” she said. “…I just know the great works that Pete has done and continues to do.

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