Rettke: New leaders, new start as local election looms

After historic low voter turnout in 2019 Consolidated Election, let’s do better this time, DeKalb County

In just a few days’ time, DeKalb County will elect brand new leadership for the majority of its municipalities. On the heels of the one-year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, I’d say there’s no time better.

Local elections have historically been the less-liked cousin of the November stars of the show. Midterms and a Presidential race are always going to garner the highest turnouts. I suppose they’re flashier, the campaigns are often much better funded, and the stakes can seem steeper.

But local elections are for voters to choose an advocate who is actually one of ‘the people,’ and who will make decisions with your own money that will actually impact your children’s schools, your homes or rental properties, the public transportation you use, the businesses you like to support, and funds which in the past year have drawn extra scrutiny across the country, such as police and fire budgets.

In November, DeKalb County saw over 75% voter turnout for the General Election, compared to 61% for the midterms in 2018. In the 2019 April Consolidated Election, however, voter turnout didn’t even hit 10%. It was “horrible,” said Ron Lieving at the time, an election judge for DeKalb Precinct 6, to Daily Chronicle reporter, Katrina Milton.

The past year has brought additional challenges which no sane person could have prepared for. I admire anyone willing to put themselves out there and pick up a leadership mantle in these times. The work will not be easy.

So, who do we have to look to come Tuesday, April 6?

In DeKalb, we have Ward 1 Alderman Carolyn Morris, already a familiar face in local government, running against Cohen Barnes, another familiar face, a DeKalb native and local businessman.

In Sycamore, we have Ward 4 Alderman Steve Braser running against Sycamore business owner Adam Benn, who told Daily Chronicle reporter, Katie Finlon, he’s not “actively campaigning” but he’ll accept if he wins.

In Genoa, longtime Mayor Mark Vicary will soon step down and his shoes will be filled by either Jonathon Brust or Dennis Di Guido, both currently on the Genoa City Council.

In Cortland, Mayor Russell Stokes’s successor could soon be one of the following: current trustees Charmaine Fioretto or Douglas Corson, or Mark Pietrowski, former DeKalb County Board Chair.

In Sandwich, voters will have the chance to choose between Richard Robinson, James McMaster or Todd Latham for mayor.

And in the DeKalb Township, voters will choose between current Township trustee Mary Hess or write-in candidate Jim Luebke for supervisor.

The power voters have to set the stage for the next four years of DeKalb County leadership can’t be overstated. But I think it’s often overlooked. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s the devastation that can occur when grave responsibility is placed into the hands of those ill-equipped to deal with it.

The pandemic, a renewed social justice movement calling for equity, fair treatment and opportunities for everyone, regardless of race, class or socioeconomic status -- these are big-ticket issues which local leaders have the power to make even marginally better. We need leadership who will use their power, privilege and platform to be a voice for everyone.

And you, the voters, get to choose them.

As more of our population receives the COVID-19 vaccine and if we are able to keep our case rates down, leading to more stable, long-lasting reopenings, this could be a new chapter for the community. A time for healing, to stop and assess what we’ve lost, make plans for how to move forward.

We will look to all new leadership to do that.

Voting in local elections isn’t just about ensuring you have relatable people on a city council, school or village board or elected office. Much of the work local elected officials do is administrative. But councils, school boards, mayoral, town president or park board of commissioner roles have policy-making powers.

Policy means they choose how to spend your tax money, who to spend it on, what local businesses receive permits and licenses, how local landlords are held accountable for quality of life, how to allocate budgets for such things as police and fire departments, or whether you’re allowed to keep chickens in your backyard.

A point of order, too: The backyard chicken referendum on the ballot for DeKalb voters is an advisory one, not a binding one. That means whatever way the voters sway -- for or against -- the final decision still comes down to a council vote. The referendum was meant to be an informative one for the city council to get a better idea of how many in DeKalb city limits actually want to keep chickens. Keep that in mind when voting for aldermen and mayor, pending where you fall on the issue.

Local leaders’ decisions at the policy level have real-world implications because those who you elect Tuesday remain under your accountability. They live in your communities, put their kids through your schools, pay taxes of their own, shop at the local grocery store. You have access to these leaders in ways that we probably will never get at any larger scale governing body.

This is your chance to elect leadership which will best represent you and your interests, and in turn, hold them accountable to you, the people.

To find your precinct and physical poll location for voting in person on Election Day, visit All polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Those voting by mail will need to have their ballot post-marked by April 6 and received by April 20 to be counted. Vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by April 6 will continue to be processed as they are delivered to the county clerk’s office.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.