Election

GOP rivals for DuPage County Board chair trade barbs in high-stakes primary

The Republican candidates for DuPage County’s top executive post have cast themselves as law-and-order conservatives, but that’s where the similarities end.

Pete DiCianni and Greg Hart are running for the chance to succeed three-term county board Chairman Dan Cronin as the standard-bearer of their party. The June 28 primary will set the stage for a general election contest viewed as a key test of Democratic momentum versus Republican resilience in once solidly red DuPage.

DiCianni and Hart have clashed over their credentials. Both sitting county board members, DiCianni and Hart offer starkly different views on one of Cronin’s hallmark achievements. On questions of demeanor and style, they could not be more different.

The primary winner will face a formidable opponent in Democrat Deb Conroy, a state lawmaker for almost a decade. The political tilt of the board and more is at stake in November.

“If the Democrats can continue their momentum at the local level in counties like DuPage, it will bode well for their statewide and legislative success,” said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois. “But if the Republicans can take back control of local offices in 2022, then they will have a foundation to overcome their losses of the last two election cycles.”

After the 2020 elections, Democrats held county board majorities in Lake, Will and DuPage counties. All 18 board seats in DuPage will be up for grabs in November.

“The shape of statewide politics will be determined by the color of suburban politics,” Redfield said. “Will it remain a shifting shade of purple, become blue, or return to the historic red of years past? The Democrats winning the race for DuPage County Board chairman and retaining control of the county board would suggest one answer. The Republicans retaining the county board chairman’s seat and taking back control of the county board would suggest another.”

The 34-year-old Hart has quickly risen up the political ranks. In just five years, Hart went from a board appointee to his first full term to a chairmen’s candidate with Cronin’s seal of approval and endorsements from old-school GOP power brokers.

“If there’s one thing that all voters, Republican, independent, Democrat, are looking for right now is a new, fresh, innovative approach to government,” Hart said during a recent endorsement interview with the Daily Herald editorial board.

If elected, Hart pledged to meet individually with every board member, regardless of their political affiliation, to understand their priorities. Hart said he can apply his expertise in management consulting – bringing together “diverse stakeholders that often don’t disagree” – to the chairman’s job.

Leading county board committees and a task force combating the opioid crisis, Hart said he’s “built up a record that would match up to anyone.”

DiCianni, 55, is the more seasoned officeholder. He said he has the experience to deal with post-pandemic economic challenges, pointing to his three years as Elmhurst mayor and his entrepreneurial background owning a printing and graphics company.

During his mayoral tenure, the city’s credit rating was upgraded and Elmhurst Hospital was rebuilt. DiCianni won his county board seat in 2012.

“It’s about who can lead, who’s put the time in and who’s got the credibility to bring these relationships that have been forged over years to the table to bring the county to the next level,” he said.

DiCianni, who touts a list of municipal backers, aims to unify mayors in DuPage, a group that’s “always been divided.”

“We will take DuPage County and make it the model county that it should be, one that will protect us from crime, one that will keep our taxes in check through economic development, and lastly, one that will be a model in how we treat human services,” DiCianni said.

Hart said his rival lacks the temperament to lead the county, noting DiCianni had to “resign in disgrace” from a board committee “because of what he told a 20-year-old constituent.”

DiCianni sparked an outcry two years ago when a video showed him confronting counterprotesters during a pro-police rally in Elmhurst. DiCianni also responded crudely to an email from a resident demanding his resignation.

“Beyond experience, and what I’ve been able to show in terms of my accomplishment as a board member, which surpasses that of my opponent, I think that I have the type of leadership style that’s going to be able to bring the board together at a very divisive time in our county,” Hart said.

In a follow-up statement, DiCianni said he stepped down just shy of completing his full term as committee chairman.

“I did so to unite the board and knew remaining would be an unnecessary distraction to the good work we accomplished,” DiCianni said. He cited his push to update state legislation allowing police to administer epinephrine auto-injectors, or EpiPens, during allergy-related emergencies.

DiCianni and Hart take different stances on the issue of government consolidation, one of Cronin’s major initiatives.

Cronin sought to eliminate or consolidate obsolete and redundant taxing bodies as a way to save money and improve efficiencies. In 2013, state lawmakers gave DuPage the power to eliminate a sanitary district and a dozen other local taxing bodies. The county has dissolved seven.

“I think a lot of it was smoke and mirrors,” DiCianni said.

He supports consolidation “where it makes sense.”

“I don’t want it to be a big grab of money, which, unfortunately, it has been with some of our previous chairmen who are supporting my opponent,” DiCianni said. “We need to work well with our municipalities and not consolidate out of power and/or money grab.”

Hart disagreed with DiCianni’s assessment. Highlighting his work on the board’s health and human services committee, Hart helped oversee the transfer of the psychological services division from DuPage’s community services department to the health department, a move that “saved taxpayers $1 million annually.”

“I can’t tell you how many other opportunities there probably are sitting in the county administration just like that, for us to apply consolidation internally, in an organization where we don’t need Springfield’s approval,” he said.