This is the first in a series of articles outlining competitive primary races in McHenry County ahead of the June 28 primary. Check out nwherald.com over the next month and beyond for more election coverage.
Three Democrats are vying for two slots on the November ballot – one who bills himself as a “fiscal moderate,” another who thinks more education is needed on the county’s role and a third who said her goal is to make sure money is spent in the appropriate places.
John Collins, Thomas Pavelko and Gloria Van Hof, all of Crystal Lake, are each running in District 2′s Democratic primary.
The County Board’s districts were redrawn this past year as part of the decennial redistricting process, which this year also included transforming the county’s six four-member districts into nine two-member districts as part of an effort to reduce the County Board’s size.
In total, 36 candidates have filed to run for County Board, with six running in District 2. Of those, three are Democrats, with only two able to make it past June’s primary.
The other three candidates include two Republicans, John Reinert and Jeffrey Thorsen, and Libertarian Jake Justen.
Transparency, the budget and affordable housing all were issues the Democratic candidates said they want to emphasize in their campaigns.
Pavelko said he will be advocating for a more “efficient budget,” saying the county should be cautious with its expenditures. As people continue to struggle with their finances throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the county should do its part not to exacerbate that, he said.
Adding to that, Pavelko said he thinks there will be a rebirth of business and activity as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, and the county should look for ways to make that potential growth easier for residents and businesses.
“I consider myself a fiscal moderate,” he said. “I would really like to see the county position itself well to take advantage of [helping residents and businesses].”
Taxes are something Collins hears about most from constituents, he said. Educating residents on why taxes are the way they are is an item he said he wants to hit on.
With inflation and other programs, Collins said the budget will have to grow in the coming years. Because the county’s portion doesn’t make up a majority of residents’ tax bills, talks of reducing it typically translate to a small amount for individuals.
“You can’t talk about the budget without talking about revenues,” he said. “I think that’s the mistake people make. … Talking about tax relief is always a great talking point.”
Van Hof said she isn’t so much concerned with being a budget hawk, but rather wants to make sure the money is spent in appropriate places.
One area the candidates agreed on was the need to keep the public informed and make themselves visible to constituents. Van Hof said one of her priorities will be to increase the county’s transparency.
“When there’s a lack of transparency, people will always imagine the worst and fill in the blanks,” she said.
Collins said he finds many constituents don’t know the precise role of the County Board. Pavelko said it’s not uncommon for residents to not know who their County Board members are.
“It seems to be over and over I hear that, and that’s disappointing,” Pavelko said.
On what the county can do better, Collins said he doesn’t see an area to hit on for massive improvement, but rather smaller changes, such as with the county’s website, saying it needs to evolve more.
“I think we do things really well,” he said. “I think we can make some incremental changes.”
Affordable housing was something each candidate also expressed strong support for.
Collins voted in favor last month for funding of the Taylor Place Apartments project in McHenry, something Pavelko said he thinks the county needs more of. Van Hof said she wants to see the county increase partnerships in this area to help the county’s programming and outreach, including with the McHenry County Housing Authority and Compassion for Campers.
“I think the county should be spending all it can on affordable housing but also looking for other avenues of support, such as federal and state funding,” Van Hof said.
Collins, who was appointed to the McHenry County Board in March 2021, owns Omni Supply, an Elgin-based grease containment company.
Originally from Oak Lawn south of Chicago, Collins resided on the East Coast and in Michigan before making his way to McHenry County, where his wife is from, in 1999.
Politics always was a big part of his life, Collins said, but he never felt like he had time to pursue it. But when a vacancy came open for the County Board, he decided to apply. This first year on the board, he said, has taught him much about the area.
Collins said he thinks he’s a great listener, which is a skill he said he’s developed over time. He’s also not an ideologue, he said.
“I like the give and take of trying to understand others’ points of view,” he said.
Pavelko, who was passed up for an appointment to the board on two different occasions, came from the St. Louis area, where he served on municipal boards to begin his public career.
He also previously served on the Planning and Zoning Commission for Lake in the Hills and was subsequently appointed to the Lake in the Hills Village Board. He didn’t seek election afterward as he and his wife were expecting a child, he said.
“I decided I didn’t want to be at Village Board meetings when my son took his first steps, and said ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ and all those things,” he said.
With his son now in college, Pavelko sought to be appointed to the County Board with their previous two openings. After the board went in different directions both times, Pavelko has thrown his hat in to run for the position.
Van Hof, who has resided in the county since 1976, has been active in the political and organizational scene for more than 20 years. She previously ran for the Illinois State House of Representatives and said she has worked with several McHenry County Board members in the past.
These include Jeff Schwartz, who she worked with at Brock Equipment Company. She has also worked with Pamela Althoff on a variety of historical society boards. Others she personally knows include John Jung, Jeff Thorsen and Kelli Wegener, she said.
She said she feels her strength is her ability to talk with others from a variety of points of view and to get things done.
Having served on the Hebron Plan Commission and now McHenry County’s Merit Commission, which is tasked with overseeing Sheriff’s Office employment issues, Van Hof said she has deep experience working with people from all different backgrounds.
“You can sit me down at the table with anyone and I can find some consensus building,” she said. “I’m proud of that with my history.”